Saturday, mar. 15, 2008 | 0 commentsometimes you just want to go and get a drink with some friends. And on such nights, you have certain needs. Some people demand a well-mixed drink. Others will only grace a bar stool at an establishment with the proper beer selection. And then there are those who can't live without the distraction of a pool table, pinball machine, jukebox, darts, or even TV. But above all, you need a place to sit and talk, preferably one that's quiet enough to be heard, but not so quiet as to be overheard. Thus music can only be of the background variety. Which means no DJs. And no bands.
Don't misunderstand. I heart bands. It's the *unexpected* band that I hate. If I want to rock, I make sure I'm front and center for Twisted Sister. But when I'm looking to simply get a drink, I don't want to pay a $10 cover, shout my drink orders to a craning bartender, elbow my way through toilet-paper-eared crowds (who don't see me coming because their sunflower faces are all turned toward the band), only to stand in some remote corner near the bathroom for a nodding-only conversation with my friends -- if a drink's going to set me back $14, I might as well be enjoying the soothing pitter patter of a Tonga rainstorm.
A bar can be coverless, bandless, and reasonably quiet, but to be glass-slipper perfect, it also mustn't be too crowded.
Go to a standing-room only bar, and your evening takes on a 12-kegger quality: as you stand around with drink in hand, you feel like you're waiting for someone to tap the keg. If you're lucky, one of your group will manage to score a bar stool. There the lone percher will sit, balanced atop a slippery slope of everyone's coats while the rest of you arrange yourselves in these strange hacky-sack-esque circles. I always feel like I'm at an eighth grade dance, working up the nerve to jump in the middle and pop-lock.
The thing is, no matter how crowded a bar, loud the band, shitty the drinks, you can never just leave because you're always obligated to stay until so-and-so meets you there after her Afro-Brazilian dance class lets out, or thingamhim's Airporter shift ends.
As it stands, people looking to meet friends for a nice, quiet drink must employ an elaborate flow-chart system. If the Latin is ridiculously crowded, everyone will move down to the Make Out Room, and if that's sardine-ish and/or there's a band, mosey over to Doc's Clock. If that's packed or too smoky, on to McCarthy's (which, before its cool-patrol invasion, used to always guarantee a seat at the bar - if you could stand the 7-11 lighting). And then there's always Sacrifice. While a bit off the beaten, and really purple, it always has a table. But variety keeps things spicy, and after a few nights at the Sac, it's easy to be talked into another night of trickle-down libation migration.
Why rely on this tiresome if-then system? Why keep track of the whimsical live music schedules at all the bars in the neighborhood? Why find out too late that your watering hole's been discovered?
In LA there's this service which provides avid surfers with special beepers that go off whenever waves are at their optimal surfability. So you're at work, at the colonic therapist, whatever, and the Surf Alert goes off -- and in as long as it takes to fire up the bus and get your good vibrations to the water, you're hanging ten.
San Francisco needs a similar setup. Not for surfing (surely LA is the only place where surfing floats as an excuse to exit stage right, even). No, SF needs such an alert system for its bars. Specifically, the bars in the Mission.
Enter The Barper (TM pending), the beeper that keeps its finger on the bar scene pulse so you don't have to. With The Barper clipped to your Slates, there's no need to trial-and-error your way from bar to bar - a soothing chime lets you know when the crowd-to-chair ratio at your favorite bar(s) is just the way you like it. Tailor it to match the unique prejudices of your social circle(s), so you receive an alert about only the bars you prefer (Uptown yes, Beauty Bar no). Let your friends know if you're not going to make it ("Ate funny shawerma, going home."), or inform stragglers that you've been forced to move on to a greener bar. On nights when you actually do want the crowds, set the system to a higher tolerance level, so when your Euro relatives are in town, you know exactly where to take them for a glimpse at a quintessentially American frat-party-crowded bar (read Skylark on a Saturday).
The only problem: like the perfect set of waves, many bars are only just-right for short windows of time. And as The Barper takes off, as it most surely will, that window will shrink as crowds are drawn with great efficiency to the nice, quiet bars. And soon what was once a tool of justice will become an instrument of evil, ruining everything for everyone.
With such an inevitability lined up for San Francisco's not so distant future, you may just want to stock up the fridge, freezer, and liquor cabinet, and just hole up with your friends at home. The music's only as loud as you want it to be, the drinks taste just the way you like them, and there's no last call.