Does Anybody Actually Want to See Their Bar Tab Go Up in Real Time?

Valencia Street's pour-your-own-beer bar The Brew Coop has a bit of a faulty premise.

Photo by Peter Lawrence Kane

A number of trends converge at The Brew Coop, the self-pouring bar on Valencia Street that explicitly encourages you to BEER YOURSELF in front of its digital taps. One of which is the move away from human labor — something that’s only halfhearted here, in that the role of bartender has morphed into cashier-slash-tap-attendant.

The second is the collegiate-ization of San Francisco bars and nightlife, which long ago leapt out of the Marina, marched down Polk Street as far south as Turk and has now begun to seed the Mission. This isn’t so much because of beer, or even self-service beer, but a trait pertaining to a tiny low-ceilinged quasi-bar with one TV too many, picnic table bench seating, and the use of mini-kegs as focal points around which the proprietors have arranged metal, highway-cone-orange chairs. If that sounds like it’s as loud as a stadium, it’s really not; the ceiling has sound dampeners fixed in place to absorb any cheers and jeers, although the lighting is gymnasium-like.

These trends are understandable, driven as they are by the cost-savings imperative and demographic shifts in the overall city. The weirder element of Brew Coop is the way you can watch your tab run up in real time on screen as you pour yourself a round, or a series of small tastings of mostly familiar beers. Who the hell wants to look at that?

No one I know, that’s who. When I brought a couple friends by for some Standard Deviant Hefeweizen and Henhouse Oyster Stout, that was where our bewilderment aligned. At the risk of sounding like a hopeless dipsomaniac, nobody goes out for a drink or drinks hoping to be reminded of life’s quotidian little dramas, like, say, how much of your hard-earned money you blew being irresponsible with your knucklehead buddies again. Not that we should necessarily drink to plunge ourselves into an escapist abyss, but c’mon. You can order carne asada fries, salt-and-pepper wings, and grilled edamame the old-fashioned way, but overall, the bartender-less Brew Coop marries the depersonalization of feeling incrementally more alone in a crowd with the joy of balancing a checkbook. Sometimes, optimization is anything but.

The Brew Coop, 819 Valencia St., thebrewcoop.com

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