Distillations: Riding Out the Morning After at the Riptide

The Riptide is divided into two “rooms” by its rectangular bar, and for some reason almost everyone in the bar was on one side. It was the bigger side, sure … but wouldn't everyone have more space if they spread out a little?

I sat on the empty side, alone at a gorgeous table made from driftwood, watching neighborhood regulars flow in and out, bumping into each other and catching up. The lack of company suited me.

It was one of those freakishly sunny and beautiful days that people swear the Outer Sunset never gets. The view of the ocean, just two blocks away, was a magnificent horizon onto the vastness of life, while the warm sunlight nurtured the soul. I couldn't stand it.

I'd long figured I'd get to Riptide eventually for this column, but it was bumped ahead of schedule by a screaming need for one of my favorite hangover cures, available at Riptide only on Sunday afternoons: bacon Bloody Marys.

It's a baroque affair — olives, green beans, lemon and lime wedges, and bacon in a mason jar with a rim of bacony salt and spices around the edge. Weak at the top, spicy as hell at the bottom. I started with one, but figured I was in for two. Cash only.

Worth it.

I'd been stupidly self-destructive at a friend's party the night before. I'd announced I would be — telling people flat out that I was going to drink an unhealthy amount, drafting other partygoers to serve as my personal bartenders, and coming down on them, hard, when they started trying to water my sixth and seventh drinks down.

“Do you think I can't tell?” I asked. “I drink professionally!” Which is a line that works surprisingly well.

I can hold my liquor, but I'm not usually that kind of drinker. Visitors to my home are often impressed by the massive wall of alcohol in my kitchen — but repeat visitors notice that the wall changes at a glacial pace. I want to know how things taste, and I want to have it for guests, but I rarely drink just because I have the booze. That's why I still have the good wine and scotch available upon request.

But that night I was up to drink 10 before it even occurred to me that I might be heading for a crash. Why did I do that? How had this seemed like a good idea?

Stress. Definitely.

I'd had the kind of week that drives a man to dig his own grave, and I'd gone to the party determined to have a good time, even if I had to force the issue. I did both … right up until drink 12.

I've long believed that self-destructive coping mechanisms create most of the outlandish scandals we see in politics, sports, and finance: People who live in pressure cookers, however lush or obscenely well-compensated, have to blow up eventually. People who haven't learned how to sit still or slow down have no coping mechanism except to keep accelerating. After a certain point it's not even fun — we just keep destroying ourselves to feel in control.

Riptide is a high-energy bar, but it's a place people go to slow down. I find it emblematic of the Outer Sunset, a place that embodies a “live and let live” spirit far better than the rest of the city. The Outer Sunset isn't driving anybody's rents up, or building giant buildings where they're not supposed to, or trying to save anybody from themselves.

They're not trying to change the world — just live in it.

The biggest manifestation of that is how comfortable the Riptide crowd is around people of all ages. No one is putting on youthful airs or pretensions. The bar is unapologetically honky-tonk, hosts old-time country and bluegrass, and has a wonderfully active music scene that never charges a cover — without pretending that it's a statement about anything.

It's probably as far from any kind of existential crisis as you can get in a San Francisco bar — and a place where stress drinking makes absolutely no sense.

It was the right place for me to be, and only one bacon Bloody Mary got me back on track. I wasn't ready to go to the beach and stand in the sunlight, but I could walk out of the bar confident that I was going to stop trying to cure stress through cheap thrills.

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