When Shotwell's first opened over 120 years ago it had the adorable sobriquet, the Schlichtmann & Bredhofy Grocery Saloon, which was some sort of Deutch one-stop shop and home of the “backroom grog shop” if you were in need of a blitz-essen mit Bier. Naturally, in 1906 everything changed when the city was leveled and a firestorm ripped through it. According to Shotwell's website, after the earthquake hit, San Francisco got really conservative for the first and probably last time and regulated how many saloons were allowed to operate (answer: not many). The grocery store luckily made the cut. The city fathers also decided that combining groceries with liquor was bad for the children, so Herr Schlichtmann nixed the food and just sold booze. Nowadays of course kids are again allowed in most bars if food is served, so the immoral have prevailed. Good thing there are no children in this town now anyway.
I'm telling you all this history, gentle reader, so that when you enter Shotwell's (nee Schlichtmann & Bredhofy Grocery Saloon, nee Thieves Tavern) you will gaze at the beautiful carved bar that towers behind the bartenders and gasp in awe at the history. Schlichtmann ordered the thing special from Maine and had it shipped out, and it has survived quakes, fire, Prohibition, disco, The Great Hipster Fernet Explosion, and James Franco and Anne Hathaway hosting the Oscars.
I was showing great restraint, because it was pub trivia night and I made a pact to leave before it began because I was alone and teamless; the perfectionist in me knew I would not be able to win anything by myself. There are usually just too many sports questions.
The bar has the regal patina of a century burnished into its edges, along with a laid back clientele of techies, day laborers, hippies, and assorted regulars who moved into the neighborhood before rents skyrocketed. There's a long bar to the left and communal tables to the right, and a pool table nestled in the back.
I sat at the bar and thumbed through my paper, my eyes flitting from the page to whatever hot single-ish looking man I could pull into my web of seduction. No luck.
“You going to read the sports section?” asked the guy next to me.
I slid it out and passed it to him. “Of course,” I said. “I'm just trying to avoid anything athletic- or Syria-related.”
He said he was avoiding everything, including his job in a law office, which I guess had ruined his day. He also said he avoids a lot of mainstream politics because he's a Libertarian. Ho boy. Libertarians are like vegans, because the same joke fits for both:
Q: How can you tell if someone is a Libertarian?
A: Don't worry, they'll fucking tell you.
I wish I could say that I avoided the subject of his political beliefs entirely, but sadly, no, and we embarked on a long argument about the merits of taxation and the Federal Reserve before we both waved white flags and gave up.
The two chattering hens next to us got steadily louder, steadily more palm-on-the-bar slapping, steadily more blitz-betrunken, to channel Schlichtmann. It became apparent that they were going to stay for the pub quiz, and they didn't particularly look very smart, so I thought perhaps I might have a chance and should stay. Besides, my new buddy obviously knew sports.
“You staying for the trivia?” I asked him, but he said no, that he always scoots before it starts. He made the very valid point that there are roving bands of smart people who show up at these things and just crush everyone. They are usually like the Super Friends, each with their own special powers: History Man, Pop Culture Girl, Science Geek. Besides, I thought to myself, this was probably never what Schlichtmann intended when he chased his dream of a grog-in-the-backroom paradise.
Incidentally, he sold his bar to a guy named Old Man Cribbin in 1909 (who was, to be fair, Young Man Cribbin at that time) and then promptly set up a new bar in what is now The Uptown. Old Man Cribbin is long since dead, of course, and the bar has gone through a few more hands. According to its website, two dudes from the Crowbar bought it in 2000 and named it Thieves Tavern, then Shotwell's in '06… one hundred years after the earthquake that changed everything.
Now there's some trivia for you.