Bouncer

How to respond to a highly expensive, utterly dead night at the Levende Lounge? Go back!

There really is nothing crazier in tha clubz than the Tuesday night before Thanksgiving. All across the city, everyone lines up for a Mojito on a night that rivals only New Year's Eve in terms of sheer revelry. Police checkpoints are set up at most major intersections. Taxi fleets add on a few dozen cars -- but I don't need to tell YOU that.

I didn't feel like braving the hordes, but I'm a clubs columnist, damn it, and I wasn't going to miss one of the biggest parties this side of 1999.

I knew just the place: the Levende Lounge on Mission near Duboce. Tapas, drink specialties, and a DJ spinnin' house. Yeah, baby. Allll right. Yeah.

So, my friend and I were pretty much the only people there, save for some dinner guests and an elderly couple. My companion tried to tell me that the Tuesday night before Thanksgiving is actually a really bad time to go out. I asked her if they, like, had oxygen in her galaxy. I mean, hellooo ... Planet Earth called, it wants its brains back!

We settled into the bar anyway and commenced to rack up a $120 tab we couldn't afford.

The Levende Lounge has been open for six months, replacing the previous restaurant/club known as Butterfly. The prices are steep and the lighting is low, with large overstuffed ottomans in the dining area and drapes flanking the entrance. It sits in the middle of the no-man's-land area of the Mission, near the Zeitgeist bar. Now, Zeitgeist makes sense in a dingy neighborhood and may even get some foot traffic. But a place that sells $50 shots of fancy tequila? Levende is depending on a clientele that must plan ahead and travel to get there, which means a lot of CD release parties for Om artists (one of the co-owners used to work at Om) or specialty DJ nights with a turntablist who can draw a crowd. You also have to have some scrilla to imbibe here. The bartender said they were aiming for a clientele of 24- to 40-year-olds. But anyone under 30 who can afford to buy $12 drinks all night is not to be trusted.

All of this should have added up to a place I would normally avoid at all costs, but strangely enough, I really liked Levende. The designers, according to the venue's Web site, were going for a place that people would feel comfy in and want to come back to, and I think it worked.

It began with the bartender, Kyle. He was nice. His bosses might not like it, but I love it when you ask an employee what he recommends and what he doesn't recommend on a menu and he's honest with you. We ordered all kinds of stuff from Kyle's recommendations -- the cheese plate, the duck tacos, the pork medallions, and the Brussels sprouts. I'm not a food writer, so use your imagination here.

Then there were the house drinks, which ranged in price from $7 to $12. Still, when you figure that they are made with top-shelf booze and fresh-squeezed this 'n' that and infused with such 'n' such, it sort of makes sense. And no one asked you to drink four of them, rummy.

But the best thing about Kyle was his conversation. He's from Alameda, and he knows about the midget houses. Let me explain. There has always been a rumor that there are little tiny houses in a little tiny neighborhood of Alameda where a circus once came to town and stayed. The doorways are small, the counters are low, and the livin' is easy. At one point in my journalism career I set about getting to the bottom of this rumor, only to come up, um, short, convinced that it was nothing but an urban myth. Then I met Kyle.

"Oh sure, they are real," he insisted. "We used to drive up and down that street for kicks in high school." He gave me a map and directions. Goddamn the preacher man!

While we were singing the praises of Alameda dive bars, a DJ had set up and was playing not Carl Craig, not Troubleman, but T. Rex, the Smiths, and that Buzzcocks VH1 song. We had the place to ourselves, and we were having a great time.

At the end of the night we offered up my Visa card, only to have it soundly rejected by the good people of Chase, so my pal had to swing in for the $120 save. Too bad I can't afford to come back to this place.

That night, snug in my bed, I had a dream that when we left Levende I emerged to find that my car had been towed. It turned out that we had to find Samuel L. Jackson because he ran the tow yard. The secret to his location was to be found on a quiet street in Alameda, in the jewelry box of Billy Barty's wife. I was immediately in her parlor. She had tiny little M*A*C lipsticks, petite hairbrushes, and o.b. tampons. She came up behind me, and I was sure I was busted, but instead she told me she had a great idea.

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