Unless there are more I don't know about, there is a trifecta of sexually suggestive artworks hanging prominently in three dive bars around town: the lady with her boobs out in High Tide, the guy getting mounted by a lion in The Cinch, and the tennis player scratching her crack at Mr. Bing's. Kitsch of the first order, they're obnoxious and intended to mark the territory as a male space, but they're governed by a sort of grandfather clause of bad taste that makes them OK.
And now one of them is going away. Mr. Bing's, the irreplaceable triangular shithole on the corner of Columbus Avenue and Green Street, is due to be sold by the end of the month. (The night before press time, a bartender said it was more like two weeks, although he'd been given conflicting information and said he'd been through it all before.) Like American chestnuts in 1910 or coral reefs today, it feels like we're in the middle of a mass die-off of dives, and there is nothing we can do about it. If Donald Trump swung through San Francisco and promised to make it stop, he might just nab 8 percent of the vote in November.
I've never been a true regular at Mr. Bing's, but I've definitely gotten very drunk there on a couple of occasions. A few years ago, Broke-Ass Stuart wrote about getting “weeping drunk” with old Chinese guys and talking to a 22-year-old drug dealer who sold coke to strippers on Broadway, but mostly I've just settled into long conversations with friends that get progressively more outrageous and absurd.
It's possibly a function of the decor, which is beyond ridiculous. There's a nice flatscreen, but everything else is peeling or otherwise disintegrating. There's a no-smoking sign in Chinese, a rotary phone, a bulletin board with photos pinned to it, a sign saying “Cash Only” in a Tiki font next to a yellowing American flag that I'm surprised has 50 stars, and light switches on a horizontal orientation. A Sunpentown air cooler sits on the floor, and the side door is propped open with a tank of C02. In the men's room, the urinal — last night, anyway — is wrapped thickly with plastic, like a pallet at Costco, and has a handwritten note saying “Pee Somewhere Else.” Outside, a stool with a busted leg sits next to Ms. Pac-Man, which stands near a curtained door to nowhere at the far corner with a Chinese dragon over it. It looks like a prayer niche, or the stage for a puppet show.
There's a poster for the San Francisco Playwrights Festival, which runs through July 24 and which therefore might still be happening when Mr. Bing's closes for the last time. There are also several Examiner articles detailing the before-and-after of the 2003 theft of the butt-scratching tennis player painting — which, if you look closely, is on bamboo. The episode is noirish enough on its merits, but the writer, J. K. Dineen, had a bit of fun dabbling in the hardboiled style, making it a good read. Some tech-bubble-1.0 types made off with it one night, and after treating it like a lost kitten by putting signs up around the neighborhood, the owner — the daughter of Mr. Bing, whose real name is Henry Grant — heard from someone who saw it in a SoMa loft. The act of recovery involved a street artist named Rambo and a homeless guy who was paid five bucks for the physical hand-off, and a quote from Grant saying he's refused offers of up to $500 for the painting, as if that were a spectacular sum in the art world.
And there's also an Examiner piece from 2001 talking about how a bartender would light a cigarette for female patrons, and even sold the “evil weed.”
There are no taps at Mr. Bing's, but the beer selection is what you might call “shitty-awesome,” with bottles of Lagunitas, Tecate, Blue Moon, the “Champagne of Beers,” and Coors — not Coors Light — visible in the fridge. The bartenders appear pretty weary of talking about the fate of the place, but if you want to bid adieu in a particularly S.F. style, you can probably buy them a shot to commiserate. Just be aware: There's plenty of Malibu and even Bulleit, but friends and lovers saying goodbye have already burned through all the Fernet.