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The Weeknighter: The 540 Club

The 540 Club, picture from City Search

Photo courtesy of John Graham / SFWeekly

Weekends are for amateurs. Weeknights are for pros. That's why each week Stuart Schuffman will be exploring a different San Francisco bar, giving you the lowdown on how and where to do your weeknight right. From the most creative cocktails to the best happy hours, Stuart's taking you along on his weeknight adventures into the heart of the City's nightlife. So, who wants a drink?

Ashley and I were out last night exploring the Richmond. Part of the reason was me showing her a slice of the City she’d never seen before, because she’s visiting from Chicago. The other part of it was me pounding the pavement looking for some bartending shifts because I’m hella broke and need the money (ahem, that was me not so subtly telling you bar owners to holler at me if you have some open shifts). We would eventually dine on tea leaf salad and then catch a free show at the Bazaar Café, but first, I needed to drop by and pay my respects to the 540 Club.

Housed in what appears to be an old bank building on Clement St. and 7th Avenue, the 540 Club is just about as legendary as dive bars get in San Francisco. Among its many accolades is the distinction of having been named the bar with the crankiest bartender (the entire staff won actually), and being knighted as SF’s best punk bar. They were also famously one of San Francisco’s first bars to have an internet jukebox, which I’m sure was cute at first, but we can all agree now that they are the spawn of Satan (Why? Because they ruin a bar’s ability to choose its own soundscape and vibe, thus allowing any asshole to throw in a 50 spot and play Carly Rae Jepsen on repeat all night long…but I digress). The 540 Club also lays claim to being the number one seller of Chartreuse in the world, boasting sales of 1200 bottles of a year. What they use it in, I never remember to ask.  

If the 540 Club were said to have a theme it would be “getting you fucked up.” Their mascot is a pink elephant, which I interpret as a nod to delirium tremens (the condition, not the beer), and they have weekly specials like $1 well drinks on Mondays and $2 cocktails on Tuesdays. Like I said, thematically getting you fucked up. And you know what? Bless their deranged little souls. There’s no “drink responsibly” propaganda at the 540 club, hell no. While describing “Ain’t No Trouble Wednesdays” on their website, the literature mentions “…just start knocking ‘em back to forget that there’s still two more days of work ahead of you and your boss is an asshole.” Your boss is an asshole isn’t he? And the bartenders at the 540 Club might be too, but here’s the question: Which one of them is pouring you $1 well drinks?

As Ashley and I approached the 540 club, people were out on the front patio chatting in groups or smoking cigarettes while reading recent purchases from nearby Green Apple Books. Inside, the happy hour crowd was unwinding from yet another day at work, while someone at the bar talked about The Sam Cooke Out, an incredibly named free pot luck, where soul and R&B records are played every third Sunday. Unfortunately, the 540 Club wasn’t hiring, but that didn’t stop us from taking in the local art on the walls and enjoying the comforting sound of cracking billiards balls while we sat on the barstools and sipped our drinks. I still forgot to ask what they do with all that Chartreuse.