If you live in San Francisco, chances are you know someone - or at least you know someone who knows someone - who has been thrown out of Zeitgeist.
The city’s most popular dive bar is famous for tossing out patrons early and often. As someone who hasn’t been among the banished, this idiot-weeding process has often seemed like a gift.
So while Zeitgeist staffers were recently named “meanest in the city” by the San Francisco
Chronicle, I am among the locals who don’t mind the gruff attitude – especially since we all understand we’re drinking in a punk bar. Until recently, I’d never given much thought to the staff, actually. I’d been too busy drinking – and on a sunny afternoon, you can’t do better than a Bloody Mary at a Zeitgeist picnic table.
But then a friend told me a story about a couple who had flown in from Chicago to get engaged at Zeitgeist. Apparently, due to one clueless relative’s bad move, the whole party was kicked out. I decided to find out what happened, and to see what other tales of Zeitgeist expulsions I could unearth.
The first thing I did was to track down Joey Stanfa. He’s the guy who traveled from Chicago to propose to his girlfriend, Denise Trevino, only to be unceremoniously exiled with his entire party minutes later. What possibly could have happened? I called Joey up, and he was happy to explain.
First of all, he wanted me to know that he planned the trip specifically so that he could propose on the same spot where he had kissed Denise for the first time, six years prior to the day. Because his plan was so elaborate, he had called the bar to make sure that what he had in mind was OK.
The question-popping part went fantastically. Denise was caught by surprise, she said yes, and the beer garden erupted in applause. But then Joey’s uncle – who had flown in from Texas – made a mistake. He’d snuck in a San Pellegrino water bottle filled with champagne, and when he started pouring the bubbly into plastic cups, a bouncer noticed. Long story short, numerous f-bombs were dropped, and the entire party had to leave. Denise wasn’t even allowed to finish her drink.
“Congratulations, but you gotta get the fuck out of here,” Joey remembers being told.
Upon hearing that story, I wondered who else was getting the boot from Zeitgeist. The easiest (if slightly unreliable) place to find out was Yelp. If that site is to be believed, drinkers have been turned out of the bar for such offenses as laying their head on someone’s lap, taking photographs, and presenting a real ID that a bartender misidentified as fake. One woman posted a five-star review about how much she loved the Bloody Marys, but later subtracted four stars after her best friend was apparently kicked out for wearing patchouli-scented lotion.
I contacted all of the reviewers, and one got back to me: the ID guy, a local photographer named Josh Bobb. He explained that on Halloween several years ago, a Zeitgeist bouncer had confiscated his Alaska ID telling him the hologram was misplaced and therefore fake. When Josh argued to get it back, the bouncer called the cops. Josh also called the police to report his ID stolen. At the end of the ordeal, the fuzz handed Josh back his property and he took off.
I also posted a note on Facebook asking for tales of Zeitgeist expulsions – and got immediate results. One of my friends responded that she’d been tossed from her own going away party for a three-pronged offense: drinking Zeitgeist beer out of a mug she received as a gift, having an unopened beer inside her purse (also a gift), and getting sassy about the scolding. A local musician and acquaintance, William Cotton, told me he’d been ejected twice: for standing on a bench and for gifting someone an unopened bottle of alcohol. Julia Donahue, a union organizer I’d met at a party, had also been booted twice: once for bench-standing, and another time with 10 friends for bringing in an already-busted Dora the Explorer piñata. Apparently, Zeitgeist has a rule explicitly forbidding piñatas.
At this point, I had heard enough from disgruntled patrons. I headed over to Zeitgeist to get another side of things.
On a recent Sunday evening, the bar was relatively quiet. When the dirty-blond-haired bouncer asked to see my ID, he wasn’t especially friendly about it. But he wasn’t unfriendly either.
I told him I was there to find out why so many people get booted from Zeitgeist, and he didn’t look impressed. He wasn’t going to say much and he didn’t want his name in the story, but finally he agreed to tell me a few things.
“When’s the last time you kicked somebody out?” I asked.
“We’ve kicked two people out tonight,” he said.
I laughed. He didn’t.
Here’s the thing about Zeitgeist, he said. It’s a large bar – the maximum capacity is 291 – and people like to show up in big, drunken groups. They’ve oftentimes come from other crazy events, like Santacon or Bay to Breakers. They bring their Burning Man gear and their Hula- Hoops and their wild dispositions, he said, and in this bar, none of that is acceptable. “Keep your party off of everybody else’s party,” he explained. “It’s common sense.”
Beyond that, anything illegal is also grounds for an ejection, and that includes bringing in alcohol from outside, smoking within 15 feet of the nonsmoking areas (which forced the exit of the pair earlier in the night), and plenty of other stuff.
“But why are people being ejected so frequently?” I asked.
The bouncer looked at me with sad eyes. He’s worked here for 15 years. He’s seen crazy shit – fighting, broken windows, injured bystanders, belligerence, total disrespect of the property. “If you are getting kicked out, it’s probably because you did something wrong,” he told me.
I began asking about specific incidents, like that engagement party that got temporarily 86ed, and the bouncer started to bristle. “I kicked them out,” he said. “They broke the law. Now they have a story they can tell about their engagement.” Another former Zeitgeist employee put it a different way: “I don’t fly across the country and poop in public,” he said.
When I asked him about the stolen ID incident, he said he didn’t know anything about it. “Your line of questioning is starting to annoy me,” he added.
Although it’s the job of the bouncers to keep order in a place where people tend to incite chaos, Zeitgeist’s staff has taken things too far on a few occasions. Yes, Joey Stanfa’s party broke the law. But it’s inhuman to throw a newly engaged couple out of a bar they traveled hundreds of miles to visit.
In its stubbornness to place policy before patronage, Zeitgeist is not alone. At the Ha-Ra Club, people have been kicked out for ordering margaritas or playing pool too loud. Specs’ Twelve Adler Museum Cafe will exile those who snap fingers at the staff, and the original owner of Aub Zam Zam used to famously tell anybody he didn’t like to beat it. This callousness has only boosted the reputations of the bars that employ it. (Julia Donahue avoided Zeitgeist for a year after her exile, but when friends insisted on going there recently, she gave in. “I had the most perfect day, and much of it was at Zeitgeist,” she said. “It made me feel different about the place.”)
Is there something masochistic about this gentle city’s fascination with gruff bartenders? Maybe. But I’d also argue that we continue going back simply because bars like Zeitgeist are great. No matter how the infamous dive handles disturbances, it still has killer Bloody Marys, a central location, and that sweet, sweet patio.
Go have a Bloody Mary at Zeitgeist just make sure not to:
• Stand on the tables.
• Take photographs.
• Bring a piñata.
• Bring in ANY outside alcohol.
• Annoy other patrons.
• Sass the bouncers.
• Look, sound, or smell like a hippie.
• Look, sound, or smell like a yuppie.
• Ask too many questions.
And if you have any good stories of being tossed or seeing a tossing, we'd love to hear about it in the comments section below.