Distillations: Pop’s is what we need – a great neighborhood bar

“Donna” found me sitting at the Pop’s bar on 24th Street and York Street, staring vaguely into space rather than my phone. “How are you?” she asked, sitting down on the stool next to me.

“I’m just getting out of something,” I said, shaking my head. “I had a perfectly acceptable day, I was in a good mood, I was moderately productive. But right after I left the house, it got dark so early, and it started to rain, and I got on a bus full of people who made me very aware of human fragility and mortality, and j got a text from a friend saying he was probably moving. out of San Francisco… and suddenly I lost all hope. I was sad and scared and filled with despair, and the world seemed to end. But eventually I got off the bus and started walking and accepted that my friend could leave if he wanted, and it just started to go by, and I feel like I’m getting out of the other side now. So I think I’m fine, I’m just going… “

She nodded. “You’ve just been through intense, floating apocalyptic anxiety, and now you are coming.”


“Okay. I appreciate knowing that. I…”

The bartender stepped forward and put a tall glass in front of me. The drink was mixed so that the dark liquor floated at the top, with the light mixers at the bottom.

“I’ve never been here,” Donna said. Neither do I. “Do they have something …”

I shook my head. “No drink menu so it’s all they have on tap or in bottle or you can ask them to mix. I had a Dark and Stormy, what I thought was… ”

“Very appropriate! Because of the weather and the mood you just went through. Yes! Hmmm.” She looked at the bartender. “I’ll have a cider.”

Cider is an honorable drink, but something in my expression must have suggested that I was puzzled. “I don’t really drink a lot, so I never feel the need to completely stop drinking and dry off for a month like some people do,” Donna said. “But sometimes I like to cut down a bit, so this month I’m drinking less potent drinks. I order a cider so that if I want to have another one, I don’t have to feel bad.


A city like San Francisco has three types of bars. The first type are the “destination” bars. These are bars that want to be places frequented by the rich and powerful, which tourists will flock to, which people across the region, country and world will read on a website or on-board magazine aimed at their customers. exclusive tastes and make a point of going when they are in town. Destination bars tend to be high concept and high cost. And, while 10 percent of them will be the absolute best bars in San Francisco, and maybe the world, 90 percent are nothing more than branded schlock at the end of their inadvertently hilarious mission statements. at the bottom of their decoration which shouts “LOOK AT ME!” I HAVE A THEME! “

The third type of bars in San Francisco are secret bars. They don’t want you there unless you’re around them and as far as I know them they don’t want me to write about them either. But secrets are pretty darn interesting – at least for a while – because even how inadequate and boring they get becomes endearing when it’s part of something hidden.

But we were in the second type of bar: neighborhood bars. And at first glance, Pop’s is a perfect example of the genre. The outer sign is faded. It’s small and relatively cramped, with three TVs tuned to sporting events. It’s dark. Old-fashioned photos of sports heroes, local history and alcohol advertisements line the walls. There’s a photo booth that looks like it’s not working, old beer taps line the walls for decoration, just like the bobbing heads of the Giants… you’ve seen that a thousand times. Neighborhood bars sometimes have drink menus and sometimes drink specials, especially if they’re tiki bars, but often they don’t.

When you’re at Pop’s, it’s obviously a neighborhood bar, and a good one. When you look his website, however, the category is fuzzy. Its homepage is all about merchandise: hoodies, varsity jackets, t-shirts, blankets and liquor bottles available everywhere. Is it really hard to find a bottle of Jameson? Then there are the hospital saline bags filled with pre-mixed cocktails.

Is this the vestige of a desperate attempt to stay afloat as the pandemic prevented them from sitting down and serving anyone? If so, it is heroic and admirable. But that’s not how neighborhood bars behave. If I had caught a glimpse of this kind of hard-to-sell brand while I was there, I probably would have been kicked out for uttering more sarcasm than city ordinances allow in a building this way. cut.

But that was not the experience we had.

Three women relax near Pop’s on 24th Street, where Bacon Bloody Marys are offered on Sunday afternoons. Photo taken in May 2011.

Far from marketing us, Pop’s bar staff went out of their way, which is exactly what neighborhood bars do. They don’t try to be tourist destinations, they try to be the best place for people who live nearby to hang out when they have nothing else to do. When Donna put a box of gingerbread cookies on the bar and said I should have some because she loves to cook but doesn’t have roommates or an office to bring food to, no one blinked . They just sat there and let us drink and catch up on everything that’s been going on for almost three years since we last saw each other.

We talked about how we both had to find new ways to be alone and new ways to reach people during the height of the pandemic. We both realized that we needed people in ways we had previously taken for granted. We talked about her family, half of whom are Trump supporters, and how she tries to keep family ties strong without sacrificing her principles.

I said to him, “I think we’ve all found ourselves wondering, over the last few years, ‘Did I miss something? Were there any signs in their behavior that I could have realized would become this? Should I have seen this coming? Or have they really changed so much that they are now fundamentally different people from those we used to know? “

“Yes,” she said. “I often ask myself this question. I keep going through little things, wondering “was that a sign?” Or do I read the future in the past? ‘ “

We ordered another round.

Donna is a tarot card reader. She is famous in our circles for doing drunk tarot readings. But she doesn’t believe so much that cards have the power to see the future that she believes they have the ability to connect us more to each other. Symbols are a way we can reach out when we don’t know how to reach out, something we can take inspiration from when we’re struggling with something and don’t know what to say.

She brought her cards and offered me a reading. Because even though we connect very well without them, really getting to know each other for the first time, people are the ultimate mystery. We both believe that art and magic help us explore depths that are hidden from us.

No one knows who we are going to become, although we can look for the signs.

“Something I really appreciate about you,” Donna said after the reading, “is how you are so honest and open about how you do. I didn’t remember you doing it until I got here and you told me about the doomsday feelings you had along the way, and then I was grateful again. Just eliminate the bullshit so we can be in a more honest place. “

“Thank you.”

We stayed at Pop’s later than expected. Finally, we settled down. Donna was happy to live a few blocks away, so this could really be her neighborhood bar.

“I love the atmosphere here,” Donna said. “He has great energy. I don’t necessarily want to meet people and mingle with them, but there is something here that I really love just to sit next to.

I observed that during the pandemic most bars became much more like restaurants: places where you sit in a defined space and a menu is brought and served by a waiter and are not encouraged or allowed to. mingle and have experiences with strangers. Pop’s made me realize how many neighborhood bars had to start acting as destination bars for a while to survive: instead of being places people could just go, they had to show up. like destination events, to constantly remind people that they exist and to come up with a pandemic schtick so that people deposit a few bucks to them at a time when neighborhood bars couldn’t be neighborhood bars.

Pop’s seems to have made the transition. Hope the rest of us do too.

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