Reborn at Harry Denton's Starlight Room

Lately I've been having strange dreams where I am either reborn or am amid death and dying. In the "reborn" situations, I travel down a shaft and emerge as a little baby. The death themes are more interesting. The other night I dreamt that I was exhuming a woman so we could rebury her somewhere else. Just as I was growing weary of dealing with all the morbidity, a toddler wandered in the room. She sat on my lap and I started to cry out of gratitude ... for life.

It was a dream that really needs analyzing. As it stands, though, I am content not figuring it out. That sense of gratitude has imbued all my interactions this week, though. I am way more sentient, paying more attention, walking my dog a little longer, and flossing. I want to live, dammit, so I decided to go to a place I've been saving for a while: Harry Denton's Starlight Room, a San Francisco classic. I love hotel bars. I especially love hotel bars that are way on top of a building and have panoramic views of the city.

Joining me were my best friend Margaret and her friend Stuey, an American expat who lives in Mexico most of the year, buying and selling antiques on eBay and smoking Colombian ditch weed. He's not much of a drinker, though, so we had ourselves a designated driver.

The Starlight Room is located at the top of the Sir Francis Drake Hotel, so you must rise many floors by elevator to reach it. I wasn't sure what to expect. Between the Web site and the folklore about the place, I expected a retinue of randy retirees shaking their booties to old disco classics and downing martinis. Heck, I not only expected it: I craved it.

We got on the elevator, traveled up the shaft, and emerged, baby. Madonna's "Ray of Light" was playing. There were a few scattered people at the bar. Couples and office workers hunkered around tables. Dang, no elderly disco dancers.

Denton's is like a big upholstered doughnut, with cocktail tables all around the panorama and deep Sinatra booths along the hole. The sun was going down, and I was seated directly facing its rays, which was surprisingly pleasant. "Is that too bright?" the immaculately coifed host asked, clasping his hands together and softly bending into me like a night nurse.

"Nope," I replied. "I feel alive!"

"Wonderful!" he exclaimed.

Yep, I felt alive. But once we settled in I must say I felt a bit disappointed, too. To be fair, that sentiment is also part of life, so I suppose it fits. I couldn't quite put my finger on why I felt let down, but Harry Denton's was no Top of the Mark, for one thing. That place just has some mojo to it. Then again, it was still light outside, and rooftop bars are better lit after dark. Kind of like me.

I ordered a martini and Margaret got an absinthe drink. Stuey got an Anchor Steam, which cost $7 a bottle. I think Amtrak has better drink prices. Everything at Denton's is supposed to be luxurious, from the formal cocktail dresses on the waitresses to the tuxedos on the bartenders.

Margaret lit into one of my favorite stories of hers, which wasn't so funny when it happened but which, like most things, gets better with time. A few years ago, she had just gone through a painful, contentious divorce and was still licking her wounds. (I remember being on her computer one day and coming across a suicide note, if that is any indication of how hard this was for her.) Anyway, she finally seemed to be getting her strength back and was contemplating dating again. She did what a lot of us do, which is to hop on Craigslist just to see what was out there. She was immediately drawn to an ad with the headline "Strip Conversation." She clicked on it, thinking that the "voice" of the ad sounded mildly familiar. Then she scrolled down to the picture, which was of a guy from the neck down and waist up, unbuttoning his shirt. She recognized her old chair in the background — not to mention that torso, those fingers, and that goddamned loud Hawaiian shirt. It was her ex-husband.

"No way!" Stuey said. I had the same reaction I always do, which was ewwwwwww. This was, we figured out, the universe telling Margaret she wasn't ready to date. (Now she is not only ready to date, the universe seems to be telling her to give her co-worker blow jobs in the parking lot. We have decided that this is merely a stepping stone to her next commitment.)

As Margaret sipped her cocktail and adjusted her earring, I remembered how I felt when I saw her suicide note, and felt grateful that she is out of the woods these days. I don't want her to die.

I couldn't believe how fast the sun went down. I watched it disappear behind a building in a matter of seconds.

We paid the bill. "I want to go look at the view," I said, jumping up. I went to the window and looked down at the proverbial ants below. There was some outdoor event going on across from Macy's. Ads for iPods were all over the place. A flag the size of a picnic table waved from the nearest rooftop. I never really noticed how many American flags are unfurled all around this godless, homosexual, pinko city. I counted seven. I felt wistful and strangely patriotic. Alive, all right. Not dead.

 
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