Large bars near BART stations are their own category. No matter what kind of bar it’s “supposed to be,” it’s really a large bar near a BART station — at least on a weekend — and pulls in a more diverse crowd than it otherwise might because convenience is the great leveler.
That’s especially true of Skylark, a block up from the 16th Street Plaza. On a Friday night, the packed groups sitting around each table all looked like they were here for a different event. Table 1 was here for a biker convention; Table 2 a “women under 30” business meetup; Table 3 a student senate reunion from a Big Ten school.
Those tables are the only seating options besides stools at the long bar, which were packed with other types of people, all of whom were there on their own. It was crowded, but it was almost entirely made up of guys on their phones, being anti-social in a place that was too packed, too loud, and too fast-moving to offer them any escape.
Why were they here? Why, for that matter, was I?
Because the thing is, even judging it gently by the standards of a “bar that’s convenient to BART,” I have no idea what this place is supposed to be.
I sat down, and as the bartender was making my first drink, I asked if there was an event here tonight. “Umm. I think a Spanish speakers meet-up?” she said.
Okay, fair enough, but … it sure didn’t seem like one. In fact, nobody was speaking Spanish as far as I could tell. “Is that happening upstairs?”
Huh. And that was it. She had to move on to other customers.
The bar has a haphazard nautical theme, which sorta-kinda goes along with the name “Skylark,” which, if you follow old-timey sailing culture far back enough, has a nautical connection: To “skylark” is a sailing term for playing around (hence the term “lark” for a playful act), and the bird sometimes shows up as a symbol for sailors. But … not much.
The bar, however, is going all-in, with big paintings above the bar of … a kraken, endangering a tall ship? I guess so. And a mermaid lying on the ship, also being endangered (or perhaps seduced?) by the kraken? Another painting is opposite the bar, and another on the ceiling, all have similar themes. The bar has a life buoy dangling off it emblazoned with “welcome onboard” (perhaps to the kraken?) and a wreath made of tiki drink umbrellas. A miniature ship’s prow hangs on the wall above the bar’s center. Rope ladder netting stretches around the ceiling. Porthole type openings sit above the front windows.
Two TVs sit on either side of the bar playing sports, and a couple of slushie machines, which create frozen boozy drinks, pulse on the left side of the bar.
So is it a tiki bar? Well, maybe: There is a cocktail menu, a single laminated page decorated with another topless mermaid and a couple of seahorses, listing eight nautically named drinks. But really, cocktails are a complete afterthought here: People order beer and shots, the single bartender manning the counter does not linger over any order — she doesn’t have time — and this this is a move-it-or-lose-your-place kind of spot.
And after trying two of the specialty cocktails — a Perfect Storm (Grey Goose La Poire Vodka, fresh lime, singer syrup and soda, on the rocks with muddled mint [which arrived with neither rocks nor muddled mint]) and a Sailor Swede (Appleton Estate Signature Rum, Kronan Swedish Punsch, Orgeat and fresh lemon, rocks with a twist of lemon) — my strong advice to you is not to order the specialty cocktails. Pretend that menu doesn’t exist. Keep it simple.
Two women in their late 20s or early 30s, wearing “office”-leaning “office casual” clothes, each sporting significant arm tattoos, walked up to the bar and stood next to me, waiting to order drinks.
“I feel like I used to be pretty,” one told the other.
“It’s not that we’re not pretty,” her friend explained. “It’s that we’re not 25. We’re finally at the age where we’re disappearing. And it’s hard. When this started happening I’d just cut all my hair off, so I wasn’t sure: Is this because I cut my hair? Or am I getting older? But now my hair’s grown back. So … that’s what this is. Also, though, I used to wear very short skirts, and I don’t do that anymore. So I’ve changed in other ways.”
The other nodded. “Me too, I guess. My signature move used to be falling out of my shirt, and I haven’t done that in a while. I don’t know why.”
Her friend sighed sympathetically. “I don’t fall in love with bodies anymore. Not even my own. The only time I see anyone naked, including myself, is in the bathroom in terrible lighting.”
The first one made a sound of deep understanding. “Yeah, it really is all about the lighting.”
“I need to find some other way to appreciate …” she tried to sum up the entirety of everything she was less interested in now. “All that.”
Another sound of deep comprehension. “I also don’t prepare as much, anymore. I don’t.”
The bartender came and they ordered tequila shots and reassured each other that they are beautiful as she poured. They downed the shots, and went back to the “women’s business round table” crowd.
That pretty much summed up my experience at Skylark.
A few minutes later, a DJ station was set up near the back of the bar and an MC began announcing the upcoming show, and the room was so packed and the talking so loud I could not, for the life of me, understand what it was they were promoting.
My best guess was a Game of Thrones-themed burlesque show, and I was half right. It was a burlesque show of some kind — but it had clowns in fetish gear, which so far as I could tell, was not Game of Thrones-related, not even in the original books, although I admit I haven’t read them. But it took me almost a half-hour, sitting 20 feet away, to piece even that much together. It was simply impossible to know what was going on.
I have never before seen a burlesque performed in a bar while ballgames continue on the TVs. I do not understand who this is supposed to appeal to. Only that it’s near BART.
“What’s going on?” someone ordering a drink next to me asked the bartender.