Though no Marines are present tonight, the famousness still grows. Ray and Becky, from Chicago, have come at the advice of Becky's brother; they explain that while every town has a neighborhood bar like the Overflo, this one is different. "Everybody seems to know everybody," says Ray as regulars blow elaborate kisses to one another and Hank Williams Jr. lurches onto the jukebox. The vibe hasn't always been so peaceful, says Rick, a longtime regular: "In the old days, every night, something [fistfights, a shooting] was coming down. Then there were a lot of older folks, but they all died off. Now you're getting a younger crowd moving into the neighborhood."
Technically, that neighborhood isn't the Tenderloin. It's "Lower Nob Hill," says owner Mark, who's as comfortable as an uncle and calls out "Come back!" in parting. After Lower Nob Hill comes the Tender Nob, an undefined transitional zone that leads to the TL proper, where all sorts of fun things can happen. For example, you can stop by the elegant new beer and wine bar Cafe Royale and rub elbows with a suit-sporting hipster and his mollish, feather boa-clad girlfriend. Or, down on Geary, you can tip one at the Hob Nob, where Uncle Bert's AIDS Art Gallery supports a good cause, but where the vibe is a bit strange due to one particular customer among the otherwise pleasant crowd of four.
Four is also the magic number at RJ's Sports Bar, across the street from the Hob Nob: Four TVs chatter over the heads of four female bartenders who are busy intoxicating an all-male crowd of a dozen. Among the bachelors is Sean, a young dude from Dallas, who's come for barkeep Joanne. Sean's impressions of the upper 'Loin: "Back home, everyone looks the same, man. You see crazy shit out here."
He's right. At the High Tide down the street (look for the blue neon waves), spiky-haired punk rockers mingle with restaurant and theater types and the occasional scotch-eyed regular. Someone recommends Ha Ra, back up Geary, a grungy little booze hall where Carl the bartender claims at first that his name is John -- or perhaps John the bartender is claiming his name is Carl -- and wastes no time telling an impatient barfly to get the fuck out of his face (a paraphrase). Someone is one nod away from passing out on the couch at the Outsider, while someone else is being arrested across the street. Either way, their nights are done, but if yours isn't, stumble up Polk to Sutter and shake it for a bit at An Sibin.
Once upon a time, 1176 Sutter housed a mildly seedy (in the good sense) Irish bar named Mulligan's. Now under a new owner, it houses a mildly seedy (still in the good sense) Irish DJ bar with a name pronounced "she-been" (Irish for a cottage where illegal moonshine is made and sold). Here, a dark, intimate dance floor allows young bohemians to two-step it to the live vocals and U.K. tunes at "Step." Among the crowd of ... many (after seven bars, it's hard to count) you'll see tremendous trousers, rimless sunglasses, a camouflage baby T-shirt, and maybe Yvonne, who bought her purple-blue pants at a Phish show in Vegas and had her septum pierced at an unknown location. Her friend Cathy reveals the great thing about An Sibin: "If you go up Polk, the bars are full of yuppies. Down here, it's suited to ... a certain demographic. This is ..."
"It should be in the Lower Haight."
Translation: It couldn't be better.