By Cory Sklar
By Alee Karim
By Christina Li
By Dave Pehling
By Ian S. Port
By SF Weekly
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
Well now, here's an interesting tidbit: "Nazi doctors tied to thalidomide."
Social Kitchen and Brewery won't be pleased that this is what was on my radar the day I visited them. But once something gets in my head, I need to process it fully before it disappears forever. As a result, I spent my whole day searching on my smartphone for info on the destructive drug, reading Wikipedia, and cursing the Third Reich.
Oh yeah, and going to the Inner Sunset to check out Social Kitchen and Brewery.
1326 Ninth Ave.
San Francisco, CA 94122
Category: Bars and Clubs
Region: Sunset (Inner)
Let's start there, what the heck. I'm a bit torn between reading the reviews of a place before I go there, because I don't want to be unduly influenced. But having passed Social a million times on the N line and been curious, I checked out what the folks on Yelp had to say. It seems that they give the brewed beers high marks, but the food is pretty roundly panned. Good enough for me.
The building is smart and sleek on the outside and a bit like a trendy, two-tiered airport hangar on the inside. It reminded me of the Pyramid Brewery in Berkeley, only Social seems to be trying to channel the Tradition/Comstock Saloon olde tavern schtick that translates to higher-priced "artisan" mixed drinks and lots of wood. Still, if the other, more homey dives in the area don't appeal to you, you might find yourself drawn to Social.
I sat at the bar and perused everything readable within reach, then asked to bartender to just invent something for me. She made me a gingery fruity thing that was quite good. One of the funnier reviews on Yelp had pointed out that a female bartender there basically told a patron, "Nope, can't make that" a few times when the drink seemed too complicated, like a mojito. I'm happy to say that my server was gracious and very excited to create a mixture for me. I daresay I made her entire year.
Back to the Nazis. Thalidomide was introduced as a wonder drug in the 1950s for women who were having difficult pregnancies due to morning sickness and sleeplessness, but it caused widespread birth defects. It was developed by a company called Chemie Grünenthal (hey, if your '50s pharmaceutical company has umlauts in its name, you might want to do some deeper digging — just saying).
According to the Daily Beast, thalidomide affected over 100,000 pregnant women and resulted in over 90,000 miscarriages. The babies born suffered severe defects like missing arms, legs, or ears, and some children were born deaf and blind or with damaged hearts and brains. Like any good evil corporation, Grünenthal hid the dangers for as long as it could in order to keep raking in huge profits. The firm has since ponied up some cash here and there to victims, but families are still trying to get compensation to this day.
"You wanna see a food menu?" asked my bartender. I politely demurred. I considered asking her, woman to woman, if the food was as bad as I had read, but decided to take the high road. Besides, I was just getting to the good stuff in the Daily Beast article: "It is increasingly clear that, in the immediate postwar years, a rogues' gallery of wanted and convicted Nazis, mass murderers who had practiced their science in notorious death camps, ended up working at Grünenthal, some of them directly involved in the development of thalidomide. What they had to offer was knowledge and skills developed in experiments that no civilized society would ever condone."
Several high-ranking Nazi chemists and doctors who were behind sarin gas and euthanasia programs were welcomed with open arms at Grünenthal, especially those who had experimented on human beings in concentration camps.
I was so caught up in my reading that I didn't notice that I was now surrounded by some sort of birthday party. Didn't they realize that their carrying on was getting in the way of my studies? I had forgotten that Bouncer was my first priority. Bouncer is my life.
I texted my friend Jen, who had told me about the thalidomide/Nazi connection in the first place. "How can I tie this whole disgusting travesty into locally microbrewed beer?" I asked her, half jokingly, because the connection is pretty obvious (beer = Oktoberfest = Nazis). After bandying a few ideas about, we decided that ingesting either beer or thalidomide while pregnant were both bad ideas. There is of course some controversy about the beer while pregnant thing, since Irish moms have been drinking Guinness while in the family way for generations. However, my work with developmentally disabled people has introduced me to the effects fetal alcohol syndrome can have on a person, and it creates challenges, to say the least. Pregnant women today are supposed to behave like, well, health Nazis to ensure a pristinely healthy child.
Actually, to take this whole thing a bit further, I could probably walk into Social with a swastika on my T-shirt and get fewer looks than if I walked in visibly pregnant and downed a pint. I imagine someone would call the police. Pregnant women aren't even supposed to eat certain cheeses or drink coffee. If the thalidomide scandal taught me anything, I suppose it's that the idea of having an imperfect child is horrifying to some people. This makes me sad, since some of my favorite people are imperfect in this way. Yes, the more I think about it, the more I see an association between immaculate birth and Nazi perfectionism.
So okay, pregnant ladies: if you really want to be punk rock, you will go to Social and order a pale ale. But just keep it to one a week.