January 2013 was a notable month. Lance Armstrong admitted to doping. Pres. Obama was sworn in for a second term. Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. And Jack’s Club, the Creole dive in the southeastern corner of the Mission, closed FOREVER. I will never forget the first time I saw DJ Purple whip out his sax during karaoke there, in a bar I hadn’t even known existed but which was so packed my glasses kept steaming up.
Fast-forward five years, and much of 24th Street has changed, even if much of the signage remains the same. Pig & Pie kept the old Discolandia sign — it’s now Top Round Roast Beef, and the sign is still there — while the Roosevelt Tamale Parlor retained its neon beauty to become Roosevelt Sip ’N’ Eat. And Jack’s, at the very edge of 24th Street’s commercial corridor, has now become Junior, with the exterior signs largely intact.
Wasn’t Junior the Schwarzenegger movie where he got pregnant, and wasn’t it shot in S.F.? Yes and yes, but no. This is a project by the same team who opened Hayes Valley’s adjacent cocktail bars, Brass Tacks and Anina — each of which took over from a beloved neighborhood institution, Marlena’s and Flipper’s, respectively — and it’s no longer a dive. (Apart from the Wooden Nickel, has anyone really opened a dive in the Mission lately?) Instead, it’s an $11 cocktail bar, or another $11 cocktail bar, or yet another $11 cocktail bar. But like Anina, which has blood pulsing through its veins, Junior has strong merits — one of which being its dog-friendly nature. The wooden tables in the back are hexagonal and the ceiling design is colored triangles, evidence of style without being art-directed to death. So OK, Stookey’s Moderne it isn’t, but that’s the right volume for the design, neither shouty nor mumbled. There’s also an arresting, multi-panel mural of animals getting snappy with each other, as if they’d come off of Noah’s Ark with major jet-lag and pent-up aggression.
To give Junior’s cocktail list a close inspection, it’s well put-together, without lots of retreads or fussy things that require assembly using 19th-century medical instruments. The Hat in the Ring (gin, Gran Classico, lemon, and grapefruit) is a variation on a Bad Word that plays up the citrus against the wormwood-y orange of the Gran Classico. It’s playful and approachable, with a bit of thought behind it. The Safety Third (overproof tequila, Aperol, and French vermouth) dives straight into the deep end of the high-ABV pool, while the Shandy Warhol (blended scotch, apricot, orgeat, lemon, and white ale) and the Sleep Floyd (calvados, Italian vermouth, sour apple) take it easy. For creativity points, the Puebla Punch combines pisco, Oaxacan rum, pineapple, lime, and gentian amaro. Plus there are beers from plenty of California’s better craft breweries (Standard Deviant, Fieldwork, Henhouse).
The nice thing about a bar like this in a location like this is that it’s oriented around being the default venue for everybody in a three-block radius, S.F. General staff included. Even late-ish on a Monday evening when it was pouring, people stepped in the door to shake off their umbrellas and order a drink. That’s approval.
Junior, 2454 24th St., juniorbarsf.com