A Pawn Shop-Themed Bar Is Pretty Tacky — Especially in SoMa

Semi-secret tapas bar The Pawn Shop on Mission and Sixth streets masquerades as a place for desperate people to sell their valuables. Ouch.

When Kate McKinnon played Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on SNL, she said that federal workers could easily cope with the 35-day government shutdown if only they “liquidated some of their stocks or sold one of their paintings.” That was sure to get them through a “week or two of yacht maintenance.”

Ha-ha, Republicans are so callous about the plight of ordinary people when they go a couple weeks without a paycheck through no fault of their own. Enter The Pawn Shop, a bar on Mission Street near the intersection with Sixth whose theme is exactly what its name suggests: a fake pawn shop. You enter by dialing a golden phone mounted to the door, and a guy behind a desk who might have on a wig like one Vicki Lawrence would wear on Mama’s Family sizes you up in an exaggerated New Yawkese accent before letting you in. If you engage with him, you’ll find he’s quite witty and not reading from a script.

Unless you’re Googling it, The Pawn Shop is easy to find. You just hang a right at the desperate person who spread out a blanket full of junk on the curb in the hopes that they can eat and find a place to sleep that night, and you’re practically there.

In all likelihood, this faux-secret setup is an elaborate filter. You know how lots of San Francisco shops and restaurants pretend their restrooms are perpetually out of order, to keep certain people out? That’s probably what they’re doing here, through economic-desperation cosplay. One clue in support of this theory is that the true interior has nothing pawn-shop-related about it. It’s really a tapas bar — one whose vestibule has some lava lamps and Matryushka dolls under glass, and a video-game console mounted to the wall.

The thing is, The Pawn Shop is actually a pretty decent tapas bar. There isn’t a full liquor license, so it’s just beer-and-wine, but the palms-and-Deco vibe is comfy and the patatas bravas are crispy-gooey. The salad frisee is the best possible bad-for-you salad, with pancetta and deep-fried egg in the right proportions. You can have charcuterie and oysters, too. During happy hour, two drinks and two bites will only run you $40, tax and tip included. The service is brisk and friendly, and overall, it’s a good place to kill time before a show at Monarch — to which it is attached — or nearby Club 6.

So when The Pawn Shop weathers the inevitable backlash over its brazenly tone-deaf conceit, it can dismantle the stuff in front, pay for a proper bouncer, and just have a regular bar without all the poverty tourism. It won’t be hard at all — or at least, not as hard as parting with your wedding ring for a fraction of its value in order to secure a short-term loan at 150-percent interest. In fact, they’re inching there already, because when SF Weekly visited, picking up the golden phone wasn’t even necessary to enter, since the front door was open. What was a little disconcerting, though, was that someone from the street was trying to unload some of his stuff for cash, possibly because the address used to contain a functioning operation where people once put cathode-ray televisions in hock. To his credit, the pawnbroker-actor directed the hapless guy to one of the real pawn shops elsewhere on Sixth Street, all without even breaking character.

The Pawn Shop, 993 Mission St., 415-874-8041 or thepawnshopsf.com

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