The 500 Club: A Daytime Dive

Drawing by Molly Oleson

En Español.

Slater stands under a purple umbrella while Cherry Bomb paces back and forth in bright blue rain boots. The flickering neon 500 Club sign stabs a drizzly gray sky.

If they stay right here, they might sell some Street Sheets to the smokers darting out of the open side door. Slater’s “dad,” Jeffrey, is bartending, and he won’t ask them to leave. He’s a softie. And everybody’s family at 3 p.m. on a Monday.

“How you doin’, honey?” a woman asks a man as she walks in and shakes her hair dry. Front pages of the Chronicle dangling from the ceiling dance in the breeze that follows her.

He’s watching the game. Top of the fifth: Detroit 3, Texas 2. She was gonna do laundry, but it started freakin’ rainin’ again.

Todd, Henry, Liz, Summer and the others perched at the bar are part of the usual lineup — some 13 steady drinkers who have been here since Jeffrey opened up at 11 a.m. Most of them also stare out from photos nailed to the walls, or have mix CDs in the Starlight Rowe jukebox.

The 500 Club, one of 38 bars in the Mission District, is an old neighborhood favorite. A dive on the corner of Guerrero and 17th, it has quenched the thirst of natives, transients and ne’er-do-wells for generations. It’s a place, says Clare, one of the owners, that’s the same as it’s always been. A place you can return to in 10 years and “probably know someone.”

The regulars are here to drink with those who know their names and their stories — with those who, like them, never turn down another shot. Like Emiley, who bartends at night but checks in daily, the regulars favor bars over cafes — the talking, cussing, listening to music, telling bad jokes. As morning fades to night, hard alcohol softens reality. They say the place feels like a living room, and they nearly forget that sons and wives wait for them in real ones. Right before sunset, they tuck their stools back in.

There are folks Emiley doesn’t like — maybe five out of the 60 regulars. Those are the entitled, who throw their straws on the ground and think 40 years of loyalty means they should be served right away.

None of them are at the bar now. Todd’s drinking his usual: Herradura tequila and Trumer Pils (preferably in a frosty mug). Henry sips a tall vodka collins, and asks for another shot when it gets low. Liz shoots Fernet but has taken to Greyhounds. Summer doesn’t like fruit floating in her Ketel One and soda, so Jeffrey squeezes lemon into the glass, then tosses the rind.

If Todd and the others weren’t here, Emiley would be worried. It’s a daytime bar. It’s family. It’s not a habit. It’s our life, she says.

She sits on a stool in black Vans, jeans and a slashed, off-the-shoulder T-shirt with a wolf on it. Her arms are covered with inked flowers. “Off With Her Head” scrolls across the top of her chest. Her fingers are decorated with silver and turquoise jewelry, and at the end of a leash is her new rescue dog.

“I might call him Gizmo because he has those silly little ears,” she tells her friend, who pets another dog sprawled across one of the ripped black leather booths.

“Hey, Joe,” Emiley says as a man walks in. He has gray hair, glasses, and carries a newspaper under his arm. He’s a bookie from New Jersey who drinks Miller Highlife, followed by white wine. He knows everything about every pony and every racetrack. He’s been coming here forever.

He mumbles something about Emiley’s mother up in Reno.

“Ahhh, go watch your ponies, you old fart,” she says.

She wouldn’t work here if it were a normal bar.

“Everything I Own” by Bread begins to play.

Emiley knows that Todd put it on. “He’s gonna start crying any second,” she says.

And I would give anything I own
And give up my life, my heart, my home ….

And then it stops. The lineup boos.

“I didn’t do it, I didn’t do it, I didn’t do it!” Emiley shouts.

She looks at Gizmo. “Did you skip Uncle Todd’s song?”

At the other end of the bar, they don’t care about the music.

Bryce Beastall, 42, just got off of work at Clare’s Deli next door. He sits next to Chris Yuseless, 43.

Beastall can be found drinking bottles of Pabst Blue Ribbon here, mid-day, four days a week. Yuseless walks by the place and if he sees someone he knows, he stops in.

They’re talking about the other bars they frequent. Kilowatt. Benders. Lucky 13.

“Who’s working at Kilowatt today?” asks Yuseless.

“Mondays are usually Mike,” Beastall says.

Yuseless is from Connecticut. “Not the rich part, the white trash part,” he says. “Like her.” He points to Clare as she walks in with a delivery for bar stool number four.

Known to bartenders as a “mama hen,” Clare makes sure the lineup is well-fed. She’s made the daytime here more of a scene. It’s not just about drinking in the middle of the day anymore. She won a Best of the Bay award for “Best Grinder Delivered to Your Bar Stool.”

Clare was around when the place used to open at 6 a.m. Back when the old-timers used to come in and when you could smoke inside. She talks to the owner every day. “He’s just a big old queen,” she says.

When he comes into town from his home in Palm Springs, he buys the house a round.

Scott Davis, 52, in khaki shorts and a Giants cap, drinks a Schlitz next to a stool occupied by Tate, his Yorkie, and Windsor, his Westie. He uses a small knife to slice Steakhouse snack sticks with pepperoni seasoning, and hand-feeds it to them. He always sees someone he knows here. The place is as comfortable as an old sweater.

“Scotty, can I say one thing?” Rokicki asks, clutching a washed-up Jim Beam, with a Budweiser not too far out of reach. His blue eyes are glassy and he’s swaying back and forth. “They’re dogs. Let’s leave it at that.”

“Oh, come on. I would never say, ‘My dogs were sitting here first,’” Davis says.

Emiley hugs everyone goodbye before leaving. “I’m gonna go drink champagne,” she says.

Davis scoops up Tate and Windsor and places them in saddlebags hanging from his bike. “I take them everywhere,” he says.

It’s 4 p.m. Bre has taken over the bar. She has a cherry tattoo on the right side of her neck, and a white dish towel hangs from her pants. She sips a glass of water.

“It’s good to see you,” Rokicki tells her.

“I haven’t seen you since Freddy’s birthday,” she says.

“I was wrecked,” he says.

“Everybody was.”

Rokicki talks about the days before he was an early-bird drinker. He got a full scholarship to “aahht” school in Boston, moved out here, and came to the 500 Club with the guy who gave him his first tattoo. It was the day two underage skateboarders got in a fight over a chick, and he’s been coming back ever since.

He says he can probably name everybody in the photos around the bar. He points to one above the vintage cash register. “That guy killed himself,” he says. He doesn’t want to talk about it.

“Another day, another dollar, my friend,” says Michellee Senn, 32, to Jesus Navarro. Navarro is an icon. He’s been coming for 30 years. “That’s me right there,” he says, pointing to a framed photo on the wall. Then he mentions his “Salsa by Jesus” mix in the jukebox.

Senn is a newbie, but this place has become an extension of her tiny studio across the street. It’s a cave with windows. It feels like home.

“I think I might have another shot before I go,” she says. She has an 8-year-old son, but this is “Mom Hour.”

Navarro joins her with a shot of Hornitos. He’s offered a stool. “I don’t sit,” he says, leaning against the bar.

He points toward the back room to a door that once led downstairs to the meat lockers. It was a meat market, back in the day. Now the back room is dark and empty.

There’s a Mrs. Pac Man video game and a photo booth with a torn mustard-yellow curtain. It’s plastered with strips of photos and covered in graffiti. A sticker inside reads, “The debauchery continues.”

Senn spots Jeffrey sitting at the bar next to a house painter in paint-splattered clothes. He just got off his shift. Jeffrey’s also a musician. Senn goes over to the jukebox, finds his CD (“The Lion’s Jaw,” ) and plays her favorite (number three, “Dark White.”)

“He’s a shy, troubled soul,” Senn says. When Jeffrey’s voice floods the bar, Jeffrey doesn’t flinch.

Senn starts snapping. The cello’s gonna come in, she says. It’s subtle.

“It’s morbid,” says Navarro. “It makes you want to slash your wrists after listening to it.”

Senn goes outside and comes back in reeking of Camels. “A perfect Mom Hour,” she says of the hour that has become 90 minutes long.

The Lucky Strike clock hits 6 p.m. By 8 p.m., the hipsters will begin to trickle in. The lineup will be gone. It’s not their scene.

“Sometimes I’m like, ‘Who are you, and what are you doing in my living room?’” Senn says.

Already Slater and Cherry Bomb have moved on.

Jeffrey is glad to sit down. A couple of months ago, he went up to Bernal with a jelly jar of Jameson and took a tumble down the hill. His knee’s all torn up.

He stares at the T.V. in an old Italian hat he found at a thrift store. Bottom of the 11th. A walk-off grand slam by Texas.

“That’s it,” Jeffrey says. “Jesus Christ.”

“Fuck Texas, man,” says the house painter. “Sorry,” he says, as he gets up and slaps Jeffrey on the shoulder.

Clare brings Jeffrey a Monday night classic steak dinner, but he leaves it in the white paper bag.

Right now he just wants to drink his Magners. And have a shot of Hornitos.

He played a show last night at the Great American. People compare his music to Leonard Cohen, Lou Reed and the two Nicks, Cave and Drake. Senn says that if he talks to you, you’re lucky, darlin’.

It’s getting dark now, and red lightbulbs cast a rosy light. The doors stay open, but there’s a fire going in the fireplace.

“Can you do a hot toddy?” a woman asks.

Jeffrey slips out. Bre removes stacks of cash from the register, and Sudsy takes over.

Daniel, 36, comes in after stripping furniture at a nearby upholstery shop. He’s one of the guys who knows when they change the discs in the jukebox.

He drinks Powers Irish whiskey and writes a grocery list on the the back of a Schlitz coaster with a Pilot G-2 mini pen that he carries in his chest pocket.

Lemons, basil, anchovies, broccolini. If he makes it to Trader Joe’s before they close, he’ll make pesto for his wife.

He comes in only once a week now, because he wants to stay married, not because he doesn’t like to drink here.

Rainy days are good, he says, because no one is here.

“The well has run dry,” he says. His custom-made pinky skull ring clinks against the empty glass.

Pulling out a pack of American Spirits, he walks outside to look for a reason to leave.

He started smoking because he wanted his hands to smell like his dad’s hands. And because he wanted to sound like a jazz singer.

“It didn’t work,” he says. “I’ve had thousands of cigarettes and thousands of bottles of whiskey, and I still talk like a little girl.”

It’s 9 p.m. Groups of kids in their early 20s shuffle in. They take over the booths and the back room.

One of them puts the Circle Jerks on the jukebox.

Gimme, gimme, gimme

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3 Comments

  1. Glen Parker

    Very nice well-written story.

  2. thuglifecrunk187

    met you when you were ‘researchin’, thought your friend was a writer. good stuff, maybe a little different than i would have guessed

  3. Emiley's Mom

    VERY well done.

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