Only days before, three masked armed men held up patrons at the Mission Hill Saloon, but on Wednesday owner Rafael Figueroa was ready to look beyond the whole incident.
A patron and I watched as Figueroa road up the the bar on Potrero and Mariposa on a big shiny Harley Davidson. Figueroa greeted the regular with a hug, exchanged a few words before letting him go and then asked me if it was okay if he had a cigarette before we went into the bar.
He was anxious to put the Saturday incident behind him. Yes it was unsettling and yes patrons had to turn out their pockets for the thieves, but life goes on and the place he has co-owned for the last year and a half is his “second home.”
Figueroa, who was a patron before he was an owner, said he feels a strong attachment to the place. It’s the reason why he decided to acquire the bar with his friend, Tony Martinez, who used to be the bartender and manager for the previous owner.
As he sat on the hill outside his bar, he talked about the bar’s lineage. “It was first Mici’s, then a Latino bar and then it was Sadie’s Flying Elephant,” he said taking a drag from a menthol American Spirit. “When the owners Sean and Jules acquired a liquor license the Phone Booth had bought it and sold it to the Thieves Empire.”
Thieves renamed the bar The Unresolved Life of Evelyn Lee and with the awkward name came “a crowd of 20 year olds that didn’t quite fit the atmosphere of the bar” and regulars weren’t particularly happy, he said.
He renamed it Mission Hill Saloon – although the sign Sadie’s Flying Elephant has endured through many name changes.
So far, the names of the bar seem to follow the rule of private jokes –nobody understands them except a few.
After the cigarette break, Figueroa grabs his lunch and asks if it’s okay to eat while we chat. I ask if he packed his own lunch. Nope. He grabbed two burritos from the Safeway a few streets down.
He offers me a seat by the bar, a glass of water and one of the crispy orange Safeway burritos. The bar is spacious with a pool table on the back, booths and tables.
Figueroa likes that if you go to the bar, you’ll also get to know your neighbors. That proves immediately true.
“It’s a cool bar. It’s a neighborhood dive bar,” said Tim Hessians, a software engineer who lives upstairs and enjoys working from the bar. The plus side is that he gets a shot of whiskey along with the welcoming treat. He also got his own business card with the title ‘executive barfly,’ which everyone finds hilarious.
Figueroa says he’s been working for the sewer department for 10 years and that he sees the bar as a secure future.
When Figueroa offered to buy the bar from the Thieves owners, Martinez jumped in with him.
I ask him why he decided to acquire a bar if he has no experience running a business. My question doesn’t intimidate him, instead he mentions that given his experience working at different unions he’s been able to do most of the work needed at the bar, and that his partner Martinez helps with the managing side of the business, something which Figueroa is learning fast.
As for the sign outside, a new sign with Saloon lettering will soon dissipate the confusion and will prompt new customers to relax and have a drink at the Mission Hill Saloon.