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The Weeknighter: Comstock Saloon

Comstock Saloon

photo from Bunrab.com

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?

The first time I went to Comstock Saloon was with a woman I wasn’t dating. My girlfriend at the time was out of town and we were trying out being in an open relationship. It was our weird way of slowly letting go. Relationships are the hardest ships to keep afloat, and ours, which had always been so buoyant, was sinking. We’d been with each other for five years–those important years that come after the formative ones, the ones that make up the second half of your 20s. The ones where, when you look back, you realize you were fumbling towards adulthood, and up until then, we were doing so together. We didn’t fully capsize until at least six months later, but by opening up our relationship, we were readying the lifeboats, testing the waters, and seeing how much it would hurt to be set adrift at sea alone.   

I had forgotten about that first visit to Comstock until this morning when I sat down to write this piece. Up until yesterday, when I visited the bar and restaurant again, my strongest memory of the place was running into my cousin Judith while I was there on a Grouper date. I chuckled at the thought that, in San Francisco, it would’ve been totally possible to be set up on a blind, group, internet date with your own cousin. Luckily I wasn’t, but it certainly didn’t surprise me that I ran into her. Because of the size and nature of this city, San Francisco forces you to both keep your nose clean and own up to your shit; no matter what, you’re guaranteed to see someone you know. So the first thing I did when I saw Judith was admit that I was on a random, blind, group, internet date. She responded, “Of course you are.”

Whether you’re attempting an open relationship or going on a blind, group date, Comstock is pretty much a perfect location. It’s a nod towards the Barbary Coast, that time and place in San Francisco history to which the “anything is possible and everything goes” mentality that so fully permeates the Bay Area’s culture can be traced back. Comstock nails the feeling of a turn-of-the-century saloon: The mahogany bar is twenty feet long and 100-plus years old, ancient knick-knacks dot the space’s interior, and there’s a gas fireplace for people to warm up next to on cold and foggy SF summer nights. There’s even a little trough under the bar; some say it was so patrons could relieve themselves without having to get up from their stools, while others say it was there to make swamping the place easier after closing. The same amount of thought paid to the details of the space has been paid to the menu as well. The cocktails are all classic, pre-Prohibition concoctions, and all the food is the chef’s modern take on recipes he finds in turn-of-the-century cookbooks. Comstock Saloon is the closest you’re gonna get to being in the Barbary Coast without using a time machine. Hell, they even claim Emperor Norton as their patron saint.

Speaking of patron saints: Saint Francis is the patron saint of animals and ecology, so it’s kinda perfect that our city is named after him. It’s almost like the Spanish were telling the future when they gave this place its name. He’s also the patron saint of stowaways. I’m tempted to use that as a way to tie this whole piece together by referencing whatever things were lost, like stowaways, with the sinking of the ship in the first paragraph of this piece. But I won’t. Who uses a bar review to talk about lost love and regret anyways?