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Mission to Bars 

Is the Mission really gentrified? Bouncer dives in deep to find out

Wednesday, Mar 23 2005
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Methinks there is nothing flakier than a part-time DJ. Most of the places that I show up to in order to listen to a particular DJ usually inform me that so-and-so is a) sick, b) at another gig, or c) nowhere to be seen. I suppose it makes sense, because DJing is one of those things that sounds really cool until the reality of hauling all your records to an empty bar for some paltry drink tickets week after week sets in. And there just aren't as many chicks as you thought there would be. Your Bang Tango/Björk mash-up wasn't the aphrodisiac you'd hoped. Yes, you are a sad, pathetic creature condemned to handing out citations for parking on the dance floor, and you are what you play.

Yet I keep returning to your fold.

Last week I showed up at the Attic at Mission and 24th streets for the second time in a month to try and catch the guy who DJs on a Victrola. He wasn't there (see "b," above). He hadn't been there the first time, either (see "a," above). I am not giving up, gentle reader, and will return again and again until he shows up, because his show sounds really cool. I shall then report back to you.

But for now, there I sat with my girlfriend Michelle, discussing the fugliness of Christina Aguilera's fiance, the dearth of good reality TV, and the death of John F. Kennedy. You see, he would have survived that first shot had he been able to bend at the waist to duck down after the initial bullet hit him. But JFK was wearing a back brace due to a rather rollicking round of extramarital sex earlier that week, and he was unable to move. He sat there and was forced to take the next bullet into his head. (You hear that, DJs? Maybe you wouldn't have been hit by that Muni bus if you had showed up.)

Michelle and I put our heads together to find some nightlife. After all, we were on 24th Street, a hotbed of vespertine delight in the armpit of the Mission District. We hotfooted it up to South Van Ness, all the while arguing about whether the Mission is truly gentrified. Michelle moved here when she was 16 and lived in the neighborhood as a crusty for more than five years. She swears there was a time when it was all funk and no chic, and likes to wax nostalgic about those golden years. I can see the areas that have been gentrified, but I still think the Mission is plenty auténtico. Minimum wage and thrift-store hipsters do not gentrification make. The hype surrounding all this supposed yuppie infiltration has overlooked the fact that the place is still gritty as a peanut butter sandwich at the beach.

To settle our argument, we decided to find the whitest bar we could, and then contrast it with one of the old Mexican taverns that still exist. We chose the Napper Tandy at 24th and Van Ness and Carlos's Club up the street.

It don't get much more honky than a place called the Napper Tandy, and boy howdy, when we walked in it was like waltzing into a moorland sheepherder village. The men had close-cropped hair, big jaws, and tight, Anglo-Saxon grips on their pints of Guinness. The women were working-class, well-coiffed, and wearing lip gloss.

The place has a well-stocked jukebox, but it was pub trivia night and the bar was packed with contestants. The Napper Tandy actually hires people with Irish accents, and being an Eire-ophile, I was immediately charmed. We parked it at the bar next to three young men embroiled in conversation.

"Dude," said the guy with the muscles and the upturned nose, "all I know is, we are a real rock 'n' roll band." He then went on to criticize the lead singer, the guy with the long head, for sounding all Creed.

"Now tell me that the Mission ain't gentrified," said Michelle with some satisfaction. OK, one point for her.

After a few drinks it was time to head down to Carlos's. Michelle was getting pretty lit and had begun to chat up the upturned-nose guy, whose band is called War Plane. Then I remembered the time I let her go home with Emmanuel Lewis at that elevator-shoe fundraiser, and decided that this time I would step in before she did something she would regret.

We shuffled down to Carlos's, where a gal can find the answer to "Quien es mas macho?" in three seconds flat. As soon as we sat down we were surrounded by four masculine, inebriated Guatemalans.

"Are jew married?" one asked me with a wide smile. I complimented him on his approach -- straight to the point. The women behind the bar immediately tried to shoo them away, but we were drunk enough to say it was all right. The bar itself is really beautiful, with a huge mahogany backdrop of columns and mirrors. The jukebox was playing the Spanish version of "Back on the Chain Gang" by the Pretenders, and a couple in cowboy hats was dancing close. I let Ernesto buy me a Negra Modelo. Michelle was hand-feeding one of his friends part of my torta. "Oh, it's OK, baby! It's OK!" he kept saying as she giggled. I suppose he was trying to say "Sock it to me!" Yes, we could just as easily have been in ol' Mexico, whoring it up en la playa. One point for me.

At the end of the night I felt victory was in my grasp. There are still tons of places like Carlos's to be found in the Mission. Michelle was reeling from too many margaritas, and I used her compromised position to assert my dominance by declaring myself the winner of our contest. "Quien es mas macho?" I demanded.

"Tu, tu!" she replied.

"It's OK, baby, it's OK!" I laughed.

About The Author

Katy St. Clair

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