Flux Capacitor: Bar Fluxus Opens by Union Square

An 'art bar' can be a dicey proposition, but Bar Fluxus pulls it off.

The Guggenheim Museumin Manhattan currently has an exhibition by Maurizio Cattelan called America that consists of nothing but a fully operational, 18-karat-gold toilet. Peeing on fine art enhances the experience for so many people that wait times average approximately two hours. Please be neat and wipe the seat, preferably before tagging yourself on Instagram as you flush.

Here in San Francisco, Bar Fluxus near Union Square has a drinking fountain painted copper that’s in the shape of Marcel Duchamp’s 99-year-old “readymade,” Fountain. So if you find yourself queasy at the thought of pooping and calling it a performance, you can always drink out of an homage to a Dada urinal instead.

Barring that, you can have a cocktail. Bar Fluxus is a capacious spot at the rear of the Hotel des Arts on Bush Street — but which has its own entrance on Harlan Place, the alley out back — that’s named for the Conceptual or Neo-Dada movement in the 1960s associated with George Maciunas, Yoko Ono, Nam June Paik, and John Cage. That’s a formidable pedigree, and the risk with these types of things is that they can fall completely flat, like a highbrow Planet Hollywood aimed at the out-of-towner set. But even though there are accordions nailed to the wall and a series of yellow cereal boxes marked “Cheer” and lacquered to a high gloss, this place puts booze first, and surrealism second — and some of the more clever drinks embody a sort of winking ambiguity, like the best art made from a Fluxus Kit.

The team behind this bar worked at or formerly owned spots like Tunnel Top, Pop’s, Madrone Art Bar, and Blackbird. And the cocktails and “Flux Medicine” (all $12) that can be found on opposite faces of the illuminated menu cubes prove it. Try a Green Juice (vodka, aloe, lime, and honey), which sounds like a spoof on the juicing craze — order something conspicuously nutritious from the juice bar, then empty your flask into it as you walk away — but is actually a well-rounded concoction, especially with the aloe. Or the Black Highlighter (Fernet, lime, agave, and Miller High Life), which plays beer against amaro to bring out the carbonation of the former against the menthol herbality of the latter. Served in a tall glass, it could pass for a Black Velvet (Guinness and sparkling wine).

The even more herbaceous Devil’s Lettuce (gin, fennel, hops, and tonic) might not be to all tastes, but it’s crafted in the right proportions. Its name refers to the species of fiddleneck endemic to the West Coast that poisons cattle but which has medicinal properties all the same — so you know you’re partying with true bohemians. The Whisper Piece (Four Roses bourbon, apricot bitters, and espresso salt) is more straightforward, but you can’t dawdle — or the salt will melt into the single, giant ice cube and elude your taste buds. If you want bourbon another way, the Say Dada… (Cynar, ginger, Curaçao, and lemon, plus the spirit of your choice) is quite tasty with the brownest of the brown liquors as its base.

Wines are in the $8 to $14 range by the glass, and $35 to $50 by the bottle. Draft beer — mostly largely West Coast offerings like Sierra Nevada Kellerweise, Calicraft Oaktown Brown, and Dogfish 60-Minute IPA — is all $7, and the slightly rarer list of bottles and cans varies more widely in price. There are no large-format cocktails, but there is a $50 bottle of Allagash Fluxus 2016, a farmhouse ale produced in Portland, Maine, just once a year to commemorate that microbrewery’s founding.

Drink some near the succulent growing out of the toaster, near the golf clubs on the windowsill. Or while sitting on the Edwardian parlor-style couches. Or hang out by the stage — which is busy most nights, with acts like David Boyce & Michel Caveseno Jazz Trio or the Deep Basement Shakers. Dirtybird’s holiday pop-up was the Wednesday before Christmas, so Bar Fluxus was full of socks and shirts embossed with the DJ collective’s lightning-bolt-and-egg logo. A busy calendar speaks to the name Fluxus, in a way. The only constant is change.

Bar Fluxus, 18 Harlan Place 415-724-4685 or barfluxus.com

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