The Lost Resort on 20th Street at York looks inviting on the inside, but it has a sign at the door saying that you should stand outside and wait to be seated: The server will show you to your table.
They’re serious about that, too: While the staff at The Lost Resort was friendly and helpful, and even sometimes delightful, they definitely wanted to know where we were at all times. It was a bit like being in a panopticon that serves drinks.
I asked for a table out on the back patio, and they said they’d probably have one in a bit, so I sat at the bar, took a deep breath, and looked around.
The interior was a cross between a cruise ship lounge and a faculty lounge, with long wooden shelves full of booze and plastic furniture. An illuminated sign in one corner said:
“It is not down on any map. True places never are.” — Herman Melville
Which is a lovely sentiment, all but designed to appeal to someone with my philosophical pretensions. Actually, that’s largely true of the whole conceit: A “lost resort,” a slightly anachronistic pleasure palace that somehow slipped its mooring in both the Catskills and the Bahamas and now can only be found by those with the right sense of chill, is one that gets me in a slightly stupid sentimental place. In theory, I could work with this.
In practice, though, I looked around for a menu and couldn’t find one … until eventually I realized that they just had a couple QR codes printed up and sitting on the bars and tables. And I thought “Really? Really? I go to bars to put down my phone, to be in a space where something will happen around me, and now you want me to get out my phone to order?”
The Lost Resort was batting 1.000 on all the things that trouble me about San Francisco bars in the pandemic era.
So I got out my phone and I accessed the menu. I ordered an Antidote (tequila, mezcal, honey, ginger, turmeric, lemon). No sooner had I said it than the friendly bartender all but jumped to it, as if he gets an electric shock until every drink order is served. The bar was playing yacht rock on the speakers, but everyone in the place was working as if that yacht was owned by Saddam Hussein.
The drink, though — the drink was really good. Beautifully balanced.
“Courtney” arrived and sat down at the bar next to me. She’s more covid-cautious than I am, and asked if, while we were waiting for a table to open up outside, we could move from the bar and sit at a table right near the door.
“Sure,” I said, and picked up my drink as we started to move. From behind, the bartender told me that he’d “transfer my tab to the table,” which … wait … what?
No sooner had we sat down at the table by the door than the hostess told us a spot in the patio was opening up. Would we want that?
We looked at each other, and finally shrugged. Sure. Yes, that was the idea, so let’s do that.
We were led outside, where a busser was spraying and wiping the table and chairs down … really going at it. I was, in that moment, less worried about covid than I was concerned that somebody had threatened to blow up the bar if he worked slower than 30 miles per hour.
The Lost Resort patio was the size of another small bar, mostly concrete and patio furniture with a muted TV on one side. It was crowded, and it was extremely noisy … so much so that Courtney started wondering if we really could be comfortable here for very long.
“It’s got a real happy hour vibe,” she said, which would be true the whole night. “Like everybody’s come right from work and wants to have a party.” She considered. “Well, I came right from work, but I want to talk.”
The hostess swung by again to take Courtney’s drink order, and Courtney told her we might be going back inside to the table we’d just left.
“Oh, it’ll be really loud in there soon, too,” the hostess said. “The quietest place, if you want that, will be at a table on the street, right next to our outside wall. There’s one open now if you want me to move you there.”
So we went to our fourth spot of the evening, sitting outside the outside seating. It was a bit chilly, but not so bad. And the hostess was right, it was quieter.
Courtney ordered a True Manhattan with rye. She tried to be particular about the rye, but they didn’t have the one she wanted, so they negotiated back and forth a bit until they came up with an agreeable one. A little later, we ordered food, too: crab cakes and brussel sprouts and spicy potatoes.
Courtney had spent much of her pandemic learning how to make her own Manhattans, and then experimenting with them. “I’m more of a scotch person than a bourbon person, so I’m wondering what making a True Manhattan with a really good scotch would be like,” she said.
“Interesting question,” I said. “In my experience, bourbons are generally better mixers than scotches …”
“That’s true! Why is that?”
I considered it. “I think it’s because even though bourbons are theoretically associated with a specific place … Kentucky … single malt scotches are even more locally sourced. So what you’re tasting when you drink one is a specific place. It’s not generally going to be as smooth or balanced as a good bourbon, or a blended scotch, but it will be distinct. And I think that when you mix it, that distinction is lost.”
“Hmmmm … that makes sense.”
“Anyway, most of the time, I haven’t felt like mixing a good scotch into a cocktail has been worth it. But those few times when it is … wow … yeah, it’s been spectacular.”
She nodded. “Oban 14 year, which is what I want to try, is like $65 a bottle, but even if I don’t like it, I’ve only used a little and I still have a bottle of good scotch.”
“I also want to try Lagavulin, though I don’t think that’s likely to work at all.”
“No … probably not.”
“Do you want to try this with me?”
“Yes. Yes I do.”
The food came out, along with her drink, and it was all good. Quite good, in fact. I ordered a Holy Diver (chicory & coffee infused mezcal, rum, lime, pineapple, O.J., coconut milk, cinnamon) and it was great, too. Everything was tasty and delicious, and while sitting on the sidewalk was a little chillier than we had wanted, the hostess had been on the money: It was clearly the only place in The Lost Resort where we would be able to have a real conversation, instead of going through the motions of a conversation with drinks.
Sometimes it’s easy to just go through the motions when everything’s in transition, and sometimes it’s impossible. Courtney works at a company that produces new kinds of sensors for spotting wildfires, and they’d been incredibly busy this summer. Now their busy season is winding down … and that’s a good thing, except that she loved what she was doing and now is taking on projects that she likes less.
“Every time I feel bad about not liking work as much, I have to stop myself because coming out of fire season is a good thing for everybody, and so I should be happy, but I don’t like work as much … it’s kind of confusing. I’m sure I’ll adjust at some point.”
I’ve heard similar things about people missing the pandemic’s few silver linings. For a year in San Francisco, you didn’t have to have FOMO because there was nothing happening. Now FOMO is back, along with a new fear that if you go and do something you could end up being a disease vector.
Some of us respond with confusion. Some of us respond by collapsing in a heap. Some of us respond by trying too hard. The Lost Resort seemed like it was a chill bar with great drinks and food trying much, much, too hard. I would have liked it better if it hadn’t been pushing itself like that. It seems like my friends who are pushing the hardest to feel normal are also suffering the most.
But we’ll all probably adjust over time. Won’t we?