The Daly Show
“A public forum isn’t a place where you should be prim and proper,” former Supervisor Chris Daly told me the other night. “You should act the same as if you were in public or on the streets.” While some might disagree with him on that point, no one is going to police etiquette in a dive bar. Which is part of the reason why Daly taking over the Buck Tavern (soon to be called Daly's Dive) is perhaps the perfect way for him to continue fighting the good fight now that he’s out of City Hall.
You probably know Daly from his proclivity for throwing punches literally and figuratively during his ten years as supervisor. He nearly came to blows with then-Mayor Willie Brown ("You want some of this? Bring it on!"), told a landlord to fuck off at a tenants rights meeting, and allegedly threatened a police officer’s job when he was arrested at a protest. He fought “tooth and nail” for affordable housing. Some people dismiss Daly as a hot head. I think he’s problematically alienating, but I’m all for a guy that’s passionate about progressive politics. Hell, sometimes I feel like screaming too.
Daly was barely five hours out of his job as supervisor when I pulled up a bar stool at the Buck Tavern on Market Street. Daly, in a “Team Tibet” sweatshirt and jeans, was on the phone with former President of the Board of Supervisors Aaron Peskin (“Who would think we’d go from political nemeses to partners in crime?” Daly said later). They were discussing what to do about the coup of moderates voting in Ed Lee as interim mayor. Any fear that Daly was off of the political scene was instantly quelled.
I whipped out my Healthy San Francisco card and asked for the half-priced drink he had advertised in his interview with SFAppeal . “That’s totally fucking awesome,” said Daly, checking out my card and pouring me a well-cocktail. Technically, however, he said they might offer that kind of discount in the future, so it’s not official yet. (Judging by his excitement though, it’s probably worth bringing in a union or HSF card to see what you can get.)
I asked Daly if we could look forward to bar fights, expecting a crack about his political antics. He said he didn’t open the bar to pick a fight. He’d had a hard time getting a liquor license, but it all worked out. He gave Newsom a heads up and even invited Inspector Dave Falzon, the police officer who works with the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, out for coffee. But then, Daly showed me a police citation he’d received for some small graffiti on his storefront on the night he protested Lee’s appoint. According to Daly, it seemed like more than just a coincidence. Some feuds die hard.
He says it's going to be weird for him to figure out how to fight back politically from outside. At 38, he’s spent half his adult life at City Hall. But he sees his bar as a continuation, not a deviation, from his political career. If that seems confusing, just think about how many revolutions got started in pubs. “It’s a place where people have conversations, hash out ideas, plan, and bond,” explained Daly, pointing to his Irish heritage. Even the American Revolution was planned ale in hand.
There are other bars and cafes that have become progressive San Francisco political meeting spots by de facto – like the Cafe Macondo, Cafe Boheme, Zeitgeist, and El Rio, but none have done it intentionally. He hopes it’ll give the progressive community a shot in the arm and keep people from being too earnest. “Progressives don’t know how to lighten up,” joked one progressive community activist and now Buck regular. “You don’t know what you’re fucking talking about,” deadpanned Daly.
What does a San Francisco political bar look like? First off, nothing like a D.C. one does. Instead of suits making deals with lobbyists, there will be fundraisers for organizations like the Bike Coalition. Monday nights will be packed with the Drinking Liberally group’s regular meet-up. The night before I visited, Jeremy Pollock, Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi’s aide, had packed the place for his last-day-of-work party.
Around the bar were lots of longtime Buck regulars, but most were there for Daly – whether out of camaraderie or curiosity. Progressive politico mainstays, David Tornheim and Marc Salomon sat next to me at the bar, and Daly said I had just missed Mike Farrah, Newsom’s former senior advisor, who is Daly’s friend despite having worked for the man. Several friends and fans dropped in and congratulated him on the new bar. Others had heard about it on blogs and Facebook and were curious. But it was comparatively quiet, in part because Supervisor Jane Kim, who took over Daly’s spot on the board, was having a party that night.
That week the Buck had also hosted the after-party – or wake, depending on your views – following his last Board of Supervisors meeting. It's turning out to be a clubhouse, strategy room, and drinking hole for progressive community activists, local reporters, and politicians – as well as the regular Joe looking for a beer. On any given night you’re likely to find barstools occupied by writer H Brown, Mirkarimi, or Peskin (who, according to Daly, has a weakness for shots of high end liquor).
It’s not Daly’s first time behind the bar. Before City Hall he was a community activist by day and a Justice League bartender by night. “Bartending is like riding a bike,” he said. His persona as a politician comes through – in a good way. At one point Daly joined me on the customer side of the bar – a classic Daly move, identifying with the regular man instead of the guys in charge. I overheard a customer thanked him for his “candid advice” about the cheap chardonnay.
The conversation that night was dominated by complaints about the last Board of Supervisors meeting and Lee’s appointment. “John and the progressives got played. People put a Chinese Nationalist agenda ahead of issue based politics.” The conversation between Chris and his friends at the bar was insider-y with the use of first names and references to stand offs over the past ten years. But instead of keeping the talk exclusive, Daly made a point to welcome anyone in to fuel the debate.
Honestly I was a little disappointed not to see more politically (or booze) fueled drama, but when it came to talking issues, Daly came through with honesty and conviction. He even showed me the text exchange he had with Kim, who he says is one of the people who sold the progressives out.
Daly wants a bar for a whole cross-section of the progressive community. The location – in the geographical intersection of Hayes Valley, the Castro, the Mission, the Lower Haight, SOMA, and close enough to City Hall to be an after-work politico spot, but definitely not downtown – couldn’t be better. It’s a former gay bar, but with a working-man-sports-bar-divey-vibe going on and a bar food menu. That could work for just about anyone.
He plans to redesign it gradually, in part because practically he can’t move any faster, but also so as not to alienate regulars with a dramatic quick overhaul. He’s a business owner now, but not a gentrifier. He’s going to bring in more locally brewed beers. Once the weather warms, he’ll introduce his favorite summer drink: Tequila and Fresca. The dusty six-pack of O’Doul’s will eventually give way to Clausthaler – Gavin Newsom’s drink of choice – although the likelihood of the new Lieutenant Governor stopping in is next to nil.
The menu, now heavy on burgers and fries, will eventually have more hippie food. Instead of an internet jukebox he wants a real one featuring political rock from U2 and Bruce Springsteen. He's putting in big windows to literally make the place transparent and break down the barriers between insiders and those on the streets. While I was there, he started taking down some of the commercial beer ads and mirrors, which he’s going to replace with political posters.
Behind the bar was a Viva Daly sign from his recent roast at The Independent. In the back room hung his first political campaign poster – a black and white silk-screen featuring a bomb. And of course, he’s in the market for a vintage Donkey Kong arcade game – a tribute to his infamous last political tirade promising to politically “haunt” David Chiu for voting for Lee. “ It’s on like Donkey Kong! ”
The Buck Tavern (soon to be Daly's Dive) is at 1655 Market Street at Gough. Drinking Liberally meets there on Mondays at 7 p.m.