A Good Saloon

A Good Saloon Charles McCabe
From his collection, “The Good Man’s Weakness”, 1974

“A nice elderly lady who has never been inside one in her life asks me, ‘What is a good saloon like?’ She presumed from my writings that I had a certain expertise in the matter, and she is right.

“First, you should have certain warning signes. If there is any trace of neon outside the joint, shun it like a social disease. Especially, beware of those places which have a tipped cocktail glass about 15 feet up, done in glorious white neon.

“Not all of these places are terrible. The ones which have broken neon signs, like Gino and Carlo’s on Green Street, can be very good indeed. Despite the exceptions, though, the rule holds.

“Beware too, of artsy-cutesy names–like the Pink Panther, the Anxious Asp, the Dreamy Lagoon, etc., etc. This kind of name is for pop groups or Los Angeles. If the place has simply the name of the owner, and no neon, you’re on the way.

“Remember that a saloon is to pour drinks, in return for pay. Anytime a drinking place forgets that, it forfeits the right to be a saloon. The late John Lardner put it well:

“‘A drinking place in the purest possible sense of the phrase is one in which the boozing aspects dominates the eating aspect. This eliminates lunchrooms and all joints with floor shows or dance floors. In a true bar or saloon the focus of life is the bar itself, and the people on either side of it.’

“Like all good rules, this too has its exceptions. One of the best bars in San Francisco is at the New Pisa on Grant Avenue. This bar is just an adjunct to a crowded and thriving paisano-type restaurant. The small bar near the entrace is devoted wholly to the drinking business.

“Dante Benedetti, the owner, pours more whiskey for the money than any place I know in San Francisco, or, for that matter, anywhere. I once asked him why he poured so much booze. His answer was characteristic.

“‘Thirty years ago my old man told me to put out a good drink. So I do it.’

“Glenn Dorenbush, who has clocked more bar hours than anyone I know, has an added theory. In a good saloon, he says, everything will come to you if you sit on one bar stool long enough. He gets his friends that way, and his girls. He transacts his public relations business–for saloons, naturally–from the same stool right next to the brass service bar at Perry’s on Union Street.

“The owner of Perry’s, Mr. Perry Butler, is so awed by Dorenbush that he has placed a brass plaque on the bar, over the Dorenbush stool with the simple but impressive legend: Glenn Dorenbush.

“A good saloon is a great place to escape from cocktail parties, a curious form of social intercourse which gives a bad name to booze. Cocktail parties are a cross between a fashion show and a Persian Bazaar. Most cocktail parties are given by people who wish to make money out of them in one way or another. In a good saloon, you don’t talk about money.

“A good saloon should not have a clock. You go into one to get away from the tyranny of time, among other reasons. The most saloon-ish of all ‘Frisco saloons, the House of Shields on New Montgomery, does not have a clock. “Clock-watchers aren’t really people.” says barman Pete Ragen.

“The California attitude towards bars is well shown by the fact that, until the advent of this decade, you could not legally even call a drinking place a saloon. The liquor laws of this state seem to have been written by nuns, and administered by the FBI. Their underlying assumption is that there is a violent drunk inside every insurance salesman, and that all saloon keepers are felons at heart.

“A good saloon is, among many other things, a great place to exchange lies, to plan your future, get away from loved ones, make confession without fear of penance, learn what’s wrong with the ’49ers, work out the details of your estate, and eff off in general. It is also, as Mr. Dorenbush points out, a superb recovery room.”

Sleep Dirt

The debris left over from night, which I encounter on my morning dog walks.

Candy wrappers, drug baggies, liquor mini bottles, half pints, chip bags, cigarette butts, used condoms, hypodermics, dog shit.

The Sleep Dirt of an insomniac San Francisco.

Rustling, wrestling, and night sweating.

Day dreaming away the night.

Dog

“Dog,” by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

The dog trots freely in the street
and sees reality
and the things he sees
are bigger than himself
and the things he sees
are his reality
Drunks in doorways
Moons on trees
The dog trots freely thru the street
and the things he sees
are smaller than himself
Fish on newsprint
Ants in holes
Chickens in Chinatown windows
their heads a block away
The dog trots freely in the street
and the things he smells
smell something like himself
The dog trots freely in the street
past puddles and babies
cats and cigars
poolrooms and policemen
He doesn't hate cops
He merely has no use for them
and he goes past them
and past the dead cows hung up whole
in front of the San Francisco Meat Market
He would rather eat a tender cow
than a tough policeman
though either might do
And he goes past the Romeo Ravioli Factory
and past Coit's Tower
and past Congressman Doyle of the Unamerican Committee
He's afraid of Coit's Tower
but he's not afraid of Congressman Doyle
although what he hears is very discouraging
very depressing
very absurd
to a sad young dog like himself
to a serious dog like himself
But he has his own free world to live in
His own fleas to eat
He will not be muzzled
Congressman Doyle is just another
fire hydrant
to him
The dog trots freely in the street
and has his own dog's life to live
and to think about
and to reflect upon
touching and tasting and testing everything
investigating everything
without benefit of perjury
a real realist
with a real tale to tell
and a real tail to tell it with
a real live
	   barking
		  democratic dog
engaged in real
		free enterprise
with something to say
		         about ontology
something to say
		about reality
			        and how to see it
					      and how to hear it
with his head cocked sideways
			        at streetcorners
as if he is just about to have
			  his picture taken
				              for Victor Records
		         listening for
				His Master's Voice
	and looking
		       like a living questionmark
				       into the
			               great gramophone
			           of puzzling existence
           with its wondrous hollow horn
	      which always seems
               just about to spout forth
			         some Victorious answer
				     to everything

 


Document URL: http://www.english.upenn.edu/~afilreis/88/dog.html
Last modified: Wednesday, 18-Jul-2007 16:25:37 EDT

A Dog in San Francisco

Our dog Monty is pretty good with 75% of dogs and 99% of people.

However, there are just some people whom he doesn’t like, he’ll lunge and snarl. For the record, largely stocky Hispanic men and old people in dark clothes and hats.

I assume this is some artifact of his life in shelters, a bad experience he hasn’t yet learned to overcome, but it means we can’t leave him tied up outside a business or restaurant, as many other people do with their dogs.

If we’re out walking I have to get something at our local grocery store, I’ll some times carry him in with me, even though he isn’t a registered “service animal”.

The last time I did this, a gentleman commented, “In my next life, I want to be a dog in San Francisco, and you can be my owner.”

Yeah, Monty does have it pretty good.

From Feb 1, 2012

San Francisco Cocktail Week 2009

San Francisco Cocktail Week will be happening starting tomorrow with an opening gala at Le Colonial.

If you’re in the area check the schedule for many exciting events:

Event Schedule

Of particular interest are the series of events they are calling “bar school classes” on Thursday.  Some of these are already sold out, but quite a few still have seats available.

Not to mention, Alembic is doing its monthly “Stomp Through the Savoy” event in conjunction with SF Cocktail Week on Sunday, May 17th.  We’d love to see you there!