McKenzie's, near 17th Avenue, marks the beginning of the end of Geary's miles-long stretch of drinking establishments. You could spend a week barhopping your way here from Union Square. Do it and you'll end up at a timeworn dive where the crowd is as friendly — and as lively — as anything along the way.
On a Saturday night, Tracey the bartender begins the festivities with a shot of “chocolate cake” (vodka and Frangelico with a sugared-lemon chaser). Free seats at the bar are rare. A few old-timers huddle near the fireplace, as cozy as can be. “You can find some very nice people to talk to,” promises a regular named Ian. “There are also four or five guys you'll wish had never been born. I can show you a couple of them if you'd like.”
It's a tempting offer, but we'd just as soon chat with Susan, who puffs a faux cigarette (a rolled-up napkin) and details the psychological nuances of her attempt to kick a 30-year smoking habit.
“The emotions and everything you go through, it's hard,” she says. “Your cigarettes have always been there for you, and when you lose that buddy, it's like, 'Oh God, what do I do now?'”
At the moment, she's drinking, and she's not alone. A glassy-eyed Russian attempts to steal our tape recorder. Shortly thereafter, a posse of boozers strolls in after a night at Tommy's Mexican Restaurant. Jennifer, a member of the posse, exposes her nipple, followed by her entire tit — not the first breast to appear in these parts as a result of Tommy's exceptional margaritas. Then the party really gets started. An anonymous benefactor buys the house a round of drinks, and the peanut gallery at the bar begins singing along with the jukebox (“Baba O'Riley”). A second Susan demonstrates the art of “hand dancing” — lots of mutual massage, intertwined fingers, and fevered admonitions (“Get into it!”).
“I take care of children,” she explains.
The debauchery level increases at the Blarney Stone, near 20th. Here in the Richmond District's version of Studio 54, disco lights and '80s rap meet hard-drinking Irishmen like Billy. “I've been on a piss for the last fookin' six hours,” he says. “It's Saturday night. I want to fookin' rock out.”
On the dance floor, Danielle feels the same fookin' way. “The Blarney Stone was calling for me,” she says. “It was like, 'Come here, come here now. We will play some beats that will make you want to dance.'” Soon she's getting her groove on with Lenny, a limber-kneed bloke who's been working it since the London mod scene of the 1960s.
“We used to listen to Motown back then,” Lenny says (at the moment, he's doing the Tone-Loc thing). As for his moves, he confesses, “I love to dance, I love the ladies. I'm a soul boy. What else can I say?”
Up at 26th, the Geary bar corridor comes to a Polynesian end at the venerable Trad'r Sam. At midnight the place is packed with a young, boisterous crowd come to hoist cocktails garnished with fruit and tiny umbrellas. J.R. sips an ominous-looking green concoction. “I don't know what it is,” he says. “It's scary, coconutty, and tasty as hell.” Stephanie stands before a blend of red-and-white froth served in the kind of glass that once collected tips for lounge singers. Truth be told, the drinks here can be as sugary as a box of doughnuts, which is not to say that Trad'r Sam's mixology is without merit.
“You'll never go wrong,” says Shaun. “Scorpion Bowls, Volcanoes. If I walk in here, I usually stagger out.”