All in the Name

On Sutter Street, a tour of bars with funny names, unusual locations, and strange colors

It's hard to know what to expect from a bar called Who's Your Daddy? The imagination could run wild, but perhaps the last thing you'd guess is that WYD?, on Sutter near Taylor, is home to a vast, members-only Chinese karaoke club in the back room and a homey little chill bar up front. Lacking a membership, we stayed in the latter. On a Saturday night, '80s rock ruled the jukebox. If some bars serve Manhalftans (i.e., Manhattans in pitifully tiny cocktail glasses), WYD? mixes Manhugetans, praise the Lord. The crowd here is so civil that no one has ever asked Liz the bartender who her daddy is. In fact, aside from the steady trickle of chic young Asians moving toward the back room, Who's Your Daddy? could be any old neighborhood joint.

This bar is where locals come to unwind. At one end, an old-timer named Sherman nurses an alcohol-free O'Doul's (“Doctor's orders”). At the other, a Scot named Paul says he's a former local and hopes to become one again soon.

“I moved away, but I'm coming back to my old haunts,” he says. “I thought I was homesick for Scotland, but then I got San Francisco sick, so, you know ….”

We do.

The funny thing about Who's Your Daddy? is that no one finds the moniker particularly striking.

“I don't think it's that unusual,” says Brandyn, another regular. “My daddy says it's legit.”

Meanwhile, a young party girl gazes up at the sign out front. “Ken's my daddy,” she says decisively before strolling up the block to the Cellar, where a lengthy bullshit session fails to exempt her from a $12 cover. The Cellar is, of course, subterranean. Funky mirrors, cozy booths, and dungeon-esque arches give it the feel of a stylish S/M club. Tonight's gig, Percussion, burns hellfire hot as midnight approaches. We find house and trance music playing up front, disco and hip hop in the rear, and an endless sea of low-cut jeans and guayabera shirts. Models stroll the premises, sporting the latest in liquid latex. The place is so hip, it's gone bridge, tunnel, and airport.

“What brings me is the girls, girls, girls,” says Joe from Australia, scanning a crowd that includes Lesley from Sacramento, Melanie from Marin, Fairfax's own DJ Dhiness, and Alisa, who's representing Danville (“Woo!”).

“It's a sceney scene,” Alisa says. “It's a little bit of everything. Every race, every religion, every everything.”

Grant, a bona fide San Franciscan in a plaid jacket and tie, isn't quite so enthusiastic. He has the uneasy look of a vegan at an all-hamburger buffet. “I followed some friends down here,” he explains. “I was just looking around, and I see no one even akin to myself in this place.”

It's just a hunch, but Grant might prefer the Red Room, up the street near Leavenworth. Oddly, the place is done entirely in white. No, we're kidding. The Red Room is as red as red gets — red booths, red light, a wall of red bottles. An anchovy-packed crowd exudes an urban shade of swank: There's the dude with the bleached hair, the chick with the stylish bob, and the Irish rocker with the tight pants and the short jacket.

“I came to this bar two weeks ago and fell in love with it. It's so cute, so teeny, so red,” says Jennie, flaunting the dearest accessory of all — a friend's engagement ring.

Elsewhere, a woman sips a red Cosmopolitan. She wears a red sweater with a fuzzy red collar. Was her choice intentional? “Of course,” she says, giving her name as (what else?) Scarlet.

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