It was the first night in a week where it hadn’t rained or drizzled and city’s mood was buoyant. The temperate, windless evening was lit by the glowing orb of the full moon. Z. and I were pumped because we were on our way to watch smoker fights at my old dojo, K-One Fitness. But when we got there, we discovered the event had been moved to the following Friday. We’d been hoping for some feisty full moon fight energy, as I’d noticed the vibe during the day with drivers cursing at each other and people on the bus getting mouthy and shoving each other—in the senior section! I jokingly said that we could probably watch some scuffles if we hung out in the Tenderloin at one of the many watering holes near her place. Not really hoping to see any serious street fighting but also not wanting to call it a night at 8 pm, we wandered in the light of the moon down to Geary Street and a reliable standby, Whiskey Thieves. Except for the occasional metal song blasting forth from the juke and the presence of a couple of cute pups, it was a mellow, uneventful visit.
Debating where to head next, Z. suggested checking out Jonell’s at the corner of Eddy and O’Farrell. Some of her security gig co-workers spoke highly of it. Before we had gone a half-block, a drunk street guy came up behind us and started quasi-singing “Don’t Stop Believin” as we waited for the light to change. I joined him in some improv karaoke until we could cross the street and get away from him. Z. joked that it was like a modernized version of Jedi mind powers to deflect the drunks. Meet them halfway and turn up the volume!
As we approached Jonell’s undiscovered dive territory, we could hear Rick James’ classic “SuperFreak” blaring. The bar appeared empty from the street view except for a guy standing in the corner of the room with his back to the door possibly engaged in suspect behavior of some kind. Z. needed to finish her smoke so we loitered outside for a moment. Within 30 seconds another boisterously drunk dude zeroed in on us, this time inviting us into the bar to dance. We politely declined and he asked us if we were lesbians. (Because if you don’t jump at the chance to go into a deserted bar and dance with a guy, that’s probably the reason.) We replied in the negative and he got a bit defensive but we managed to maneuver the vibe back to a joking tone. He eventually gave up on us, wished us a good night, and walked into Jonell’s. We realized we should pick another destination unless we wanted to deflect our new friend’s attentions for the extent of our visit.
We circled around to check out the Nite Cap up on O’Farrell and Hyde but as I suspected from the Full Moon Ale beer signs in the window, it was a shadow of its former dive self. The drink specials were relatively pricey and the clientele was techie heavy—there was even someone using their laptop at the bar. It also had a strange and offensive odor of industrial disinfectant. You can try and tart up a dive bar but olfactory phantoms cannot be cast out so easily.
Then Z struck on the idea of the Gangway, the city’s oldest surviving gay bar, though its status like many SF beloved watering holes, was threatened. (She’d heard about in her tour of the Tenderloin when she first moved to the area.) As we paused out front, one of the patrons smoking outside waved us in, saying “Go ahead! It’s friendly!” The atmosphere was cozy and cheerful, and populated with a variety of regulars and Z. recognized the bartender through a mutual friend, making it seem even more welcoming. This didn’t earn us any drink discount but none were needed since they had a solid cheap beer and whiskey shot special as every TL dive should. We sipped our drinks and chatted, enjoying the atmosphere. The jukebox had an interesting variety of tunes, from 80s traditional to strange surprises like goth staple Siouxsie’s “Cities in Dust.” At one point a sweet older man came by and said he was going to put on some Tori Amos just for us. If only they’d had Tori’s cover of “Raining Blood” but as cool as the vibe was, that seemed unlikely.
Per local dive statutes, there was also a colossally wasted person in attendance. At the Gangway that night, this role was played by a man perhaps in his 60s, with scraggly long hair and his aged, but still-muscled, arms on display. His sleeveless vest had the motto “STAY AWAY” emblazoned on the back. Even without this warning, he didn’t really invite anyone to strike up a conversation. Though he was mostly quiet when we came in, he soon began ranting about fucking multiple people and/or having them suck his cock. Since he appeared to be directing his commentary towards group of guys stationed across from us it was easy for us to ignore. Patrons eventually started yelling “Hey [Name] —Just be quiet and drink already would you?” The bartender warned him he was going to get cut off but ended up serving him anyway. Maybe this was the equivalent of a warning shot because he did settle down after this—at least during our brief visit. After we finished our beers, we stood up to collect our things and head out. As I got up from my bar stool, the Stay Away guy, who had been sitting a few stools down from us most of the time said (in a most sincere, sloshed way) “I just want to tell you that you have a great ass!” Somewhat taken aback but appreciating the comment from someone who has undoubtedly seen a lot of ass in his time, I gave him an equally sincere “Thank you!” before we headed out.
You can never plan on a night of fun, random encounters when heading out on the town. We ended up encountering more would-be lovers than fighters during our TL full moon festivities and that was just fine with me.