From the outside, El Trebol on 22nd and Capp looks like a bar that’s either closed down or soon will be. There’s a patchwork of plywood panels that cover up holes from previous construction work that was never quite finished, blotching the burgundy stucco exterior. But this place isn’t closed. On Monday at quitting time, perhaps 100 men — and they were nearly all men — squeezed into the bar. No special occasion. Just another weekday evening at El Trebol.
The men who go to El Trebol are, by and large, blue-collar immigrants finishing up the day’s shift driving big rigs loaded with dangerous chemicals or building houses for the Bay’s tech millionaires.
This is not a wealthy crowd, but it makes up for that in numbers. And, within two weeks, another El Trebol (which means “clover”) is slated to open to serve them. The new bar, at 3088 24th St. near Folsom Street, per manager Alejandro Avila Martinez, will be ready by mid-August
When that bar opens, it’ll have the same offerings as El Trebol 1 — inexpensive booze and earfuls of Ranchera music — along with a food menu. The new location, however, figures to look new. Unlike the current El Trebol.
As you’d expect, some of the old bar’s patrons are fond of the worn decor.
Luis, as he identified himself, receives a call on his work phone. He then tells the caller, a coworker, that he’s just finishing up a shift at work and is about to go home.
He’s stretching the truth, but not breaking it: Luis lives just up the street from El Trebol, and often parks his work truck and walks over to the bar. He’ll stay here until nightfall, spending perhaps $100 on beers for himself, friends, and even strangers before stumbling back home. That’s a feasible total for him: As a welder, Luis says he’ll earn $2,000 or more a week in the construction business.
He ambles over to the bar, breaks a $100 bill and pays for another bucket of ice-cold beer. “Fucking hangover, brother,” he mutters.
El Trebol is a haven for these men. They don’t mind the warm plywood smell coming from the air vents above the bar, the darkened slices of lemons that resoundingly fail to make the tiled urinal trough smell lemon-fresh, or the broom handle (or something) serving in lieu of a knob on the men’s room sink
The men who come here are from Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, El Salvador and some are still Mission natives. Sometimes they just show up to drink a can of Modelo, eat hard-boiled eggs and charge their devices. Sometimes they grow tipsy too quickly and began offering toasts to whatever country their new friend is from.
Patrons mingle with the bar staff — young women who dress in skirts and high heels. The female bartenders flirt back and have a drink with the clientele. Some will ask to see a picture of a significant other, then say things like “Why are you with her when you can be with me?”
Do they enjoy their job?
“I like it. It’s chill. I like working indoors,” said one female bartender in Spanish before running off to serve more drinks.
Martinez, the manager at the 22nd Street El Trebol, said the new bar will open in August — if the remodeling work can be finished in time.
“The remodeling we’re doing right now is so everything can look brand new,” he said.
“There will be food, there’ll be snacks. There will be more employees and more ladies, it’ll be similar to this one — just with food,” Martinez said.
Now on his fourth bucket of beer, Luis finishes a conversation with a waitress wearing a miniskirt. Hearing her name called, she heads to the other side of the bar, taking her cocktail and leaving Luis alone to peruse his phone once more.
Would he go to the new El Trebol?
“Probably not,” he said with a sudden burst of conviction. “Why would I go all the way over there to 24th? It won’t be the same.”
He points towards the street and in the direction of one of the apartment buildings on Capp.
“Besides, it’s too far from my house,” he said.