Bouncer Takes in California Christmastime at Straits

Dear California: I love you, I really do, but you have a really lame Christmas vibe. Sure, the big tree in Union Square is pretty cute, and the Macy's windows with kitties are adorable. The guys in Santa suits clanging their bells for the Salvation Army are a nice touch. But mostly it looks like a big movie set where we're waiting for the snow machine to arrive.

The Westfield mall is no different. It was beginning to look a lot like Christmas there about a month ago, and I suppose if you immerse yourself in it you can pretend that there is a blanket of white powder outside and Dickensian carolers a-wassailing.

I go to Sur La Table about once a week because I like to bake and they have a cool selection of goods for that. This time though, I decided to explore the other floors of the mall, despite the fact that I hate crowds. I went up each escalator with the patient forward-lean and vacant stare of someone on a Segway. There are two kinds of people in this world: Them that stand on an escalator, and them that walk up an escalator. I think it was Mark Twain who said that first.

I finally arrived at the top of the edifice and there it was, hark! The Straits Restaurant and Bar. Yes, you will feel like you are in a tony airport bar, at only a fraction of the cost of the BART ride. It bills itself as “Asian fusion,” but what really trips me up about this contemporary maroon/rust/celadon shopping way-station is the name itself: “Straits.” Firstly, it evokes Dire Straits, which is a band that no one should have to remember. Secondly, it connotes “dire straits,” which is a “bad state of affairs.” Literally it's a “narrow passage of water,” which of course creates visions of urethras dancing in your head. All told, it's a bad name for a joint.

Once I got over my acute indignation at the moniker, I settled into the contempo-casual bar area and blew my nose into a handful of cocktail napkins. The bartender offered to throw them away for me, which was pretty amazing service; I'm pretty sure he hadn't realized how much snot I had just deposited in them. I stuffed the napkins into my purse instead.

Straits seems torn between wanting to be like other fancy bars in S.F. and wanting to be inviting to people from Brisbane who like their Ahi tuna fully cooked with mayo and sweet pickle. Fine with me, because how many times have you heard me lament how long it takes to get a drink made in this town? Muddlin', touchin', squeezin' those babies for 15 minutes, to paraphrase Journey. Nope, at Straits, you order a drink and boom!, there it is in front of you.

I must say that I was celebrating a little bit, because I had just found my purpose. I realized that you can be an “introvert” and still be outgoing. This explains why I like to go out by myself but still be a part of the action from afar. Author Sophia Dembling has written extensively on this topic, and I took her test, “Nine Signs That You Could Be an Introvert.” I answered “yep” to all of them, but my favorites were “You consider doing nothing doing something,” “You haven't answered a ringing telephone in years,” and “You actively avoid anything that might devolve into audience participation.”

She gets me, she really gets me.

My solo reverie was of course interrupted by a gaggle of people with bags and packages who stumbled up to the bar and let everything down with a whump. Of course — it's Christmastime.

“Glad that's over,” they collectively said in so many words.

Ah yes, the trials and travails of being forced to spend money. “Tyrone, you know how much I love watching you work, but I've got my country's 500th anniversary to plan, my wedding to arrange, my wife to murder and Guilder to frame for it; I'm swamped.”

A man came in and sat down and the bartender seemed to know him, which struck me as odd since this isn't a place you'd think would have regulars. Then I realized that the people who work in the mall probably need a stiff belt after arguing with everyone about that 10-cent bag charge all day. Yes, he was wearing khakis, the sure sign of retail.

Muzak carols were wafting in from someplace, and a strange coziness settled in, as if this were the end of the world and we were all enjoying our final hours. This “strait” was an okay place to be. The bartender was chatting with the shoppers and the regular was scrolling through his phone with a satisfaction that can only come from not being on the clock anymore. Someone was asking the waiter what a Singapore Lobster was, and I instantly pictured a crustacean in a sarong being beaten with a cane and then slowly poached in butter. The waiter used her hands to describe the dish and it looked like she was molding a Navajo jug from adobe clay. The diner nodded in that way that we all do that says, “Yuck, nope, I will be polite but that sounds crappy.”

“More ginger ale?” said the astute barkeep. Yes, I just had ginger ale, so that probably also helped with the fast delivery earlier. I demurred but wished him a happy holiday … as I do you, gentle reader. Peace on Earth and goodwill to me.

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