The Weeknighter: Monarch
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 always miss the performance by the girl in the hoop. I don’t know what the technical name for her profession is: Trapeze Artist? Aerialist? Circus Performer? San Franciscan? Whichever it is, the most I’ve seen of her act is the very end when, amidst a raucous round of applause, she gets down from the hoop suspended behind the bar. Apparently she’s great…I of course wouldn’t know.
I arrived at Monarch last night hoping to finally catch Our Lady of the Hoop’s fantastic feats of upper body strength, only to be informed that Ms. Hoops only performs on Friday and Saturday nights. I was beginning to think the SF nightlife gods had forsaken me, until I was told that it was Tamale Tuesday. I was talking to Manny, one of Monarch’s owners and Jimmy B, the club’s marketing guy. They were hipping me to the various kinds of awesome that Monarch throws down for happy hour. Besides Tamale Tuesday (which means FREE tamales), they have the Voodoo Van food truck park outside on Wednesdays, and $7 thin crust pizzas delivered to your seat Thursdays and Fridays. Plus each day has a variety of drink specials too.
But as anyone who is a veteran of the SF nightlife scene will tell you, there’s a lot more reasons to visit Monarch than just their happy hour grub. Foremost is that all four of the proprietors have been helping San Franciscans get funky for a long time. Amongst them are two record label owners (one of which is Om Records), a restaurateur, the former owner of Triple Crown, and the brand ambassador of SF’s favorite drink, Fernet Branca. With a pedigree like that, Monarch would certainly get Best in Show if there was an SF bar version of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show (in fact, why isn’t there?). And then there’s the sound system.
Looking like something from the Gene Wilder version of Willy Wonka, the golden, trumpety looking speakers in the downstairs club are purported to be one of the only such systems in the US. One rumor I heard was that the sound system alone cost a million dollars. But by the time I thought to ask if there was any truth to those rumors, I was already sitting at my desk typing out this sentence. Fuck it. What makes this sound system special, other than being Wonkaesque, is that it plays at a frequency that allows you to have a conversation on the dance floor while the music still bumps and thumps around you. It’s really quite nifty.
Despite all the dancing and drinking that Monarch is known for, I was at the venue last night for a completely different reason. Gogobot.com had put together a panel of travel writers to discuss the future of travel, and they asked me to be part of it. Sitting there on the stage with the taste of tamale in my mouth and the ghosts of many nights on the dance floor careening through my memories, I couldn’t help but think of all the possibilities Monarch presents. If it can seamlessly play host to a travel writer’s salon, a bunch of booty shaking, delectable happy hour sustenance, great cocktails, and a girl dangling above the bar from a metal hoop, what can’t Monarch do? And did I mention there’s a bartender named Pooky? Well there is.
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.