The Weeknighter: Mr. Bing's
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’ve seen it with my own eyes. The man is more than a man, he’s a titan, an iron-livered superhero, an unshakable pillar of stamina. I’ve never in my life seen someone drink like this. I wish I knew his name, but around the people I know, he’s just referred to as, “Oh, THAT bartender. That dude can drink!” I’ve been there in Mr. Bing’s while the regulars slam their gambling dice onto the bar, WHACK!, and the tourists peer in the windows not realizing the marvel their eyes just gazed upon. What makes the bartender in question such a fine specimen of nightlife humanity? Nearly every time someone buys a shot, he does one with them. And it’s often from the same bottle as the customer, which means, he’s not just drinking colored water so that it appears like he’s drinking. He’s actually going round for round with the entire bar! And he’s unflappable; never a slurred word, never even a slight lean. Some might worry that this is acute alcoholism and that if he stops drinking, he will surely die. To this I say nay. We may never see someone like this again in our lifetimes. If he stopped, maybe a little bit of us would die too.
Crouched on a corner where North Beach kisses Chinatown (while the Financial District watches from down the street), Mr. Bing’s is the kind of dive bar where literally anything can happen. You’re just as likely to get weeping drunk with an old Chinese man and share stories with each other about heartbreak and failure as you are to stumble into what you think may end up a one night stand, but instead becomes your one true love. It’s not that magic happens at Mr. Bing’s. No, it’s that life happens there. Weird characters drift through as if it were a port city. Some come for a night and fill the jukebox with all the right songs, and tell all the right jokes, and buy all your friends drinks, and then disappear never to step foot in Mr. Bing’s again. Others get stuck there and you wonder where the line is drawn, whether they are a part of Mr. Bing’s or if Mr. Bing’s has become a part of them. It doesn’t really matter anyways, generally speaking. Mr. Bing’s is like a virgin, it’s doesn’t give a fuck.
Part of this dive’s allure is that it’s kind of a weird looking place. Because of the building’s odd shape, the bar shoots out into the middle of the room at an angle, taking up most of the space. There are strange things like a cut out circle in the ceiling and a possible out of use ticket window or coat check in the corner, hinting mysteriously towards Mr. Bing’s past. When you’ve had enough rounds with the bartender you begin to think there’s a metaphor in the way the bar looks, some kind of life lesson, but you’re not quite sure what. And you never really figure it out.
One night I sat at the bar and ended up talking to young drug dealer who couldn’t have been older than 22. He wasn’t selling at the bar (that shit wouldn’t fly), but before he even began bragging about banging the strippers on Broadway and being their coke dealer, I knew what his profession was. Sometimes you can just tell. I wanted to say to him that I’d met him before. That I’d known lots of versions of him throughout the years and that flaunting your dealings and flashing your wad will only get you killed or put in jail. But I didn’t say anything about it, because those words didn’t affect any of the previous versions I knew either. That’s just the kind of place Mr. Bing’s is; sometimes you sit next to a firefighter or waitress or stockbroker or a doctor. Sometimes you sit next to a dumb kid who you hope hasn’t caught a bullet yet. Sometimes you’re the one giving the blurry advice, sometimes you’re the one who needs it. Everybody needs advice sometimes, except maybe the bartender. What advice do you give a man who’s better at drinking than you’ll be at anything in your life?