Mauna Loa goes against the grain of Marina bar scene in San Francisco 

click to enlarge Bartender Kari Christensen describes Mauna Loa as a “beer-and-shot kind of bar,” where a shot of Jameson is a few bucks cheaper than it is down the street. - BETH LABERGE/SPECIAL TO THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Beth Laberge/Special to the S.F. Examiner
  • Bartender Kari Christensen describes Mauna Loa as a “beer-and-shot kind of bar,” where a shot of Jameson is a few bucks cheaper than it is down the street.

In the heart of the Marina district, Mauna Loa Club is a cozy alternative to the numerous upscale nightspots — long on value and short on pretense. To the left of the curved bar, a large red-and-white sign informs patrons that during happy hour, which runs from 2 to 8 p.m. weekdays, draft beers are $1 off and well drinks are just $4. In a neighborhood where $12 cocktails are the norm, that’s no small thing. Inside, subtle Hawaiian decor is contrasted by a variety of electronic entertainment, including six high-definition TVs tuned in to sports, an AC/DC-themed pinball machine, a Super Shot basketball game and “Big Buck HD,” an arcade game displayed on a panoramic flat-screen in which players stalk wild animals. For patrons who prefer more traditional bar games, a foosball and pool table round out the selection. Bartender Kari Christensen is a San Francisco native who learned the trade at the Inner Sunset pub The Mucky Duck. She holds a journalism degree from San Francisco State University and is currently in her fourth semester of metal arts at City College of San Francisco.

BAR info: 3009 Fillmore St. • (415) 563-5137

Not only are you one of those rare San Francisco natives, but your roots in this town run deep, don’t they?

I was born and raised in San Francisco. My dad claims we’ve supposedly been here for four generations, but when I did the family history, I found three generations for sure. My grandmother was born sometime after the [1906] earthquake.

How did you get into metalwork and jewelry making, and what role does it play in your life?

My instructor, Suzanne [Pugh], is a great teacher. After getting my master’s degree, I went back to school to study kinesiology. I originally took metal arts for stress relief, but now I really like it. The tedious work takes your mind off everyday life, and I like being able to say, “I made this.”

Some Yelp reviewers have described Mauna Loa as a dive bar. Is that accurate?

It’s a little more divey than the other bars in the neighborhood. You can come in wearing jeans and be comfortable, and we have tons of games to play. … We’re not overpriced. You can go down the street and pay $10 for a shot of Jameson, and that’s a little overpriced. We charge $7.

A lot of people have opinions about the Marina bar crowd. What do you think?

I think it’s like any stereotype. If you allow yourself as a human being to fall into stereotyping, then you can. It’s like with the Mission, “Oh, it’s a hipster crowd.” As a bartender, you feel out personalities, because some people are nice and some aren’t. You have to be prepared to serve people and keep a smile on your face. We get a good crowd, and the people I work with are great people.

What drinks are in demand right now?

We’re a beer-and-shot kind of bar. ... Our most popular one right now is Fireball. People love that stuff. It’s cinnamon whiskey. Fireball, Bud Light and Jameson are our most popular sellers.

Your various game machines seem to be a big attraction.

Big groups will come in and challenge each other. For a lot of pub crawls, we’re one of the events people have to get through. Usually they have to achieve a certain score on the Super Shot machine before they can go on to the next bar.

Do you see people using the games as icebreakers?

Yes, with “Big Buck HD,” people definitely challenge each other as a way of breaking the ice.

Mauna Loa’s style seems to be distinct from the other bars in the neighborhood.

It does have an interesting look to it. The bar’s been here since about 1955. We’re a
Hawaiian-themed bar, even though we don’t happen to serve Hawaiian-themed drinks.

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