I’d been saving my visit to the Pi Bar on Valencia between 25th and 26th for Nicole, because Nicole is a huge fan of transcendental numbers.
“I love transcendental numbers so much,” she’d told me the night we’d first met. “I love it when a number can’t just be pointed at, but it has to be given a formula and a poetic name so that we can understand it at all. That’s just so amazing. It makes me so happy.”
Pi is not her favorite, though: In her estimation, pi is to transcendental numbers what “Down With the Sickness” is to metal, or “Figaro’s Aria” from The Barber of Seville is to classical music. Saying “I love metal — like ‘Down With The Sickness!’” doesn’t mean you love metal, it means one of your friends has a Disturbed t-shirt. Saying “I love classical music — like ‘Figaro’s Aria!’” doesn’t mean you like classical music, it means you’ve seen a Bugs Bunny cartoon.
Instead of pi, Nicole has the mathematical proof of Euler’s Number tattooed on her arm. That’s hard-core.
Still, there aren’t many bars named after mathematical concepts (if there’s another one in San Francisco, please tell me in the comments), so she was thrilled to discover that’s where we were going.
But when we walked in, there was no follow-up. Aside from the name, there is not a single thing in that bar to indicate that it was made by, owned, managed, or patronized by math geeks.
What the hell, Pi Bar?
Still, gotta be honest, what was there was pretty lovely. Spacious, kind of elegant, even, in a low-key way, warm and wooden, with a lovely long bar, nice flooring, colorful bar decorations that added color without actually being distracting or important to look at, and obvious taps. (It’s a beer and wine bar, presenting no evidence of mixed drinks. Almost as if they can’t serve them because proof of hard liquor has not yet been mathematically rendered.)
It’s really comfortable, really nice. We sat down, and thought “Okay, this will do.”
Pi Bar is one of those places that focused on doing a small number of things very well. In their case, beer and pizza. Their current tap list is written on a chalkboard, and currently features items like Russian River Blind Pig for $8, Moonlight Death & Taxes for $8 … actually, almost all their drafts are around $8, with the exception of Delirium Tremens for $12, which is what I ordered. I don’t really care what Nicole ordered, because it’s always an IPA, which is terrible. QED.
They have bottles, too, which are not listed anywhere but are visible in a fridge behind the bar, and consist of a lot of Belgian and Trappist beers, which is a sign of greatness in a bar. (Hey, I like what I like. Strong preferences are a good thing.)
The casual attitude is great, but nothing you see there will be innovative.
The food menu is short and sweet, with daily pizza specials: a slice and a beer for just over $10. (It’s cheese pizza, with toppings running 35 cents each.) Not everything good is innovative. Most good things, in fact.
That day it was Sicilian slices. We ordered that, and then looked over the rest of the menu, which could be described as casual Italian, and then ordered a side of meatballs.
We drank slowly, relaxing and taking in the ambiance. We’d both had bizarrely intense weeks. During a casual dinner with a friend, I’d had her suddenly ask me, breaking into tears, if I could create a ritual to help her commemorate the death of the love of her life, 10 years ago. Which … it’s strange, because the few people I’ve mentioned that to have said “oh, yeah, that makes perfect sense that someone would ask you,” but those moments are still shocking to me.
“I really don’t get why you’re surprised?” Nicole had said. But then, she’s seen me at my best and my worst, and we can never observe ourselves clearly at those extremes.
The bartender stopped over. “You doing okay?” she asked.
“We’re doing great,” Nicole said. And then thought of something. “Hey! Can I ask you: We’re looking around, and we’re not seeing any other signs of math in here, except the cash register. Was this bar actually founded by math geeks, with a math theme in mind?”
The bartender shook her head. “No. Absolutely not.”
We nod and take this is.
“So … why is it named Pi?” Nicole asked.
“Well,” the bartender said, “it was hard to come up with names, and we’re a pizza place, and ten-and-a-half years ago there were a lot fewer math geeks in San Francisco, so, we didn’t really know what we were getting into. We were shocked on March 14.”
We laugh. It’s a good moment, and then our food came.
Pi Bar isn’t fine dining, but it doesn’t aspire to be. The food is just as tasty and serviceable as the beers, sometimes much better than it needs to be. We were satisfied by the pizza and meatballs both. Another round of beers and we started to really relax.
“I’d love to hang out tonight, if I don’t have to be entertaining,” she said. I felt the same way. Pi Bar was a great start.