On my way to The Residence in the Duboce Triangle, I learned that the chain store Jack Spade had its permit to set up shop in the Mission pulled. "Fuck yeah," I told the bus.
Company lawyers had claimed that even though Jake Spade is owned by a company with more than 90 retail outlets, it wasn't a chain store because its "brand identity" was unique. That BS was so thick you could smell it all the way out in the Sunset.
The bus didn't care.
As a rule, the bus never cares. Except late at night, on a weekend, when I've been able to prove that it is possible to get everyone going home on public transit to join in a sing-along. It's the most honest singing I've ever heard, sound welling up from the depths of drunkenness to ennoble the walks of shame.
In the search for an authentic jewel among bars, The Residence is a diamond in a rough neighborhood. A classic rectangular bar space transformed into an Edwardian parlor, it gives you the same "where did this come from" feeling that you'd have boarding a train at 3 a.m. where everyone's singing "Hallelujah."
If you've ever wanted to sip brandy while discussing fox hunting, this is the place. The effect is striking. But it was mitigated, the night I was there, by lively old-time electric blues playing on the stereo. That was disappointing — obviously a proper parlor would play classical chamber music — but enticing all the same because it was good music ... and good taste sometimes matches good taste in surprising ways. It also meant nobody was trying too hard. Chamber music at a bar is usually a sign that someone has seriously overthought their premise.
Only one other person was at the bar when I walked up, and the bartender was reading his phone. "You see this headline?" he asked. "Disney World is no longer allowing disabled kids to cut in line, because Disney has no soul." He shook his head at the injustice of the world. "Can you believe Disney? What can I get you?"
I thought about it for a moment. The liquor shelf behind him pleased me greatly, full of obscure delights and top quality staples. If I had a son, it's where I'd want to send him with his first fake ID.
"What drink," I asked, "do I have to drink now that I'm here?"
It's a question I've asked at a lot of bars, and it always pisses me off when the bartender is noncommittal. A bartender who doesn't have an opinion on what his bar does especially well isn't fit to sling beers at a music festival.
This guy, though, immediately went for a Black Manhattan — a version of the classic that uses corn whiskey rather than rye, and adds a sweet and bitter digestif to the mix. "It's not the must, must have, but it's where we should start," he said.
"We have to do it the way it should be done," I agreed. We nodded to each other, like men about to storm the beach at Normandy. It was stark and delicious.
When the other bartender came in, they immediately consulted about what a next drink in the sequence should be — without any prompting from me.
The room began to fill up. The gorgeous furniture started getting some use.
The other bartender was concerned that his "must drink" would clash with the Black Manhattan, so he insisted I drink a full glass of water before he poured it. Good man. We're not amateurs here. His was a Maltese Falcon, a drink combining scotch, gin, and vermouth to form a taste of masterful complexity.
I can't tell you what The Residence's "brand identity" is, but that's because it has an actual identity. It has a soul. Its rough edges match San Francisco's. You want it to do well, so we never lose it, but not too well, because it's just so goddamn great to have it to yourself for a little while. San Francisco's rough edges make it as hard as it is welcoming: A little personal attention can be a salve that heals the spirit.
"Is there a drink that should follow this?" I asked the bartender. He thought about it carefully, then poured me a Vieux Carre: a mix of bourbon, brandy, vermouth, Benedictine, and maple bitters. Sweet and lovely.
I raised my glass. "Fuck Jack Spade," I said. He didn't know what I was talking about. "Fuck Disney," I said, and he agreed. A good bartender always cares. Then I drank, quietly, wondering how the blues would play on my next late night N-Judah.