Surveying the Haight Street Playa at Noc Noc

My friends were so late it looked like I'd been stood up. Normally this would trigger my extremely tedious abandonment issues (thanks, junior high), but there is no bar I'd rather be stood up in.

Noc Noc is a world apart. You enter a kind of postindustrial cave where primitive paintings compete for space on faux stone walls with metal pipes. The lighting is, in various locations, blue, red, or green, while the chairs are either a random, motley assortment or part of a highly carved and designed set that you can't quite get a good look at because the place is so dark. What the hell is that dangling from the ceiling? You can almost make it out. Meanwhile the unusual arrangement of tables and benches, which are either communal or facing each other at odd angles, encourages interacting with neighboring strangers. There are no TVs.

It was first described to me as “kind of a Burning Man bar,” yet point by point Noc Noc is nothing like Burning Man. You pay for your drinks, no one is naked, and you never get lost trying to find your tent. But Noc Noc is one of those rare spaces that's fun just to be in, inspiring the idea that anything can happen. In that respect — and that respect only — it is exactly like Burning Man. People walk in, say “wow,” and have the sense that the world is enchanted.

A note on the chalkboard behind the bar saying “No Bud, no Coors, no PBR” also tells you the proprietors have unapologetically great taste in alcohol, with a beer list heavily favoring American microbrews and my beloved Belgian ales.

The strangers around me were talking about Twitter, which had gone public that day. Most of the conversations were really just strings of incredulous questions. “How do they even make money? Why would someone want to use this?” Then someone tried to explain.

Anyone who thinks the Middle Ages were backwards because their theologians debated “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” has never heard techies try to explain what their start-ups do and how they'll eventually make money. I've attended parties where a hundred young, brilliant techies all tried to dance on the head of the Singularity. From the Godhead to the Googlehead, the refined scholastic bullshit of visionaries is virtually identical across 600 years.

The strangers were concluding that Twitter was a kind of collective delusion just as my friends arrived. I can't tell you whom I drank with that night because they're well known political reporters from competing companies, and everything we talk about together is very off the record.

It has always bothered me how little members of the media socialize in this town. We barely know each other. Once, almost five years ago, I threw a party for as many members of the media as I could reach. I commissioned a quasi-legal art gallery a friend was running in SOMA, and we packed maybe 150 Bay Area hacks into its two floors. A Chronicle editor in a hot dress was our bouncer. To get in you had to be a staff reporter or a freelancer so respected that it would be wrong to turn you away. The bands were made up entirely of reporters, and people from competing companies who'd been reading each others' work for years met for the first time and said, “OH! You're …”

The next day the proprietor whistled in amazement. “We sold more beer to you in one night than we sold at every wedding we've hosted here combined.”

“Well, yeah,” I said. “Reporters.”

We meant to do it again. An inter-media party committee was formed. But I got busy, and people changed jobs, and the art gallery disappeared under a tide of rising rents from tech companies moving into the area — with Twitter leading the way. The gallery proprietor who was doing so much to help create a community of supportive artists never got anything remotely like a city tax break.

The magic slipped away, and now members of the media hardly know each other again. Except as names on a screen.

But when I bring people to Noc Noc, to this crazy bar that is like nothing they've ever seen, they look around and nod and say, “Yeah, this is really good,” and understand … even if only in a superficial way … the dreams of strangers. My reporter friends really do get Burning Man just a little better for being here, and my out-of-town friends understand San Francisco a bit more. And somehow it happens every time.

Twitter's business model may be a delusion, but angels dance on the head of beer bottles at Noc Noc. I have seen it. I have anonymous witnesses.

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