By Sean McCourt
Special to the S.F. Examiner
As Johnny Thunders once sang, “You can’t put your arms around a memory.”
That may be true, but some experiences and recollections linked to a particular place can be incredibly indelible and last a lifetime.
That will certainly be the case for myself and the thousands of other people who have bellied up to the bar at Lucky 13 and ordered a drink over the past 27 years.
The beloved dive bar on Market Street closed for good Sunday night after hosting a raucous send off that saw the parking lot next door opened up to accommodate throngs of loyal customers who wanted one last round before saying goodbye.
The expanded outdoor space also allowed for the social distancing now required during the pandemic, which in part caused the premature farewell to the venerable institution.
I first visited Lucky 13 back in 2001, and was immediately a huge fan — its cheap, strong drinks, dingy dive aesthetic and the best damn jukebox in the world enthralled the twenty-something college student I was at the time. It became my go to spot over the next several years, a I gradually discovered that there was much more to the place than just a bar.
Lucky 13 was the neighborhood’s living room, a party pad for joyous occasions, an oasis for solace and comfort when needed; it was a space where strangers became family.
Countless friendships have been forged and romances kindled there — I myself met my fiancée at Lucky 13 while sipping on a drink alone one fateful night, something that I will be eternally grateful for.
After many years of frequenting the bar as a customer I was lucky enough (pun intended) to join the staff, which is in itself a very close knit family. I will always consider them to be my brothers and sisters.
There are hundreds of stories that I could tell about the crazy shenanigans that I was witness to over the years; Lucky 13 definitely earned its punk and rock n roll reputation, and not just for the impressive collection of concert posters adorning the walls.
A fair number of famous musicians visited the bar over the years, ranging from members of Metallica and Social Distortion to Glenn Danzig, who stopped in last year the night before he played with the reunited Misfits at the Oakland Arena.
And the smell. Oh that instantly recognizable dive bar smell. I think one customer summed it up best one night while I was working the door; a small group had just walked in and one of the girls blurted out, “Ugh! What’s that smell?!”
One of her friends inhaled deeply, looked around and said, “It smells like…vomit…and regret…I love it!”
But for all of the wild antics and drunken mishaps, I’ll also remember the many instances of tenderness and love shared by staff and regulars alike.
Manager Martin Kraenkel emphasized that sense of connection and kinship that has been fostered over the course of nearly three decades while working on Sunday night, simply saying, “It’s all about the community.”
Long time regular Eric Fletcher echoed that sentiment, saying, “Lucky 13, to me, was a community of misfits, service workers and people who didn’t have the patience to go to ‘hip’ bars. It was a place where you could have a beer and meet people and talk about anything from last night’s Giants game to how much you hate your boss.”
While we may no longer be able to come together in that gloriously dilapidated 114 year old building anymore, for so many of us, the years of cherished collective memories of Lucky 13 will live on.
“So fill to me the parting glass/ Good night and joy be with you all.”