Boozing with the future white collar criminals of the world in their natural habitat is no fun; that’s what this writer found out one night at the turn of the last century.
Also we got to walk amongst these rich douchebags and the women who would hold their noses and marry them someday, who wore business clothes to the bar and spent so much time and money on personal appearance that it translated into a legitimate power move over the poors.
Believe it or not, in order to be a fair nightlife journalist and try to appear unbiased toward the squares who never crossed our radar on the more lowbrow side of town, we omitted some of the ugliest occurences and made this evening in the Marina sound a lot less awful than it was.
But any closing night of a bar in any subculture is bound to be frightening to outsiders; it’s 20 years later now and people in graffiti-tagged glass houses shouldn’t throw beer bottles. We’re all trying to be kinder in our speech and more open-hearted so, cultural differences and all that?
As nasty as they wanna be: Our intrepid writer braves potential loss of life and limb to see how the young, rich, white, and unimaginative get down and dirty.
by Summer Burkes, 01.05.99
San Francisco’s oft-maligned Marina District does have its good qualities — it’s really, really clean, the restaurants are nice, cross-cultural catcalls are nonexistent, it’s a safe place to raise kids, and it’s close to the water.
Admittedly, even to the people who live there, the Marina is the place in San Francisco where the young, rich, white, shielded, and unimaginative come to party, loudly, with little threat of harassment from the fire marshal or reproach by the police. When it happens in full force, it’s not a pretty sight.
“Yeah, here in the Marina we don’t go for the sexual harassment like y’all do in the Mission,” a wry, yacht-riding, baseball-cap-wearing acquaintance of mine jokes on a recent evening. “We go straight for the date rape.” (He said it, not me.)
That night, I accompany him and some of his friends to a watershed yuppie event — a famed (notorious?) area watering hole having its last hurrah before closing its doors to make way for a new venue.
As the Marina’s finest packed themselves in tightly and the owners of the bar turned a blind eye, this intrepid writer braved potential loss of life and limb to see how the “clean people” get down and dirty in their own neighborhood. Names, incidentally, have been omitted to protect the innocent and guilty.
At 9 p.m. the surprisingly desolate streets of the Marina belie the throngs of uniformly dressed humanity sardined inside the bar in question. As tired disco songs go tete-a-tete with tired ’80s songs in the DJ booth, well-shaved women in various states of purposeful and accidental undress dance arhythmically on every available flat surface.
The drink of choice at the bar is anything in a shot glass; already at this hour, the bartenders have been slinging drinks so fervently that they, too, have had to liberate themselves of some clothing.
Fear grips my claustrophobic soul upon entry — the density of the crowd makes it difficult to cover any ground at all, so a mad dash for the bathroom is out of the question. I find some relief from the wandering hands of the sobriety-challenged by sitting on the upper tier of a booth, back to the wall and eyes wide.
The table that the booth belongs to is also covered with dancing yuppies; the floor underneath is so layered with shattered glass and vomit that you can’t see the carpet. The wobbly table finally gives under the weight, and the dancing queens and kings go flying.
They try to jury-rig the table in another attempt to engage in the most mundane form of craziness (“Oh my god, I danced on the bar last night …”), and I avoid certain death by pushing my way to a secret back staircase.
Turns out that the back staircase isn’t so secret after all — as people pour outside to smoke and my friend and I pause to regroup, a steady stream of skinny Jennifer Anniston clones marches up the stairs and, guiltily sniffing, wiping noses, and grinding teeth, marches back down.
The charade continues so lengthily and obviously that my friend begins to shout “coke’s upstairs!” every minute or so. One doe-eyed woman actually thanks him before heading up for a bump.
A fat middle-aged man in chestwig and gold chain, smoking a Freudian-size cigar, picks me out as a candidate for his next desperate attempt at fleeting and meaningless companionship.
“Do you know what pork bellies are, my dear?” he says, leaning in. “That’s what I do. I sell pork bellies. I’m a millionaire. Would you like to see my house?” Smooooth.
The mayhem inside progresses at a steady clip, the bathroom lines get longer, people fall down and off things, couples make out unabashedly, and the barley soda flows and flows. Last call is given repeatedly, then forcefully. My companion and I decline two offers to follow along to after-parties (cocaine and yachts — how ’80s), opting instead to observe the end-of-evening fallout.
The bar empties, the floor is littered with unmentionable things, and the stench is almost overwhelming. We watch as an adventurous soul climbs the wall to break off a metal sculpture from the wainscot, shove it under his shirt, and then, when confronted by the owner, wriggle out of an arrest.
One bartender, in a touching display of solidarity, shoves three bottles of call-brand liquor in my arms and pushes me out the door. I shove the bottles in my pants and ride off into the night. Taking a lesson from Lot’s wife, I don’t look back.
This is the 35th entry in my “twenty years ago this week” project from when I was a nightlife columnist at the Bay Guardian, once the country’s largest family-owned weekly newspaper. These “Dilettante” clips, compiled on my portfolio page, create a serial portrait of San Francisco culture at the turn of the century (1997-2001).
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