Local Motion

Drinking with the neighborhood regulars at Excelsior bars

To roll down Mission into the heart of the Excelsior is to discover a self-contained -- and, to many people, unfamiliar -- village of taquerias, humble Chinese joints, Latino markets, and venerable institutions like Joe's Fish Grotto ("Since 1946"). Barhopping tends to be a local thing, especially at the ever-so-happy hour of 5 p.m. on a Friday. But at the Pass Time, on Mission near San Juan, you'll find no early-bird discount.

"Well, everyone's happy," counters Peter the bartender.

He's right. Today's tipplers -- all six of them -- exude a jovial, familial air as they cluster at one end of the bar. (It's clearly a habit: The linoleum here is more faded than at the other end.) Everyone knows everyone. "These are neighborhood people, and we just like each other," says Jim, who knows Frenchie, who knows Byron, who knows Ron, who knows Bob. Not only does Bob know everyone, he can even name their drinks of choice. Bob's known as Little Bob, but only when Robert (aka Big Bob, aka Smooth Bob) is around. At the moment, Robert stands near the bar sipping brandy. He's Dapper Bob today thanks to an immaculate, three-piece pin-stripe suit.

"This is what I'm used to," Robert explains. "This is what I do. See, I'm retired, so I can do most anything I want."

A few minutes later, Robert exercises his freedom and heads to Alex's Place, near the corner of Harrington. As far as the Excelsior goes, the décor here is downright swank -- red velvet wallpaper, a gorgeous dark wood bar. Again, drinks are no cheaper during happy hour, but the vibe is exuberant thanks to a posse of teachers from Balboa High School, who down cocktails and sing along to the current jukebox selection ("Take This Job and Shove It").

"It's home; everybody feels comfortable," says Daniel. "We make people feel comfortable." Daniel's a local and a regular, but perhaps not as regular as Anita, who says she's been visiting Alex's every day for 54 years.

"I think I have my name stamped on one of the stools," Anita says. Her story seems especially dubious when she claims to be 94 years old; after all, she barely looks a day over 77.

Switching languages, we take off for Our Place, near the corner of Francis. As the sign behind the bar says, "Estrictamente prohibido hacerse pendejos en este lugar" (if you want to be a dumb-ass, don't do it here). Drinks cost the same no matter when you show up. Still, 6 p.m. offers one enticement: A dozen or so customers, all male, snap to attention during the shift change, when two extremely curvy, miniskirt-clad bartenders are replaced by two even curvier, miniskirt-clad bartenders. When asked if said bartenders are part of the draw, a man responds with an expression that translates as follows: What kind of dumb-ass question is that?

The hottie mixologist trend continues up the street at Cotter's Corner, near the corner of Cotter. Here, Basa the Korean bartender could charm the syrup out of a maple tree. Not surprisingly, piles of tips cover the bar proper. Swooning, romantic tunes ooze from the jukebox. Customers tend to be (what else?) local. Joe shows off his "Suck it up at Cotter's Corner" T-shirt. Jim digs the place -- "The atmosphere's nice. We don't get the rowdies here. We may look rowdy, but we're not" -- but not as much as Roberto does.

"I'm from Excelsior," Roberto says. "I have spent eight years in this one, what can I say? Fun, oh yeah. Why not? We have happy hour [sans discount] every day, the whole day."

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