Bond Bar
Illustration by Molly Oleson

From the tattered façade and the quick glimpses I’d had inside, I’d always assumed Bond Bar was a dive with a sense of humor: The A-frame sign outside advertising “3-D Tinder” always made me laugh — but never actually go in, because I wasn’t looking for a dive with a sense of humor. 

Walking in for the first time was a humbling experience, because it took all of three seconds to realize I’d not only been wrong, but very, very, wrong. 

Which happens to all of us sometimes, but still: I can take a moment to be embarrassed. 

I was ready for a rollicking shithole. Instead, I got a long, clean bar under an arch with rococo decorations in a high ceilinged, brightly lit room. According to Gena, the bartender that night, the space above the bar and a giant staircase going to nowhere are the only remnants of the original building, built in the 1890s, after the 1906 earthquake. It’s frankly gorgeous, and any bar with a stairway to nowhere also has a stairway to a spot in my heart.

Past the narrow bar area, the space opens up a bit to become more of a hip living room-type set-up, with all-couches café seating. Drone footage of surfers riding giant waves was projected on a loop against the far wall.

Definitely not a shithole. In fact, it’s goddamn pleasant. Whether it has a sense of humor is still up for grabs, though; yes, the sign outside is funny, but the non-stop surfing videos suggest someone takes all that a little too seriously. Also, headlining the menu is a quote from Rumi: “It is the inner bond that draws one person to another, not words.” Well, that doesn’t seem funny at all. If anything, it seems a little too serious for a bar this casual.

And actually that’s it – Bond Bar isn’t so much funny as casual. When I walked in, the place was packed with couples having energetic conversations, which is the absolute best atmosphere for a bar there is. I found an open seat at the bar, and studied the menu, which like the bar itself is very attractive. It’s also surprisingly heavy on fruit-forward drinks. Once again, I had not seen that coming. 

There’s also a strong emphasis on pitchers: Bond Bar really wants you to know that they’ll make pitchers of cocktails for you and all your friends. There’s also a solid amount of space dedicated to mocktails: Bond Bar really wants you to know that your non-drinking friends can hang out here too. You know, casually.

That appears to draw a fairly diverse crowd. To my left, two bro-y guys were talking about how hard it is to make a mid-career shift in tech. They’re both in their 20s, and I hate them, even after they started talking about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which is kind of my thing. To my right, a couple of color were talking about wild times in places they used to live in the city. I loved them immediately.

I ordered an “It’s a Beautiful Day” (see? Casual) — spicy house infused silver tequila, ancho reyes, agave nectar, lemon juice, caramelized pineapple, yellow chartreuse, cucumber. It was delish … and Gena delighted me by setting a bowl of pretzels down in front of me like it was no thing. Not even a word. That’s how to do it!

The couple to my right shifted topics abruptly, and one started talking about a surfing injury he’d suffered in Australia. Jesus, this is delightfully unpredictable. 

They started comparing islands they’ve been to. She’s never been to the Farallones. He swam with great whites there. “I spent the night before watching great white attacks on YouTube. I don’t recommend that.”

But he described the great white shark itself, the first one he saw swimming towards the boat, as “incredibly graceful, incredibly peaceful in itself.”

Then he mentioned that he also “went on safari in Botswana,” and I started to dislike him, too.

[dropcap] I [/dropcap]

ordered a “Jack and The Giant Peach” (Jack Daniel’s whiskey, peach puree, fresh lemon, passion fruit.)

 “Do you like it?” Gena asked me.

“I do, actually,” I told her. “Peach and whiskey, if you do it right, is a subtle and delightful flavor.” The first time I went to a bar that would turn out to be my favorite in the city, I challenged the bartender to make a drink that was the essence of me. Peach and scotch were two of the dominant flavors in the drink he made.

“Good! I made that,” Gena said.

“You did?”

“Yeah … We were trying to do more with Jack.”

“Well done!”

“I added the passion fruit to smooth it out.”

I’m genuinely impressed.

The tech bros to my left are getting very serious. One of their families has a serious issue with depression … a brother feels stuck in his career, his sister is on meds after her bad break-up … they’re really going into it. I don’t usually feel guilty eavesdropping – isn’t that what bars are for? – but they’re really going into it.

A moment later, Gena stepped over and put shots down in front of them. They stared at her, surprised.

“I heard about the break-up,” she said, and walked away.

It’s one of the most awesome things I’ve seen in a bar in a long time.

They quietly stared at the shots for a while, until finally one of them said “It’s a nice gesture.” And the other said “It’s a shame she didn’t hear about the suicide. We could have gotten a pitcher.”

Then they drink.

Yes, this is what bars are for.

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  1. I miss the former establishment that once occupied that space — Esta Noche. Now that was a bar unlike any other in SF.