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Show the locals some love while they’re still around

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The legendary Wild Side West is perhaps the most “Broke-Ass Stuart” bar that ever existed. (Juan Pardo/2014 Special to S.F. Examiner)
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“You know, I’ve never been to the Silver Crest before,” Kayla told me as we were sitting at the bar at Wild Side West. “I’ve passed by it a million times, but I’ve never stopped in.”

“Oh, then we have to go after this,” I told her. “The place is amazing! It’s been open 24 hours a day since like 1970!”

It was going to be a night of firsts for both of us. Earlier, we’d gone up to the top of Bernal Hill with a bottle of wine, some cheese and a baguette to watch the sunset. Across The City, Sutro Tower tried to keep a straight face while the fog snuck around it, tickling Sutro’s legs, as it tumbled over Twin Peaks.

Even though San Francisco is a tiny postage stamp of a city, it’s easy to get set in your ways and to take things for granted. You forget that there are places you haven’t seen and things you haven’t experienced. So when Kayla suggested our jaunt, I lit up.

“That sounds awesome! Despite living here for 15 years, I’ve actually never been.” Kayla was almost as surprised as the hill’s namesake, José Cornelio Bernal, who upon hearing me, sat up in his grave and said, “¿Estas jodiendo conmigo?”

As we were heading down the hill, after the wine and an obligatory Instagram story of the view, I had another confession to make: I, too, had never been to Wild Side West. This might’ve been the biggest surprise yet …

Wild Side West is a legendary lesbian/mixed bar with cheap drinks, oodles of art and a sprawling backyard full of sneaky nooks. It’s possibly the most “Broke-Ass Stuart bar” that ever existed, so much so that when we walked in, Gertrude Stein looked down from her portrait on the wall and said, “Took you long enough.”

The Silver Crest opened in 1970 and hasn’t closed since. (Mike Koozmin/2014 S.F. Examiner)

After a round of backyard drinks and a couple rounds at the bar, it was time to put some real food in us. We headed down the backside of the hill to Bayshore Boulevard, where the Silver Crest Donut Shop has been sitting for nearly 50 years.

Part bar, part diner, and all 1970s Formica, the Silver Crest is a time capsule, where breakfast is served around the clock and old men come to play pinball by themselves. In fact, that’s exactly what was going on when we were there: A man sat quietly playing pinball while Kayla and I ate breakfast for dinner, chatting with the lovely woman who’d been working the graveyard shift for the past 25 years.

“It’s even better than I expected,” Kayla told me.

Pop, the friendly older gentleman who owns the Silver Crest and acts as cook and bartender, came by to make sure our food was good. We nodded like bobbleheads and did the best we could to smile with hashbrowns stuffed in our faces.

“What do you think will happen to it when Pop gets tired of working graveyard shifts and retires?” Kayla asked me a little later. I’d given this plenty of thought in the many years I’d been going there. “Best-case scenario, someone from his family takes it over and runs it the same. Second-best-case scenario, some hipster chef buys it up and keeps the entire aesthetic while doing hipster chef stuff. Worst-case scenario is someone tears it down and builds condos.” We crossed our fingers and went on our way.

It’s a really wonderful thing to explore unvisited places in a city you know so well. It’s easy to forget that there are always new things to indulge in and old places to discover. Most importantly, it’s key to remember to support the places that you already adore. I’ve been in love with the Silver Crest from the day I saw its siren call of neon sign. And now that I’ve finally visited Wild Side West, I’m already plotting my next visit.

Think about a place in San Francisco you’ve always wanted to go. Make sure to stop by and show it some love while its still there.

Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him at BrokeAssStuart.com. Broke-Ass City runs Thursdays in the San Francisco Examiner.

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