Illustration by Molly Oleson

The moment I stepped into Wildhawk, on 19th, I was absolutely charmed. It’s a small room, but it’s divided into a half that’s a bar and a half that’s more like a Victorian parlor with more contemporary couches and tables, which makes it feel both more spacious and more comfortable than it has any right to. The total seating is, to be sure, less than it could theoretically hold, but I don’t care, I love what they’ve done with the place.

(But no, I do not actually love it enough to think it’s a step up from San Francisco’s acknowledged last lesbian bar, The Lexington Club, which it recently replaced. There should be a dart board with Gavin Newsom’s face on it, though that’s not likely to happen in a PlumpJack establishment.).

Nicole was already waiting for me at Wildhawk’s bar, drinking a beer. We met at a New Year’s Eve party at a mutual friend’s house. We’d been meaning to get together and drink since that night, but only just managed to get around to it now. Life is complicated.

“I’m at this bar against my better judgment,” she told me.

“What?” I said, stunned that anyone could not be as charmed as I am by the décor.

“Yeah,” she said. “I don’t trust any bar that doesn’t have beer on tap.”

“Oh,” I said. “Well, that’s … that’s …” Actually, she makes a good point. “Well … I’ve heard good things about the mixed drinks.”

The bartender, who sported a tattoo on her arm saying “so it goes” put a drink menu in front of me.

“Also,” said Nicole, glaring at the bartender, “when I first came in, she attacked me with an ice cube.”

I had not been expecting that either. “She WHAT?”

“Yeah. It was terrible. I was traumatized.”

“No you weren’t,” said the bartender.

“I was,” said Nicole. “I have ice-related triggers, and you triggered them.”

The bartender scoffed appropriately as I looked up from the menu. “These house cocktails look dangerous good,” I said. “I could see myself burning through them easily. But I’m going to start with a Reserve Cup.”

She nodded and started making me the drink (Glenlivet reserve scotch, Pommeau de Normandie, Pimm’s, lemon, club soda) as Nicole and I started talking. After five minutes we discovered that we have an absurd number of people in common. I know her best friends. Her new roommate is a co-worker of mine. We’ve been orbiting in the same goddamn circles for at least eight years – and yet we somehow only met through the one mutual friend we both have who has nothing to do with any of that.

For a long moment, we were too stunned to talk. How is this even possible? And who else that we might like is hiding in plain sight, someone who everybody else knows but no one thinks to introduce us to?

In that silence, I realized that I was unhappy with my drink. It tasted all club soda, no liquor. Disappointing at $14. But I didn’t have time to linger on my disapproval, because Nicole recovered from the silence first and started asking me pointed questions about the direction my life is going.

“Yeah, I only go for the jugular,” she would later explain. “Lesser veins aren’t worth my attention.” Which is probably the best thing anyone has said to me in a long time.

When I admitted that I’ve been considering a career shift, Nicole said she’d help me find my new calling. “Let’s see … good with words, good with ideas … I’ve got it,” she said. “But you’re not going to like it.”

“What?”

“Politics,” she said. “You need to write speeches for politicians.”

This date was over.

[dropcap]“D[/dropcap]o you have any idea,” I asked, “how much you’ve insulted me? Just now?”

“It’s not an insult!”

“Politics is a horrible, horrible arena that chews good people up and spits them out! Especially in this town.”

“I didn’t say you’d be HAPPY,” she clarified. “Just that it’s a what you should be doing. I’m going to go to the bathroom. Stay angry.”

The moment she was gone, I turned to the Wildhawk bartender. “I need an ice cube to threaten her with when she gets back.”

“Sorry,” the bartender said. “Can’t do it.”

I blinked. “What? It’s … it’s just, give me an ice cube, it’ll be hilarious.”

“No, I’m sorry, I can’t have you throwing it at her.”

What the hell? “I’m not going to throw it at her! I’m going to threaten her with it! Because I’m angry! About what she just said! I promise it’s a joke.”

She shook her head. “We have a no-violence policy.”

What was happening? “I’m not going to actually … hurt her … with the ice cube … it’s a bit! Because you apparently attacked her with one … somehow … in a way I don’t understand … earlier! Which makes it funny, you see, if I have one to threaten her with. It’s a call back, not an act of violence …”

“No,” she said again. “Sorry. That’s not who we are.” And walked away to other customers.

No, you may not have an ice cube.

Nicole came back as I brooded, and we got into a heated argument about whether all good people have an obligation to be active in politics now. Nicole, who has never actually worked in politics, believed that without joining in the political fray nothing good in this world has a chance anymore. I, who have worked in politics, and covered them extensively, disagreed. Of course political victories are important, but what matters in the long run is if people are willing to subordinate their greed and lust for power to the truth and the common good — and politics doesn’t teach you to do that. Strong communities, and the chance to develop character, teach you that. Our political malaise is the symptom of a deeper rot.

“There’s a difference between moral leadership and political leadership,” I said. “Moral leadership can’t compromise; political leadership has to. Bad things happen when we get the two confused.”

“Barack Obama,” she replied, “was a moral political leader.”

I ordered another drink, a “Proper Cup” (Earl Gray Tanqueray 10 Gin, amontillado sherry, amaro nonino, carpano bianco, bergamot), and was pleased to discover it was absolutely delicious.

“No,” I said. “Obama performed his office with dignity. And that’s important. Absolutely. But he didn’t have an uncompromising moral vision, and what he needed were people outside of politics to make better choices politically viable. Political leaders need to be guided by cultural forces. We can’t expect them to be our consciences.”

“Martin Luther King, Jr., had an uncompromising moral vision.”

“And he never ran for office. He had a movement, not an election.”

“Hmmm,” she said. And then, “I enjoy sparring with you.”

“Oh yeah,” I agreed.

“Did she really,” Nicole indicated the bartender, “refuse to give you ice because it went against their policy of non-violence?”

“Yeah.”

“Hah. That’s great. Well, you know what that was?”

“I really don’t.”

“Well, usually, at a bar, if you’re a probably straight girl, and the bartender is a probably straight girl, you can do this delightful flirting thing together. And that’s what we did, and you didn’t get to do that, she was saying you can’t play our game. Which is too bad, because it was really delightful.”

I nodded and finished my drink. “Is that what that was?”

“Yeah. Can we go someplace where they have beer on tap, and argue some more?”

“Let’s do that.” I was absolutely charmed.

Standing outside Wildhawk, waiting for a Lyft, Nicole got out a cigarette. A man passed by — dressed like he lived on or very near the street — and seemed to wave at her as he passed. But when the wave was finished, somehow, he was holding her cigarette. He took a long drag. Then he offered it back to her.

“No, it’s yours now,” she said, a little stunned. “You earned it.”

It was all we could talk about when we got in the car. “Did you SEE that?” Nicole said. That was amazing! And very bold, very invasive in some ways, I feel like I should be upset by the directness of it, how close it was to contact. But all I can think is how impressively he pulled that off!”

“Yeah, I think that’s where our feelings about that go,” I said, and I wondered if she and that man actually had whole social circles in common, and just had never met before. It seems like that’s always possible in this town.

Read more from Benjamin Wachs here. 

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4 Comments

  1. Just awful, tepid, and trying way too hard. And Wildhawk too. It’s for people with no style trying to have some.

  2. These “slice of life” vignettes are nice, but what I really need from a bar review is: 1) Are the walls painting in an pre-approved, non-gentrifying color? 2) Is the playlist sufficiently Latino? 3) Are there affordable options on the menu for locals?

    1. Oh, and: 4) Did the business sign an MOU with the community groups? But I don’t want to know the terms in the MOU, just that they signed it.

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