Tenderloin refuge: a spendy drink oasis hidden in S.F.'s rough patch

Katy.StClair@sfweekly.com Bourbon & Branch. 501 Jones St. www. bourbonandbranch.com

I'm a firm believer that 90 percent of therapists are full of shit. When I decided to fix myself, I was lucky to get a 10 percenter who was great. I have often thought of getting her a leather jacket with that concept tagged on the back, like the violent “One-percenter” motorcycle gangs. My shrink's insignia would have Freud breaking a beer bottle on his head.

My friend Shannon is a therapist, and we went out the other night. I have a feeling she is a 10 percenter, as she isn't an insane control freak who wants to put crystals on my head and rebirth me.

Shannon and I are very girlie with each other. We like to “process” our feelings, pretty much all day long, via e-mail. So we knew we'd have to pick a bar that was conducive to deep discussion. We chose a place I've been hearing about forever, Bourbon & Branch, on the corner of Jones and O'Farrell. It's a “speakeasy” that requires a password to enter. (If that sounds daunting, it's really not. You just go to their Web site.) The place is hidden from plain view, just like the subconscious. Once inside, you're emerged in one of the most inviting interiors in San Francisco. It's a great place to indulge your id. B&B is a craftsman-style parlor, methinks, with velvet wallpaper, rich wood, and amber lighting. Intimate booths line the walls and a bar in the main room seats about 10. The bar stools are actually my only quibble with the place. The seats are lovely art-nouveau metal-numbers that mold to your buttocks, but they have no back support and make your booty tingle after about 15 minutes. They are very uncomfortable. (B&B has also another bar area in the back called The Library).

In between oohing and ahhing the voluminous drink menu, Shannon and I were talking about how we always feel different from everyone else, and that it's some weird trick of fate that we have the good friends that we do, people whom we like so much and who in turn seem to like us. On a deep (and let's face it, insecure) level, we wonder what they see in us. “But,” Shannon said adamantly, “actually, we have drawn good friends to ourselves because we are offering the same thing to them. We just can't see it.” Fair enough.

We decided on drinks called the 1742 and the Bentley. I won't go into details because I'm not a food writer, but holy shit, they were two of the best fucking drinks I have ever had. I don't need to tell you that I've been to a lot of bars, and have tried a lot of drinks. If you're looking for a perfect sensory experience, this is the best bar in San Francisco. Everything that the bartenders prepare at B&B is made with fresh juices and infused this 'n' that. But what really impresses me about the place is the ice cubes. They are big square chunks with dimples and dapples. They land in the glass with a satisfying ker-chunk. “The machine that makes them costs as much as a Mercedes,” joked the bartender.

That very day, our server had picked up Bing cherries from the farmer's market in San Rafael. He muddled the fruit in a glass, added black-pepper infused booze and some other stuff (I told you, I'm not a food writer) and created the best goddamn drink on Earth: the Bada-Bing. Shannon and I wanted to pour it all over our naked bodies. We felt decadent and luxurious.

We went outside for a smoke break. The same guy who owns B&B owns the bars Anu and Swig. His modus operandi seems to be opening upscale lounges in shitty parts of town, which is, of course, brilliant — especially being that, like Manhattan, virtually all of San Francisco will be upscale in a few years. But B&B is situated in a particularly gnarly part of skid row. Bums regularly fight over the last sip of Sparks, trannie hookers adjust themselves, and drunken shitheads from out of town stumble toward the strip clubs and massage parlors like Bonobo chimps with hard-ons. It took about three minutes for a woman with a wig askew to approach us and ask for money. She was tiny, a fact that was made all the more apparent by her sweater, which was six sizes too big.

“Blehsch-free-dollar-mogum-brecht?” she slurred. Her eyes were wide and she breathed through her mouth. I looked down into her face, and she repeated herself. It became quite apparent to me that she was mentally retarded. Nothing makes me sadder than a homeless mentally retarded person. I think about my clients that I work with, and how their lives would be if they had to live out in the streets. I immediately reached into my purse and pulled out some money and handed it to her. “Blooth-frecht-mago-fivedollars-argo!” she said, grabbing my hand. Goddamn this gal had a grip. I tried to wrest free, explaining that I didn't have any more cash (which was true) but she held on tighter. She dropped to her knees. “Bah-bray-quipt!” she cried. “Breg-crawmay!” She was pulling me down with her. The staff of Bourbon & Branch came out and tried to free me. Shannon was pulling on my waist. Eventually I had to peel her individual fingers off of me. I was quickly sucked back into B&B and the door was bolted behind us. Jazz from the '20s was playing through the speakers and couples were laughing to themselves. I went from Les Misérables to The Great Gatsby in about three seconds. Suddenly talk about our therapeutic goals, or whether or not 12 dollars is too much to pay for a drink, all seemed rather indulgent. We sort of sat there. Feeling “different” from everyone as we do, well, that's not the same as the “different” the lady outside feels every day. And Jesus, we had just spent $57 on four drinks. Whatta couple of boujies.

As we left the B&B, one question remained: What would Freud say about the evening's dichotomies? I mean, besides tying everything back to killing my mother and sleeping with my father. What would he make of prohibition, the homeless woman, and cherry drinks? What was my subconscious trying to tell me? Then I heard it, a voice with a thick Austrian accent coming from up above. I can't be sure exactly what was said because the message was in German, but it had something to do with David Hasselhoff, Carl Jung's mama, and “99 Luftballons.” Food for thought.

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