Wednesday, September 16, 2009

#23 The City-Wide 1:30 AM Shut-Down

When people worry over the public nuisances associated with San Francisco’s 2 AM alcohol closing hours - “yelling, urinating, vomiting - in some cases even stabbing or shooting one another” - the contributing causes get all mixed up. Effectively shutting down the city at 1:30 does cause civic disorder but not for the usual reasons.

If you’re a SF guy with a big buzz and 2 AM comes and you wander bleary eyed onto Broadway at Columbus or some godforsaken stretch of Folsom an emptiness descends upon you like Paris Hilton felt when the cold cell doors clicked shut and when that happens, at the moment of first relief from the noise, the emotional mayhem and visual blare, you have a sudden mind-clearing mini-epiphany: you’re surrounded by dudes. Louche, cretin-minded, groveling, d-baggy dudes. And this you realize is just part of a horrible historical continuum, the way it has been the whole night - from pregaming to cabbing to bar hopping it was dudes to start and dudes to end and dudes in between. Nothing else. There’s no girls in SF, you think, just you standing drunk on a dirty dark street peering into the red-shifting future of your lonely lonely life. There’s only two things that can happen after that thought: you’re going to tear up or you’re going to tear sh*t up.

It’s not a scenario without precedent. The issue is whether there’s a remedy. Closing hours for alcohol service vary across this once teetotaling country but there is a definite correlation between later closing hours and vigorous night life. Las Vegas and New Orleans never close, Miami closes at 5 AM, NYC, Atlanta, and Chicago close at 4 AM, Tampa and DC close at 3 AM (with most cities encouraging staggered closing hours depending on the venue).

But there are counter-examples. LA, long a Mecca for nightlife enthusiasts, and the party-town of Phoenix both close at 2 AM. So what gives?

There’s three problems. First, Phoenix and LA, unlike San Francisco, are driving cities, which facilitates flow. In Phoenix you can start downtown for happy hour, zip over to Scottsdale while your shirt’s still pressed then bomb across town to Tempe where your shirt comes off. You can hit a million places. LA is analogous.

By contrast San Francisco is all micro-climated and micro-cultured up, sort of like the Jeffersonian ideal and sort of like surviving federal prison. You have different neighborhoods - SOMA, Marina, Mission, Castro, Haight, the Broadway strip, etc. - and each neighborhood pretends it cannot imagine associating with the other. “Ugh, the Marina,” says a Caucasian Stanford grad who buys her clothes at high-end boutiques in the Haight, implying she wants to shiv the Caucasian Cal grad chicks who frequent Marina wine bars and shop at high-end Union Street boutiques. “Choose your side, ese,” she snarls at you as you make plans for the night.

So once you choose a neighborhood, you’ve chosen for good. Blood in, blood out. Whatever neighborhood you’re in at 10:30 PM is where you’ll be the rest of the night. The 1:30 AM last call doesn’t afford 45 minutes of effing around with impossible parking or non-existent taxis. In addition, the bullsh*t aesthetic, attitude as well as weather differences between the different neighborhoods are large enough that even if there was convenient transportation, you’d feel compelled to re-gear your psychology and apparel before going.

This, coupled with the fact people being people never have the wherewithal or foresight to start out the night somewhere new, means that in the end you’re stuck going to the exact same bars in the exact same neighborhood and never have the chance to meet the stranger you want to meet, who is in another totally different, far more enthralling neighborhood, surrounded, just like you, by unattractive, egomaniacal, slutty, stupid, etc. people she’s known forever.

Secondly, like the famously migratory cities of New York, Las Vegas and Atlanta, San Francisco doesn’t have a settled population, which means there’s no established infrastructure of informal socialization, which means, in turn, you depend on bars, clubs, coffee shops etc for meeting strangers and you need those venues to be open and busy as frequently as possible. A hip, ever so chic bistro serving wine at 3:00 AM means 1) that’s one more chance to meet a classy lady and 2) a 1:45 AM invitation to keep the night going suddenly seems way less creepy.

The third contributing factor is SF’s restaurant scene, which is popular, a good thing certainly, if this was New York, where the girls bounce to Hotel Gansevoort after sushi at Tao, or if this was Vienna or Paris or wherever it is that groups of straight men voluntarily go to restaurants. But this is San Francisco, where on a Friday at 10:45 PM all of SF’s females are at Umami and all the dudes are at sports bars, so what you have is first, a segregation situation like the boy’s side of the gym at a junior high dance, and second, a c*ck blocking confluence of cold wind, bad parking, no taxis, and a last call within shouting distance, which means the ladies “go out” but quit at exactly the wrong time, when they’re two and half mojitos deep. You might as well start putting up the barricades.


  1. You may as well have put up a sign for dudes to descend on Umami for the rest of the weekend. Otherwise, excellent blog. Just don't be giving up the locations of my quasi-legal after-hours watering holes on that godforsaken stretch of Folsom :)

  2. Truly excellent insights, keep up the good work -- you're a national treasure, or a San Francisco treasure at the very least

  3. When I moved to Chicago last month, when I went to bed at 6AM, I realized that this was the first time in my life that I've went to bed this late from being out at night, and not staying up to play video games. I realized quickly that it was because every frigging thing in SF closes at 2AM. Where can you even get a decent eat at 4AM? Nowhere.

    I once overheard a phone conversation on BART as well, where a semi-attractive Asian girl was talking about her plans for Saturday night. She was going to go have dinner with friends, then maybe to a bar for an hour or two, then head home. This is why there are no girls in San Francisco.

  4. Ewww -- why would you eat sushi at Tao?

  5. dude this blog is fucking brilliant, but seriously depressing. i am an nyc transplant ( lived there for 8 years ) here for grad school, and all the shit you're saying is totally true.

    are you going to post any recommendations on ways to fix it? ways to get around it? for example- house parties are the latest parties in san francisco and are super numerous, also certain venues, ( Mighty for example ) stay open to 4am....

  6. Keep up the good writing. Your blog is slowly becoming an addiction.

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