The Weeknighter: The Pilsner Inn
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 used to go to The Pilsner Inn two or three times a week. At the time, I was working at The Woodhouse Fish Co. around the corner, so as soon as I’d get off work I’d pop in for a beer or two to decompress from a night slanging lobster rolls and chowder (their chowder is still the best I’ve ever had). While the Pilsner Inn is technically a gay bar, it defies all stereotypes of what a gay bar is “supposed” to be. No thumping dance music, no shirtless bartenders, no sweaty men grinding up against each other as a promise of what’s to happen later. The Pilsner is more like a neighborhood bar whose neighborhood just happens to be the Castro.
Walking through the doors the other night with Lauryn, Dan, and Dave, I glanced around and took in the room. There was a handful of beer-bellied guys watching the Giants game, some folks chatting in the window, observing the street cars screeching by, and a lesbian couple making out near the phone booth. The bartender diligently poured pints while the pool table was being run by a few guys in crew cuts and Abercrombie shirts. If it weren’t for the rainbow flags, the rainbow neon lights, and the snogging lesbians, the Pilsner could’ve been mistaken for any neighborhood bar in the USA. I thought to myself that anyone terrified of gay people should come have drink here. It’d be like People Magazine having a section called “Gays: They’re Just Like Us” or something else equally ridiculous.
After getting our beverages, we headed out to the backyard to drink them in the warmish Indian Summer night. We sat around trading stories of all the fun times we’d each had at the Pilsner, the dance parties, the random make out sessions, the time I brought a 40-person pub crawl and whooped it up singing “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” at the top of my lungs. No one seems to raise an eyebrow at what you do at the Pilsner Inn; sitting a few feet from the intersection of Church and Market, all manner of oddness and depravity have passed through its doors. I commented on this as Morgan and Jessica walked up to us and mentioned that they were on mushrooms. I can’t imagine being on mushrooms at a bar, but if I were, the Pilsner would be the perfect one. You could sit in the backyard tripping on the murals and the bougainvillea and no one would really fuck with you.
San Francisco is a special place and the Pilsner Inn is indicative of this. On the surface it’s just another bar, but if you look deeper it’s a testament to the fact that this city takes you as you are. Gay or straight, construction worker or neuroscientist, teetotaler or loutish drunk, none of that really matters at the Pilsner. I got up from my seat in the backyard and headed to the bathroom. Instead of urinals there’s a trough with penis level mirrors that not only let those next to you see your johnson, but shows it to certain vantage points in the bar. “Oh yeah,” I thought, “well it is a gay bar after all.”
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.