Karaoke, bail bonds, and Irish Cowboys. Must be Annie's Cocktail Lounge.

The Onion has a joke that replays again and again in my head whenever I get into my car. It's a list, in essence, of what we all will finally take out of our cars when we get the time. At the top are two things: a big ol' bag of cat litter and a cassette of Upstairs at Eric's by Yaz. In general, I have both of these things in my car at all times, the first a result of my being too lazy to bring it into the house, the second as an emergency antidote to commercial radio. It's my fallback record, purchased for $1 at Amoeba about 10 years ago.

Fallback records should meet the following criteria: They shouldn't be one of your favorite records, for fear of getting sick of hearing them, but you should never get sick of hearing them, if that makes sense. Fallback records are like oatmeal cookies -- you should always be up for one, even if you prefer chocolate chip.

So I was halfway through side two of the band's simple electro-pop, the best part of which is Alison Moyet's butch vocals (natch), when I had a hankering for a beer. My first choice of places to go for a drink in the city would be the Tonga Room or maybe the Tadich Grill, simply because I can't really afford them, which makes them seem exotic. I had $10 in my pocket, so that idea was out. It was time to head to my favorite fallback bar, Annie's Cocktail Lounge, off Bryant. I turned up "I Before E Except After C," Yaz's attempt at avant-garde disco, and headed south.

The bar is nestled on a tiny street named Boardman Place. The word "nestled" gets overused in writing, but in this case it fits. Annie's sits like the base of a Christmas tree surrounded by the bright, twinkling lights of the bail bonds shops that dot the area across from the police station. Inside, the bar is long and lean, with booths and chairs in the back by the karaoke machine. That's right, karaoke -- the good stuff, like '80s punk and '70s kitsch. Karaoke is such a staple at Annie's that Me First & the Gimme Gimmes -- S.F.'s greatest cover band -- filmed a video here, complete with Paris Hilton (before anyone knew what a slutbag she is).

I walked in and parked it at the bar and ordered a Pabst. To my right three guys were playing dominos, to my left the DJ for the night was setting up. The bartender was a dude named Nate, whom the readers of SF Weekly voted Best Local Hipster two years ago. Other than that, there was nada, no one. Annie's seems to be struggling on weeknights, something that sucks for the owner and the employees, but for a gal like me, who likes a fallback kinda place, the fact that it's not crowded is part of its charm.

But just because the joint wasn't jumping doesn't mean I didn't get into trouble. If we fast-forward to about 2 a.m., you will see me reclined in my car, listening to my book-on-tape about Ted Bundy and wishing to hell I was sober enough to drive home. I sat there until 4 a.m., dozing on and off, before I felt clear enough to make the move. I'm not proud of this fact, and I definitely do not condone drinking and driving. I also don't condone drinking what the bartender who took over after Nate called an "Irish Cowboy," the thought of which now makes me want to vomit. It consisted of Jameson's whiskey, Tabasco sauce, and horseradish.

"Oh Jesus," said one of the domino players, grabbing his stomach and heading for the bathroom after downing his. The DJ was playing "Hollywood Nights" by Bob Seger, my lips were burning, and I couldn't have been happier.

Monday and Wednesday nights at Annie's are the best times to go there. First, the bartenders will play liar's dice with you. Second, the DJs will play the Marshall Tucker Band. Third, if all else fails you can head outside and watch the hard-luck cases go in and out of the police station. On the night I was there, a couple got into a heated fight over whether the girl in question was a slut.

"That's not me!" she pleaded to her guy, a white Sean John wannabe with a cheap fade.

"You a slut!" he retorted over and over, trying to shut the car door in her face. Across the street a cop stood on the front stoop of the station and stared at them uninterestedly.

I was almost tipsy enough to intervene, but somehow I remained levelheaded enough not to. That stuff never works on reality TV.

I had reached that point in the night when you realize that the shots you've had have crept up on you, when you're still clearheaded enough to know it's time to hit the brakes or else start thinking up illnesses so you can call in sick to work. I knew I had to leave -- not drive away, but continue to walk around, perhaps admire the clientele outside the bail bonds stores (if for no other reason than to scare myself into sobering up), and eventually get in my car. I plopped into the front seat, turned on the serial-killer biography, and laid back. After about an hour I switched to Upstairs at Eric's, hoping it would jolt me into sobriety. It didn't. But it was a nice thing to fall back on.

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