Do You Know the Way From San Jose?
I was one of them once. You know: "them."
I journeyed to bars in the city, then drove in questionable states of sobriety back to the Peninsula or the East Bay. I left coworkers' parties in the Mission asking how to get back to the freeway. I occasionally missed the last BART to Millbrae, and when I wasn't doing that, I got tickets for parking in street-cleaning zones.
Now, I’ve joined the other side, shaking my fist when cars full of them roll into the crosswalk and frowning when they visit my favorite spots.
If you live in San Francisco, you definitely do not love "them": bridge-and-tunnel.
Originating in New York City, the term refers less to wealthy suburbanites (think of our Burlingame), and more to seemingly lower-class residents of Queens or Brooklyn who partied in Manhattan. You get the gist. We think we're Sex and the City and that they're Jersey Shore .
The divide between us and them is often times most visible by the places we occupy. Although there is sometimes crossover within the city, there are definitely spots around town that most San Franciscans avoid because they have a rep for being high-density bridge-and-tunnel. Fueled by curiosity, I wondered about whether there were supposed BNT spots where both demographics could happily co-exist. Surely, on the Sex and the City versus Jersey Shore continuum, there is something for everyone.
I email-polled about 40 Bay Area people and asked them to name what they estimated to be bridge-and-tunnel hangouts in the city limits. From their responses, I purposely vetoed places that prompted the most ire. I instead picked a worthy restaurant, bar, and activity that seemed to have something of value for city dwellers and outer-Bay Area peeps alike. For better or worse, I was about to step back into bridge-and-tunnel San Francisco.
I came to Bruno's with swayable preconceived notions, but they were mostly intact, I'm not gonna lie. Its animal-print carpeting and boudoir lighting and décor struck me first: bah. Surely, a bachelorette party or a gaggle of cougars would roll in any second now. But at 8 p.m., Bruno's is filled with diners and dates rather than drunks.
There is plenty of warm, comforting space inside, but the vibe is apparently a lot different than it used to be. Long-time locals loved Bruno's, and many mourned the loss of its cozy red booths and its old-timey feel that got nixed in a remodel a few years ago. But that was then. Can a formerly beloved spot survive in new skin, with a new personality?
During the time of my visit, Bruno's was serving Southern offerings crafted by foodie favorites, Ryan Ostler and Katharine Zacher, but sadly, the chefs have recently parted ways with the establishment. Fortunately, Bruno's had, and still has, an excellent cocktail and wine list replete with mixologist-worthy words like “muddled” and “gimlet.” I'll be damned: if you asked me before I visited, I would have guessed Jager shots were its biggest seller. After the comforting food and nice conversation with my company, I was still having a good time. I never, not once, wished for anyone around me to shut up or go away.
But there's that other hand -- the things that set off the bridge-and-tunnel alarm. A bouncer and velvet rope mark the exit, and Bruno's website boasts a strictly enforced dress code that bans sneakers and athletic wear. Sure enough, a few button-up shirts and cologne clouds wandered in around 10 p.m. ready to party. It was time for me to move on.
The Redwood Room in the Clift Hotel, however, knows exactly what it is, whether we like it or not. And if you have any desire to be surrounded by beautiful stuff and well thought-out spaces, you'd be a fool to avoid its perfect Art Deco interior. First off, it would be unwise to acknowledge that since this is a (1) nice bar in a (2) nice hotel in (3) Union Square, it has a predictable crowd based on these attributes.
I visited the Redwood Room on a recent Sunday night to meet a friend. During my slow, appraising walk through its main drag, I duly noted that the many empty tables were for reserved table-service only. After raising an eyebrow at digital portraits of people whose eyes followed you around the room, I wandered up to the bar, hoping for a top-notch whistle-wetter. My friend, an attractive 30-something, was already there, remarkably with zero (!) hangers-on.
The bartender was a feisty little lady in her 40s. This actually came as a huge relief. Bartenders always set the tone for me. If they don't know what they're doing, things seem to go awry quickly. If they're too snotty, the bar itself instantly turns negative. So, going into what many describe as a rich-guy's meat market, I was happy to see that the person in this role was a woman who could, presumably, handle a bogus, leery crowd.
After a slow, chin-tapping perusal of the menu, I ordered a Manhattan. A $15 Manhattan, that is. This is far more expensive than the whiskey and Coke at your neighborhood watering hole, and it is slightly more expensive than comparably well-crafted cocktails around town. I'd call it expensive, but I would not call it overpriced.
As we wrapped up our conversation and were getting ready to go, I thought that my friend and I had ended our night without a BNT run-in. But just as were were settling our bill, a 50-something, solitary gentleman taking up space right next to us asked us what two "beautiful women" were doing here alone. He let it slip that, while he spent a lot of time in SF, he lived out of state. That was to change soon, though; he and his wife just bought property on Russian Hill . He offered to buy us drinks, but we didn't take the bait: the offer was actually more amusing than annoying. If nothing else, our easy conversation was a reminder that perhaps the easiest way to bridge the gap between our two worlds is having a sense of humor and savvy social radar.
I laughed when a San Mateo friend said, "The worst people on the entire Peninsula go to Giants games via Caltrain." Though this is at least partly true, nice things are in store once you're away from public transportation, King Street, and the will-call line.
It's ironic, really: the home stadium of a San Francisco team is the congregating point for plenty of BNT. Die-hard Peninsula, North Bay, and South Bay peeps have bupkis, baseball-wise, outside of “your San Francisco Giants,” so it's only fair.
But it is ridiculous to suggest that they're the only ones who go to games and enjoy them.
The atmosphere at AT&T Park should win your heart, and this is where we can all agree, I think. It has a smell (hot dogs, roasted nuts, spilled beer). It has a feel (cold). It has a sound (you are made of stone if you don’t get chills when announcer Renel introduces the players). I even get a little misty when Journey's Lights comes on at the end of a game. I am clearly a sucker for local pride, but then, so is everyone in the stadium.
My most recent discovery here is beer-related. Shitty beer is $10 a cup or something ridonk once you’re inside the stadium. Far better and cheaper ($7) beer, including Sierra Nevada Kellerweis and other interesting microbrews, is available at onsite pub, Public House, where you can ask to have your brew put in a plastic cup and take it with you into the stadium. Speaking of things that we can all agree on: $10 for a cup of crap beer is, well, crap.
Sure, there are the unsavory parts that often get blamed on them. Large groups of drunken college-age kids yell incoherently at the field, and, if you’re lucky, a guy will dump soda on his girlfriend in the bleachers. (She kicked his ass.) But what would a baseball game be without some pep? On the whole, every category of Bay Area person is at a Giants game, decked out in their black and orange, and they are all dripping with love and pride for San Francisco. I will take it, even if the team is just a symbol of far greater things SF has to offer.
Bruno's has an impressive list of drinks to whet your whistle within its cozy Mission walls. If you're feeling fancy, check out the Redwood Room for top-shelf everything to quench your thirst, and enough people-watching opportunities to make you laugh out loud. At AT&T Park, do the seventh-inning stretch and sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” as loudly and off-key as you can.