Small Talk

Looking for a little quiet conversation in Mission bars

Of the many kinds of bars in the bar-friendly Mission District — dance bars, live band bars, rowdy-ass drinking bars — one of the most difficult to find on weekends is a bar suited to good old conversation. Such a place requires a delicate balance: It should be soothing, but not dead. The crowd should be cool, but not too cool. Music helps, but it can't be loud. Dim lighting is a must. Or at least that's how we like our conversation bars, a perfect example of which is 22nd Street's Lone Palm.

On a Friday night, the scene is entirely conversation-worthy. You'll find available tables (but not too many), a DJ spinning hip hop and James Brown, and twosomes in all sorts of relationships talking about — well, let's ask.

“Oh no, that's personal,” say roommates Beryl and Melanie, found huddling over pints in a secluded corner. Other chatters are a bit less secretive: Sarah and Amy, also roommates, gossip about old friends from college. Paul and Jen (in an “indescribably ambiguous relationship”) discuss the film Waking Life. “There were some creative parts,” says Paul, “but overall it seemed like the subconscious musings of a very pretentious man.”

Why is Shane gesturing so vehemently at Julie? “I was saying that men, as they get older, take up golf because they're tired of having sex with their wives,” Shane says. They met on the J Church a week ago (“We were mocking the same lunatic”), and, if the relationship evolves, Shane's unlikely to get a set of clubs for their anniversary.

Like many of her fellow conversationalists, Julie lives nearby and knows the charms of the Palm. “It's one of the few bars in the Mission that hasn't gone seamy or crazy,” she says. “It's very local, very mellow. It's just, like, a bar.”

Elsewhere in the 'hood, Bar, at Mission and 23rd, is also, like, a bar. The crowd can be funky (a woman in boots that resemble shaggy cocker spaniels, a man in sunglasses and a zebra-striped shirt), but it matches the décor (a skeleton in a Santa cap, a cowboy hat lampshade over the pool table). Steve, who looks like Tom Cruise with an Elvis haircut, chats with Marta about “nations of origin.” (Hers, Poland, is becoming more conservative; no word on his, the United States.) Wanda and Juniper talk about lovers.

“Well, I don't have one right now,” says Wanda.

“I don't have one, either,” says Juniper. “At least not tonight.” Still, the consensus is that a lover is a good thing to have.

Another fine locale for shooting the breeze is the Attic, on 24th, which tends to draw an ironic, bohemian crowd. Tim claims he's talking business. “I thought it was a good place to brag about how well my dot-com is doing,” he says sarcastically. “Just log on and use your stock options to evict a local family.”

A bit deeper into the Attic, Matt and Joe have taken over their very own booth and look so comfortable they could be doing bong hits in someone's living room. They've noticed that the couple at the next table has been making out, nonstop, for the past hour.

“I was hoping they would tag-team me in, but it didn't work out,” says Joe.

Instead, the two guys talk about motorcycles. (Joe wants one, Matt has one; tonight they're riding skateboards.)

“And before that,” says Matt, “we were enjoying a comfortable silence.”

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