It's Sunday night just before last call and I'm eating a cinnamon roll with my girlfriend, having a Budweiser in a time warp of a diner, doughnut shop and bar in the Bayview.
The warm but somewhat haunting sound of Sam Cooke singing “One More Time” quiets the six of us sprinkled throughout the section that's a bar, softly lit by the “We never close” sign just outside.
Since 1970, when the Silver Crest opened, husband and wife owners George and Gina Giavris have never closed it. Even during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. A lot has happened outside, but not much has been done to the interior. Same linoleum floor and cheap wood paneling. Same pinball machines. Same antique bottles of Campari, Dubonnet, Creme de Menthe — probably originals from when the Silver Crest first opened.
George is working the graveyard shift, taking shots of ouzo and cracking Budweiser bottles for the random handful who should probably have been home far earlier but chose to sit under the pale light of the bar.
“Ever since I opened, I never closed the door,” George tells me. “It's a gift to our customers that we never close. Our customers never have to look at their watch when they're here. They're always welcome.”
George works just about every night. He hears many compliments about his wife's pancakes (she arrives early for the breakfast shift). The routine seems familiar for the couple.
For a moment, George reminisced about the days when people used to line up around the corner to get into the diner, and mothers and daughters would dance until 6 a.m. in the bar.
Then came Johnny “Midnight” Rankins, dressed in a cherry-red silk collar and cherry-red wingtips that matched his cherry-red Cadillac Deville parked outside.
“Why 'Midnight'?” I asked.
“Because they used to call my father 'Johnny Overnight,'” he said, chuckling. He followed up his joke with a “Hey!” that perhaps only James Brown could do better.
Sometime in the 1960s, Mr. Midnight said he came to town on the hobo train from Mobile, Ala., where he said was almost killed five times. George and Johnny could not agree on whether they met in 1964 or 1965 — too many years passed between them, too many moments in between. But they met at the disco in their heydays, young and stunnin'.
On this night, Johnny had just finished a DJ set and decided to buy a round for the bar.
He is 84 but convinced that he will live to see 200. Every month or so, Johnny stops in for a late-night bite following a DJ set.
Johnny recalled that when he was young, Silver Crest was popular with truckers. One night he got into some trouble with the truckers, who were unaware that Mr. Midnight was a golden gloves boxer.
“I had to take care of a bunch of 'em one time,” Johnny bragged. “I don't start no shit, but I don't take none either.” He comes to visit George every once in a while. This time he's having a burger and fries with a cup of coffee, a $100 bill sitting at the rim of his plate.
At this point, I felt I needed to get home. But I also needed something for the road. George reached for the bottle of Dubonnet, barely able to twist loose the old sugar from the cap.
I raised my shot of Dubonnet, George his shot of Ouzo.
“They call me papa around here,” George said, his finger stuck in his chest.