Drinking to the dead

Katy.StClair@sfweekly.com BLISS BAR. 4026 24th Street, 826-6200. www.blissbarsf.com

“Bliss” is one of those words like “decadence” that describes a good time but is actually hiding something. For example, with decadence you will eventually have a bloody downfall, or an STD, or congestive heart failure. The same underlying gnarliness goes with bliss. With bliss comes, of course, ignorance. One is usually “blissfully unaware.” Bliss is a state of subconscious denial.

You can't say that the decadent are in denial. Most people who are decadent probably have some idea that they are headed for trouble. No, it's the blissfully unaware who are truly the lucky ones. You know, those fortunate people who kept dancing and drinking on the Titanic even after they felt some weird “bump” in the night. The neighbors of Jeffrey Dahmer who noticed a strange smell but figured it was just a dead woodchuck in the rafters. Or the first three months Britney spent falling in love with Kevin Federline.

Needless to say, Bliss is a great name for a bar, the implication being “have a good time, ignore the outside world, and trust that everything is fine.”

Bliss Bar is in Noe Valley, a portion of the city that I must admit I had never set foot in until last week. My, but it is cute. I can understand why it has the dubious honor of being dubbed yuppie town to “real” San Franciscans. A true sign of any Bay Area neighborhood's upper-middle-class-yet-not-necessarily-filthy-rich urban sophistication is a Rabat shoe store, which it has. There is also a Tully's right across the street from a Starbucks. But who am I kidding, I would love to live there. The area has a nice Sesame Street vibe, Streetlight Records, and good food.

Bliss has received a lot of attention for some reason. Maybe it's because outside of St. Clair Liquors (hell, yeah!), there ain't much in the way of booze holes in Noe Valley. Inside it has a pretty basic “lounge” thing going on, with booth-seating, low tables, red walls, and mood lighting. The service was attentive and the patrons knew the bartender's name and vice-versa. This really is a neighborhood bar, complete with old codgers, young gothy babes reading big hardback books, and couples having pre-dinner drinks.

I was in the mood to be by myself. Outside it was pouring down rain, I had just had a birthday, and I had been surrounded by death for days. First, my eldest guinea pig died in my arms. Then I read about the little toddler in Pennsylvania who was left out in the snow to die after being beaten by his father. Then Anna Nicole Smith died. On that same day, I spent two hours getting recertified in CPR and lifesaving, diligently bringing dummy mannequins and baby dolls back to life through vigorous thrusts, whacks, and jerks.

They say that with youth comes a blissful ignorance about our own mortality. We are truly grown up only once we can realize that we will eventually die. Well, color me fully adult. I sat at the bar, ordered a $3 happy-hour Sierra Nevada, and opened up the Chron obituaries.

There was light down-tempo music playing in the background, and the bartender was chatting with the guy whose paper I stole. There were four of us alone there, each leaving two seats between us. At the end of the bar was a young girl with jet-black dyed hair and a book open, then me, then an older guy who probably has lived in the neighborhood his whole life, then a middle-aged dude with a guitar case. I settled into my reading. Most everyone on the page had died over the age of 70, which was nice to see. When I read an obit and the person sounds pretty great, I sort of enjoy the bummage that comes from never having known them. “Wow,” I think to myself, “Hugh 'Hughie' Winfield Jones, my but I would've liked to play mah-jongg with you. R.I.P. my brother.” Or, “Zoiks, Fred Hengehold, I wish I had hopped that freight train with you in 1922 with 'a few dollars in [your] pocket and a sense of adventure,'” according to the Chron.

Every once in awhile you come upon an obituary that is so moving that you can't help but want to go to the funeral. Felix DeBarbieri's was one such obit. He was born in 1913, just one year after the dancers on the Titanic waltzed through the bump. “A very peaceful person,” it read, “whose only pleasure in life was to play his harmonica and to be liked by people.” I pictured a little guy at a party in 1930. He is shy and awkward, his bow tie a bit askew, his suit ill-fitting. No, Felix was never asked to flagpole sit or be the 25th guy to be stuffed in a phone booth. He never Lindy Hopped or waved a pennant at the big game. His mother has forced him to go to this party. He shuffles up to the punch bowl and tries to make eye contact with a girl who looks like a nice person; someone who will like him. She doesn't seem to notice he is there. He clumsily shifts from one leg to the other and pulls out his harmonica. He gives it a few cursory toots to get his lips warmed up, then proceeds to rip on that sucka like a hobo in a caboose. Suddenly, everyone gathers around and claps to the music. The cute girl slips her arm around his waist. Felix's harmonica saves the day! People like him! The obit continued, saying that he especially wanted to be liked by his co-workers at Golden Gate Disposal Company, where he worked for many years. “A very humble man. May he rest in peace.”

R.I.P., Felix DeBarbieri. I would've liked to have had you play me a ditty.

When I left Bliss and walked out into the rain, I sort of liked getting wet.

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