The Weeknighter: Gold Dust Lounge
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?
They say the Gold Dust Lounge is closing. I say that’s some balderdash, which is old timey speak for bullshit, and the Gold Dust is about as old timey as it gets in San Francisco.
The marquee outside this Union Square mainstay declares the place has been open since 1933 (the year prohibition ended) and it’s actually been posited that the location has been serving booze continually since 1906! Add to this the fact that Bing Crosby was a partial owner of the bar (purportedly commissioning the cherubic fresco on the ceiling) and that there is (or was) a secret passageway connecting the bar to Lefty O’Doul’s, and you have a bar that’s equal parts history, mystery and a blistering good time.
I’ve spent plenty of time at the Gold Dust Lounge in my near decade in the City and what I’ve found to be the most special thing about it is the people who go there. It’s gotta be one of the only bars in town where the clientele is equal parts tourists and locals. In a city that gets nearly 16 million visitors a year, it’s easy for the 800,000 or so who live here to view tourists as nothing more than slow-walking, picture-taking, convention badge-having, SF fleece-wearing people, who forgot to pack warm clothes and good walking shoes. We think they’re silly for only visiting Alcatraz and Fisherman’s Wharf, and we worry about them walking to their hotel in the Civic Center (ahem, Tenderloin) wearing a fanny pack and carrying cameras around their necks. But, we also forget that these people are ambassadors from all those places that aren’t San Francisco and for me, hanging at the Gold Dust Lounge is a friendly and often drunk taste of what people in the “real” world are like.
On Thursday evening I squeezed to the back of the bar to meet up with my friend Melissa. My motive was to spend one more night at Union Square’s best watering hole, bluffing, joking, and laughing with the odd cast of tourists and locals that populate the bar. While I navigated wasted, red-faced middle Americans dancing to Johnny Z and the Camaros with such abandon that they’d fit right in on the Playa at Burning Man, I thought of all the great times I’d spent in the bar. Like how, after the 5:12am “celebration” of the 100th anniversary of the 1906 earthquake at Lotta’s Fountain, my friend Anthony and I caught the bar’s 6 a.m. opening, and knocked a few back with the janitors and late night hotel staff who were just getting off work. Or when my Swiss friend Ville only had a couple hours in San Francisco, just enough time to grab a couple of Anchor Steams at the Gold Dust. Or, even the few times where 2 a.m. revelry ended with drunken make-out sessions with pretty tourists whose names and countries of origin are forever lost to me like the millions of other stories that have passed through the Gold Dust Lounge’s doors.
I’ll have to agree with what it says on the Save The Gold Dust Campaign website, “Stepping in the Gold Dust will never make you cool…but it will always make you happy.” Bing Crosby couldn’t have said it better himself.
Please visit the Save The Gold Dust Campaign website to see what you can do to help save this fantastic part of San Francisco history.
Stuart Schuffman (aka Broke-Ass Stuart) 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.