The Weeknighter: El Rio
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?
I was leaning against the bar, checking out a pretty blonde girl who looked like she took a wrong turn out her front door in the Marina and somehow ended up in the Outer Mission. She was very obviously bored watching her bro-ish boyfriend and his friends play shuffleboard. “When did all the nermals start finding their way to El Rio?” I turned and asked my friends Kathy and Christine. I was drunk enough to think that calling them “nermals” instead of “normals” was funny.
“I was just thinking the same thing,” said Kathy, “But then I looked down at what I’m wearing and realized that I look like a normal too.” I appraised my own outfit: Cowboy boots, jeans, a blue shirt open enough to show some chest hair, and a black velvet coat. Sure, I’d just come from a date that I’d wanted to look spiffy for, but still, I looked pretty normal too.
“Wait, fuck,” I said, “when did we become normals?” Kathy mentioned it might just come with getting older, to which I responded, “No one really gets older in San Francisco.” The girls rolled their eyes at this and Christine said, “Well, the dudes certainly act like they don’t get older.” I guess she had a point.
I looked around the main bar room. The DJ was spinning a Madonna jam while gay boys in neon with funny hair cuts made out in line for the bathroom. A drag queen sashayed by us on her way to the big and busy backyard, and a hipster boy in a mustache bought his black clad girlfriend a PBR. Nobody around us seemed to notice that we looked like “nermals.” And that’s the brilliance of El Rio. Everyone is welcome.
I first heard about El Rio while researching my San Francisco book. Someone had brought to my attention the fact that they serve free oysters during Friday happy hour and that on Mondays, PBR was $1 and well drinks were $2. I, of course, checked it out and have been in love with the bar ever since. Every night of the week something excellent is going down at El Rio. Whether it’s the Red Hots Burlesque show in the side room on Wednesdays, Ben Fong-Torres and Los Train Wreck playing their monthly Tuesday Open Mic Jam, or the wildly insane Hard French parties in the backyard on Saturday afternoons, El Rio is always buzzing with something exciting.
This particular evening was a Monday night and it was one of those strange, almost balmy ones that we’ve had a lot of this summer. People were out in droves, so we grabbed our $2 well drinks and headed outside to El Rio’s finest feature, the backyard. It was packed as expected, and while the crowd of people bopped and swayed to the individual conversations each of them were having, the three of us perched up on the wooden patio just under the giant painting of Carmen Miranda. Christine was talking about wanting to move from San Francisco back to Louisiana. She’s in her 30s and has been in SF for nearly a decade. When I asked her why she wants to move, she said she wanted to be somewhere where she can meet a guy who actually wants to settle down. She’s tired of Peter Pans and Lost Boys and guys who don’t want to commit to anything. “Yeah,” I said realizing that I’m a Lost Boy myself, “you’re totally gonna miss San Francisco though.” She nodded in agreement, and Kathy asked her what she’s gonna miss the most. Christine looked around at all of the beautiful weirdoes and nermals and queers and straights grooving with each other in El Rio’s bustling backyard, and said “this.”
Stuart Schuffman has been called "an Underground legend" by the SF Chronicle, "an SF cult hero" by the SF Bay Guardian, and "the chief of cheap" by Time Out New York. He is also the host for the IFC travel show Young, Broke & Beautiful. Follow him @BrokeAssStuart.