I can almost smell it: That peculiar mix of spilled beer, cleaning products, old plumbing and questionable decision making. You know exactly what I’m talking about. Every dive bar in America has their own version of it, each with their particular, hard won mutation. A proprietary eau de toilette that sometimes smells more of toilette than it does eau. And I mean that in the best way possible.
I love bars, nearly all of them. Fancy bars, quiet bars, dark bars, loud bars, tourist bars, neighborhood bars, and especially dive bars. It’s not just the booze — sure that’s the lube that makes the machine run — but also all the things that happen as a result of being in bar.
I love seeing people fall in love…or at least deeply in lust. I love hearing insane stories from old drunks that are almost guaranteed to be bulls—-. I love having long, deep conversations with people I’ll most likely never see again. I love the regulars who always sit on the short end of the bar, and sassy bartenders, and the phrase “I’ve got this round Stuart.” I love that the bar is the great equalizer. Outside you may be a CEO or a hitchhiker, but inside, on those stools, you’re just two people who get talkative after a couple of Jamesons.
And in less than a week, I’ll be fully vaccinated and ready to belly up one of the many incredible drinkeries that have just reopened in San Francisco.
As a city we’ve done an incredible job of looking after each other and following proper health protocols to stop the spread of COVID. And we’re kicking ass in terms of getting vaccinated. Because of that, we entered the yellow tier last week, which is California’s least restrictive category. One of the many things this means is that, after nearly 15 months, indoor bars that don’t serve food can finally open. Sure, it’s only at 25% capacity up to 100 people, but that’s a damn good start, and allows us to go in and support the places that have brought us so many good times and so many hangovers.
And they really need it. Some places were able to pivot and almost thrive during the pandemic, but many others have just barely been able to limp along. Still far too many others weren’t able to survive at all.
I can definitively say that I’m excited to not have to wear a parka and sit outside in the freezing San Francisco air if I want to have a cocktail with my friends. And I love that it won’t be mandatory to have food when we drink. That said, I do hope the options stick around. Having the choice to sit inside or outside is actually kinda awesome, plus it means the bar can have space to serve more people, hire more workers, and make more money. And having the option to order food is rather appealing. We can’t expect all bars to have food on hand to feed the drunken masses, but continuing to partner with local restaurants so patrons don’t have to leave to eat seems like a win-win for everyone.
It will be interesting to see how else the world of bars changes now that things are opening back up. I imagine that bottles of hand sanitizer will be as ubiquitous as ashtrays once were, but what about masks? Gov. Newsom said this week that California is likely to end most mask requirements in June. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see many bartenders continue to wear them for quite a while afterwards. I worked in bars and restaurants my entire adult life and I can guarantee I’d have gotten sick far less in my life if I’d worn a mask while serving hundreds of people a day. On top of that, the entire service industry is set up to encourage people to come to work even if they have a cold. Since the majority of servers and bartenders still won’t get paid sick leave after all this (how do we never learn?), they’ll hopefully wear masks when they aren’t feeling well.
There’s probably a number of other ways bars will have adapted to our new reality, and I’m excited to find out what they are. In the meantime, I can’t wait to walk in to Specs’ when it reopens on May 20 just so I can get a big whiff of their perfect dive bar perfume.
Stuart Schuffman is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him at BrokeAssStuart.com and join his mailing list at http://bit.ly/BrokeAssList. He is a guest columnist and his point of view is not necessarily that of the Examiner.