Someone should write a book about places in S.F. that are good for lone diners and imbibers. You could give it a clever name, like Table for One, or Solo Cup, or I'm a Loser and No One Will Ever Love Me. Chapter One would be a thoughtful treatise on the meditative virtues of eating alone, like how it offers one a chance to let certain flavors take you back to a storied childhood, or the pleasures of wiping splotches of duck confit off the pages of a really good book. In Chapter Two the author could outline the more practical advantages of eating alone in public, like having someone there to give you the Heimlich if you choke, unlike at home.

The Monk's Kettle in the Mission is a good place for loners. It is incredibly small — the size of a confession booth. There is a counter that is usually full of other single diners and drinkers, so you can rub elbows with people who look like they could dislodge a bit of food trapped in your throat with a few quick thrusts. Of course, you have to deal with the regularly seated folks around the perimeter, and they are often loving couples at the sexual peak of their relationship. In general, people like that do not deserve to also be able to go out to eat and enjoy a good meal. Selfish bastards.

I often come here alone, but I have an excuse: I write a bars column. It's not that I'm a loser and no one will ever love me. I order a drink and then some food with mustard on it (which always seems to be on the menu). I whip out my book, magazine, newspaper, or hand-held electronic device, and pretend to be engaged. This is essential for loners. You must look like you just popped in and are going to be squeezing some reading in between bites before you return to your madcap, fabulous life. Of course it helps to have the right reading material. Avoid Women Who Love Too Much, Modern Maturity, or Game Informer. Do think about 50 Shades of Grey, the New York Review of Books, or Wired. All of those say that you are a person with a point of view worthy of display.

Here's one thing about the Monk's Kettle that you might not think about: It's loud in there. When more than 10 people are in attendance, the din becomes intrusive. It makes it very hard to overhear individual conversations, and all the talking melds into one foggy drone. I suppose this could add to your solitude in a good way, blanketing you with the hum.

I sat at the very end of the bar, so I only had one guy right next to me. He looked to be in his mid-30s, and he was wearing a nice dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up. He broke the first rule of solo dining though, because he had no reading material whatsoever. In fact, he merely sat there and sipped his beer, which he had taken great pains to select with the help of the bartender. WTF? Who orders a fine, artisan brew and then actually bathes in its nuances? Bah.

I had just turned the page of my Viking Emerson reader (it had been about two minutes since my last page turn, so I figured that seemed like a good time to turn the next one) when I realized that I could break the ice by asking this guy how he liked his Belgian wheat. Sometimes you go out and you know that you want to exist in your own little bubble; other times this lasts about five minutes before desperation steps in. I turned my body a bit toward him and began to intently stare at his temple. This, as other Homo sapiens can attest, is a nonverbal communication that says, "Hello, how goes it?" It took a while for this rather dense man to pick up on my cue, but he eventually seemed to detect me in his space, right at the moment when he was bringing his glass to his lips. He stopped midway, pursed his lips, and raised his head a bit, staring straight ahead, apparently deciding how to proceed. At this point I was so close I could smell him.

"That good?" I asked.

"Huh?" he replied, using the opportunity to back away from me a bit and scoot his beverage napkin eastward, away from my west wind.

"The Belgian wheat. It good?"

"Yes," he replied, taking another lingering sip so as to not have to expel any other words.

Well, how dare he. Everyone knows that if you are by yourself with zero accessories in tow (book, magazine, hand-held electronic device), you are just asking for unwanted attention. His mother should have taught him this.

I turned the page of my book, an action well overdue by that point. I poked around at the mustard on my plate. I fiddled with the menu and pretended to have great interest in the alcohol content of each beer. I got up to use the restroom. I turned the page a few times.

Both of our bills came at the same time. He whipped out a wad of cash and thumbed through it before throwing down the amount, plus (it appeared from my close calculations) a generous tip. He darted his eyes at me one more time, perhaps searing into his memory my pulchritude, perhaps creating a mental mug shot for future avoidance.

I signed my credit card receipt and then put my copy in my book, to hold my place. I would add it to the growing pile of books with similar tongues hanging out, reading material that is good to take along with you in public and then discard the minute you get home. More on that in Chapter Three.

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