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Soda Popinski’s enters the San Francisco bar ring

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Beth Laberge/Special to the S.F. Examiner
Bartender Cory Hunt wanted Soda Popinski’s to feel like a USSR-era Siberian hunting lodge. The bar is awaiting shipment of a giant missile to hang from the ceiling.

Soda Popinski’S Eight-bit video game nostalgia combined with a Russian hunting lodge theme? If it will work anywhere, it will work in San Francisco. At this new Nob Hill watering hole, sleds and bear pelts somehow fit together with globular lights on spears illuminating a framed “Rocky IV”-era Dolph Lundgren poster. Several months in, Soda Popinski’s is up and punching. We spoke with bartender Cory Hunt.

BAR info: 1548 California St. • (415) 857-1548 • www.facebook.com/SodaPopinskis

I hear there’s some form of Russian roulette here. Do tell.

It was a customer’s idea — “you’ve gotta have Russian roulette somehow.” For $10, you get to spin the wheel. Of 12 possible outcomes, four are good, four are bad and the remainder are OK. The worst is a prairie fire shot [Bacardi 151 and Tabasco] or a cement mixer [Bailey’s and lime juice]. We’ve got a guy who comes in and tries his luck every night.

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Where did you get your theme?

Man, we argued about the name for a month and a half. “Rally” was a strong contender, but ultimately rejected because it reminded me of “puke and rally.” I had about stopped caring, so when I heard “Soda Popinski” we rolled with it. We want it to feel like a USSR-era Siberian hunting lodge.

The character is from “Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out,” right?

The old Nintendo game. Yeah. His character was originally “Vodka Drunkenski” in the arcade version, but they thought it would be too offensive when they released the game for the Nintendo. But we used that name for another drink.

And that is?

Double shot of Russian standard vodka served neat.

Oof. So, can you actually play the original “Punch-Out” here?

We’ve got a projector screen that drops down and an old Nintendo with a bunch of games.

What’s the most popular?

“Mario Bros. 3,” “Contra” and “Punch-Out.” Everyone played those three growing up. The daily Russian roulette spinner guy comes in and beats “Mario 3” pretty regularly.

What did you do before this?

I used to be an attorney doing mortgage insurance stuff and hated it. My friends were the owners at Tonic; they said quit and work with us. That was two years ago. Then I found this space and brought it to the table. This bar was the plan.

Living the dream. So this place is your baby?

Yep. I’m here five nights a week. They handle a lot of the back-end stuff. So rather than trying and failing, I can piggyback on their experience.

The theme definitely shows in the décor. Where’s all this stuff from?

The decorator got all of it from flea markets and thrift shops, except for the bear skin on the wall. We’re waiting on this giant red-and-white missile to arrive so we can suspend it from the ceiling. The space has been a bar for many years. If you look, there’s a very cool stained-glass mural of a foamy beer stein on a shield on the ceiling. We wanted to backlight it, but there’s so much insulation behind it that it would be a real challenge. I remember when we opened, we barely needed two bartenders on weekends. Now we need three to four.

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