The first time I ever went to Delirium, it was because a friend told me he had an awesome bar to show me that I would love. He meant Dalva, which is almost next door, but got it mixed up with Delirium. It’s hard to imagine neighboring Mission bars with more different vibes, and so he spent the next hour trying to explain to himself why he’d wanted to take me here.
It was too loud for me, to be sure, but back then Delirium sold cheap “mystery shots,” which were whatever the barkeep felt like giving to you, and I loved everything about that. I mean, if you’re going to a dive, that’s how you want to live, right?
It’s weird to feel nostalgic for a bar you never really liked, but that’s what I felt as I walked into Delirium and tried to find two open seats. Somehow I missed this place. I wasn’t the only one: The bar was crowded — although I have to say a lot of seats had glasses with coasters placed on top. Which is a noble custom for individuals, but an abuse of the system when a bunch of people use it to hold territory. Through sheer ruthlessness, I was able to snag the final two contiguous seats, and staked my own territory. Forget what I just said about abuse of the system: All’s fair in a crowded bar.
A heavy-handed jukebox was playing off-brand classic rock at an ear-splitting level; five TVs hung from the ceiling surrounding the bar, all being pointedly ignored; the walls themselves were cluttered with a strange array of light pornography and black-and-white photos of movie stars; and the vaguely punk rock crowd all made it feel like I was at a punk bar in Ohio where a fight was likely to break out any minute.
Honestly, I’m too old for Delirium. In fact, I was too old for Delirium when I first came here. Delirium is for people who are excited to drink extremely cheap liquor and then dance their asses off in the back room from the moment when many other bars close until they’ve completely lost track of what time it is.
Suddenly the music switched to metal. Just as loud. I cannot figure out why.
Ididn’t see any mystery shots advertised, but I did see Delirium Tremens, a Belgian ale which was way, way, better than any beer I recall being served here back in the day. I ordered it, and they brought a can over with a glass, and I sat with it, in this maelstrom of chaos, and felt even more nostalgic.
I remember when this beer first came out: I was a beer reviewer back then, I was in New York City, and they sent me a couple of bottles, and I wrote nice things. Back then I was young enough to go to Delirium, but I wasted my youth on travel and scholarship. I would have turned my nose up at mystery shots. I was a fool. All it takes is for enough people around you having a good time that you do not understand at all to make you realize: You are a damn fool.
Looking around, I see that I am the only person drinking anything that could remotely be called “good” beer. Cans of PBR and Tecate are plentiful, along with what look like very bottom-shelf cocktails. The music changes to rap. Just as loud. I have no idea what’s going on here.
Nicole came in and sat down next to me. “It’s really loud in here,” she said. I had to ask her to say it twice. “Oh, you’re drinking Delirium Tremens!” she said. “I remember that … wow, that brings me back.”
“Yeah, I remember the very first time I was ever at Zeitgeist, that was the beer I had. So many years ago, back when they still had the portos. It was terrible.”
“Wow, I’m actually feeling nostalgic now.”
“You too, huh?”
“Yeah, that’s kind of weird.”
She ordered a shitty IPA, like she does, and when it was brought over and paid for, she gave me a pained look. “I don’t think the bartender likes me.”
“What? Why not?”
She gestures in a “did you see that?” kind of way.
But all I saw was dive bar etiquette. Nicole is way too used to people liking her. Shitty service is probably good for her. In fact, I think we’ve made a terrible mistake emphasizing good service over shitty service. When shitty service is the normative baseline, anything good is experienced as sincere and charming; while when attentive service is the baseline, you’re always on the lookout for insults and snubs, and it forces everyone to be insincere.
The music suddenly turned metal again. It’s like Cookie Monster was screaming at the picture of James Dean on the wall. A man who looked like he belonged to a queer skateboard gang put his little dog on the bar for a moment, apparently to look him in the eyes while he gave him a stern lecture. It’s awesome, and I can’t even.
Because the thing is … the thing is … that despite the noise and the chaos and an atmosphere that can alternatingly be described as “absurd” and “hostile,” people are talking. They are engaging with one another. I don’t know how anybody can hear one another, but this is a very social environment, and so the most important functions of a bar are being performed, and being performed admirably.
I don’t get it at all. I don’t have to. For whatever reason, Delirium is either a bar that you will feel nostalgic about later in life, or a bar that will make you nostalgic for other things you once had. In that spirit, Nicole and I start talking about shit we never should have done. We can barely hear each other, but it’s a good time.