I’ve almost certainly had imperial rolls at Tú Lan more times than I’ve eaten anywhere else in San Francisco, but I’ve never spent much time in the bar next door. When Showdown went dormant sometime last year, the space fell off my radar entirely until I noticed it was open on the last trip to my beloved lunchtime spot — where I almost always order no. 17, so I’m used to not paying attention.
It’s the Rumpus Room now, and it’s been described as an Art Deco bar. That’s maybe a slight exaggeration, better described as “dive deco” or “trash glam,” but it’s one of those places you set foot in and immediately know that bar veterans are running it. For one, the decor is thematically consistent but not precious: A set of bronze fireplace ash screens in the shape of the NBC peacock look like they got scooped up by an expert haggler who knows when to use heavy eye contact, the toilet is black, the mirrors are half-moons, and the coasters have (discreet) naked ladies on them. One side depicts a woman leaning over a water fountain with the caption “Bottoms Up” and the other has her laying on her stomach while drinking a martini with “We’re glad to see you’re back.”
Overall, the Rumpus Room looks a little like Blondie’s and a little like Tequila Mockingbird, and it feels like an excellent Mission dive from the ’90s. More importantly, happy hour is from noon to 5 p.m., and even after five, prices are reasonable. The tequila-and-Tecate combo is $8, with a decent blanco. A “Tradicional Paloma,” made with tequila, lime, and Mexican squirt, which gets you grapefruit and real cane sugar, tastes appealingly like a melted frozen margarita only with more sweetness and bite. The Budweiser tap-head is the old-school red bowtie, the uneven one. And there’s a Moscow Mule on draft.
Showdown’s happy hour allegedly ran until 8 p.m., so that early cut-off might offend any lingering diehards — but for a bar this crowded on a Tuesday eight days after its opening, it doesn’t look like anyone’s asking to speak with the manager about it. It’s been a bar or saloon since 1935, or so Showdown had claimed. Before it was Showdown, it was Arrow. Before that, it was Matador. Before that, it was the well-regarded Charleston Club, and Found SF has a picture of it from 1995, still sharing its sign with Tú Lan. Happy Donut was Bells Donuts then, what is now Veraci Pizza appears to be another bar called Grady’s, and there’s a white Ford Escort hatchback parked outside.
The Rumpus Room has more than coasters. It has gold matchbooks. I don’t smoke and I love branded matches all the same. A friendly bartender-owner named Roxzanna, who was fishing an ice cube out of a patron’s drink using a long spoon and a strained smile, said she didn’t smoke either, said she’d heard the Tenderloin Museum had a trove of vintage matchbooks from long-gone bars in the neighborhood. She’s been meaning to go over there and offer one to their collection, seeing as she designed them. It would only be neighborly, but it’d also confer instant cred to a week-old business in a historical space that already looks well-suited to outlast at least two or three of its immediate predecessors.
The Rumpus Room, 10 Sixth St., 415-780-5651 or therumpusroom.org