The Napper Tandy is a sports bar that stakes a lot on its Irishness. It goes out of its way to tell you it’s “Irish owned and operated,” that its “dishes and breads” (pictured next to a pint of Guinness) are “tried and true from our family recipes,” and it makes a completely gratuitous use of the word “craic” on its website, in case you missed the point that this Irish bar is Irish. Which, having been there, I can now vouch for, in case you were worried. Or suspicious. I know how we all get, wondering if Irish bars really bake their soda bread from an old family recipe.
But walking up to it on the corner of 24th and South Van Ness, I heard loud Latin music playing from a car across the street, and there was a large family of Asian people standing right outside the bar, celebrating something. The impression was not Irish at all, but naturally polyglot, and it felt like part of the neighborhood, which is waaaay better than website promises about being an outpost of the Emerald Isle.
The inside is dominated by a rectangular bar in the middle of the room, with screens around it on every side, so there’s really no way to avoid looking at them. The surprisingly large back room had tables, fewer screens, and a pool table. It was much quieter. Though still early in the day, the bar was packed, and the only open seat I saw was between two bearded men (one of whom sounded Irish) who were clearly here for the game. Or whatever game was playing now. (It turned out to be basketball – or rather commercials interrupted by basketball – on the screens in front of me; baseball on the screens behind me; and soccer on the screens to my right.)
I asked the men if the seat between them was free, and they got into an extended discussion about it. Some 90 seconds later, they reached their conclusion.
“She was here,” one of them explained to me, “but now she’s gone.”
And that … that … that is some amazing sports bar poetry. A form which is essentially identical to haiku, except that it’s sponsored by Budweiser and Visa. Wow.
That established, the poet gestured to me to take a seat, though he didn’t seem happy about it, and I tried to bond with him. “That’s also the condition of my life right now,” I said. But it didn’t help, and he never spoke to me again for the rest of the night.
The Napper Tandy is one of those bars where asking to see a drink list puts you under a cloud of suspicion. I knew it, I could tell, but I did it anyway. Eventually one of the bartenders admitted to having one, and asked me to hold tight while she found it. She came back a few moments later with a little plastic stand from one of the tables listing their draft beers.
They have bottles. I could see then in a small fridge under the bar, but at some point, there’s no point in going against the flow. I ordered a Blue Moon.
Near me, an Irish woman was talking with one of the bartenders about an upcoming trip to Mexico. This lead to a surprisingly long discussion about the terminals at SFO. I was silent, but the close “round the bar” seating created a sense of artificial intimacy. We were all in this together.
Something happened … there was a lot of pleasantly accented yelling … and suddenly one of the bar staff was sitting next to me, wrapping napkins around silverware and yelling at customers to “shut your pie hole.” The experience was like stepping into a dramedy mid-season. I don’t know who these people are or why they’re yelling at each other, but there’s clearly history, and it’s pretty funny.
The bar erupted in groans as a slow-motion replay of a basketball player being injured flashed across two of the screens. He’d done something to his ankle. It looked bad.
No sooner had the groan died down then the staff member sitting next to me was hugging a customer before he left. “You’re the best!” he called out. “We love you!” The mood shifts in this place are dazzling. It’s so high energy.
Music started playing over the sound system. People cheered as somebody hit a 3-point shot. A moment later somebody else drained an almost identical 3-pointer, and the bar did nothing. The Irish people sitting next to me were suddenly replaced by two elderly Latin men arguing in Spanish.
I ordered Irish soda bread and fish tacos, because what the hell. If you’re the sort of person who really wants to eat where he drinks, you can do that here. It’s perfectly fine. If you’re not, get a burrito down the block. It’s a much better deal.
The Latin men left, one of them laughingly telling everyone who would listen that his woman kicked him out of his house and now his friends were kicking him out of his bar.
Across the bar, a man eating dinner complained to a bartender that he works for fucking 20-year-olds.
It started to get dark outside, so the bar staff set out candles. Which, … what? In what world is this a bar that needs candles? If anyone had desired to read, they could have done so by the light of the screens.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that The Napper Tandy has an identity crisis, but I’m not sure they really know who they are.
Irish bar with candles my ass.
But here’s all you really need to know. I walked in kind of depressed – she was here, and now she’s gone – and after 90 minutes of doing nothing but taking it all in, I left in a good mood.
If you can do high energy, that’s what this bar is.