The Weeknighter: Virgil's Sea Room
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?
Sometimes good things happen. All the pieces come together in the right way and the thing produced feels like it should’ve been here all along. Virgil’s Sea Room is one of these things. In the past few years there’s been a glut of bars opening in San Francisco that lean more towards pandering to a theme than actually creating something perfect. For example, the literature themed bar, Novella, doesn’t feel like a place writers would actually hang out. And places like Dr. Teeth & the Electric Mayhem and Soda Popinski’s just thematically mine our childhoods so they can sell us booze with a chaser of kitsch. Virgil’s doesn’t have a theme as much as it has a subtext, one that says, “San Francisco is an amazing community. I love it, you love it, so let’s have a drink about it.”
Situated next door to El Rio, Virgil’s is the lovechild of three people who’ve invested a lot of heart into the community of San Francisco: Lila Thirkield (owner the Lexington Club,) Tom Temprano (aka DJ Carnita from Hard French and the current president of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club) and Gillian Fitzgerald (former bartender at Nickie's). Just by looking at the drink list, you can tell they are enamored with this city and want you to be as well. Each of their signature cocktails is named after a different SF local hero. From our man of the 12 Galaxies, Frank Chu, to The City’s musical philanthropist, Warren Hellman, to the pioneering transgender performer, Vicki Marlane, the heroes chosen salute that most-sacred San Francisco value: the bravery to live an unconventional life.
Another drink from the menu is named for Napoleon “Nap” Urbina, the man who owned Nap’s, the bar that previously lived in this space. Nap’s was a divey-as-hell spot filled with strange evenings of karaoke and an even stranger cast of regulars. It was the kind of place where you could have a drink and virtually guarantee you wouldn’t run into someone you knew. When Virgil’s first opened, everyone marveled at how beautiful the velvet wallpaper was and kept asking where they got it. The remarkable thing was that the wallpaper had been there all along, it was just very well hidden under all the Christmas lights and beer signs Nap had used to decorate his bar. Things look quite different now that David Marks, of Room4, decorated the interior with multiple decades worth of bric-a-brac that looks both well worn and well loved.
Ashley and I popped into Virgil’s the other night to have a drink and kibitz with whoever was bartending. It was a Monday night and the Burning Man exodus had begun; The City already felt empty. No one was outside on Virgil’s amazing patio, and even the din from El Rio next door seemed tame. Tom Temprano was behind the bar, some incredible soul song was swimming from the jukebox speakers, and a handful of friendly, smiling people talked and giggled casually as if they were in their own living room. Even though it had only been open for a few months, Virgil’s already seemed like belonged to San Francisco just as much as San Francisco belongs to us.