As I write this, I'm lying prone on my couch, wearing socks, a sweatshirt, and a cozy blanket, and I am sick as a dog. I have Kleenex shoved up both my nostrils and my sore throat feels like it could close up completely at any moment. Each swallow is an exercise in pain management, and when I talk I sound like John Merrick, the Elephant Man.
I, however, write a "night life" column for a living. What to do? I can barely walk to the kitchen to get more juice, let alone go out.
Taking a nod from Josephine Tey, I have decided to become an armchair bar hopper, using the online guide Yelp.com as a guide. This site has good, reader-generated reviews of bars and clubs, and I use it a lot in my research about places.
Sherlock Holmes had his faithful sidekick Watson and a great brain. I have two cats, a dog, eight guinea pigs, and no common sense. I do, however, have a search option on Yelp. I decide that variations on the word "butt" will do the trick to begin my journey. I will search said words, find bars that match them somehow, and party without leaving my couch.
I type in "mudflaps." Bingo! Er, Bingo-bongo! The Hearth in the inner Richmond comes up. "As classy as a brand-new pair of mudflaps, the Hearth is always priced right," writes one blogger. I scan a few more reviews and then I saw it, or rather, him. "Mike W.," the Rabidly Verbose and All-Together Fresh Yelp reviewer. "Being inside the Hearth makes me feel like I'm in some kind of reinforced observation bunker at a nuclear test site deep in the Nevada desert," he writes. "Drab, brown walls with sparse decor complimented by a horizontal slatlike window facing Geary Street reinforce this feeling. Only a bar with multiple taps, a Nixonian-era stucco ceiling, and the lack of Apache tan paint hinders one's imagination from going back to the Khrushchev-era Cold War days, peering out the window, and envisioning a 15-kiloton warhead forming a mushroom cloud over a vast expanse of lifeless desert." Mike, I gotta party wit chew. Call me! Better yet, take me on a journey through the bars of your mind!
"What is this malignant cyst," he writes of the painfully hip Bliss bar, "this festering wound, this smiling satyr of yesterday's trendiness that sank its fangs deep into the soul of 24th Street during the dot-com boom and continues to inject the venom of bridge-and-tunnel teenyboppers into it? How can this last citadel of dot-com era wretchedness subsist in an area where an influx of two-income families with Range Rovers and double-wide strollers have economically displaced all but the most indigenous of native slackers? One can only guess this Molechlike abomination subsists Sunday-thru-Thursday off an IV drip of spillover from the Mission, thereafter reviving come the weekend when it mainlines a massive dose of coinage imported from Silicon Valley and the East Bay."
Fuck, dude. Don't call me, I'm calling you. As soon as I can get up off this couch, Mike W., we're going out drinking.
I had to learn more about Mike W., unlock his mystery. I dug a bit deeper: He describes himself as "Leadoff man for Team Slacker." When he's not drinking beer he's drinking coffee. Also, he says, "Think Herb Caen in the ghetto." Judging from his myriad entries, I take Mike to be an alcoholic with good taste in bars. He waxes poetic about other things, though, not just watering holes. He gives a detailed account of his first visit to Big Lots ("Diamonds in the rough regularly show up amongst [the] showroom's vast tundra of flotsam and jetsam ... ") and Bay Area fog ("I had two 350,000 Candlepower monster lights on the front of my International Harvester war-wagon when I was a kid in the Valley. Both of them could blind any alley-cat that dared stare into them from less than a football field away. Yet turning both of them loose on tule fog at night only increased the brightness of the impenetrable white mass before us, barely illuminating two pieces of dotted line in advance of the car ... ")
This story of a young Mike W. bouncing through the fog was made all the more real once I saw a picture of him as a child that he posted. He says it's from the '70s, but it looks like the '60s. He's dressed like Opie, complete with fishing rod, which he is getting ready to cast. His face is oblong and bespectacled, surprisingly old-looking, like he morphed his present-day head onto a boy's body. "I held that long dreamer of a pole," he could've written, "and, like the tossed fuchsia wedding blossoms of a Hindu marriage rite, I swirled my line into the churning violence of the Sacramento in hopes of new discovery."
I was hooked. I sat and read every single thing that Mike W. had written, making a vow to visit every bar that he liked. Josephine Tey wrote about finding two long-lost bastards, and I had found my very own lovable bastard right here in S.F. I knew what was next. I had to actually seek out Mike W. and have him take me around. But first, I must sleep. And drink plenty of nonalcoholic fluids.