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The Weeknighter: Tempest

photo from the Wall Street Journal

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?

Paolo Lucchesi was the first one to ever take me to Tempest. It was weird that I’d never been there before considering dive bars are kinda my thing, but that’s just how it goes sometimes. Back then, Paolo had just left Eater and was beginning his gig over at the Inside Scoop. We’d been meaning to grab a drink for awhile and this was the perfect opportunity, since he was helping put together the Chronicle’s new food blog, and wanted me as a contributor. I was excited to visit a place that so many other SF writers had gotten totally shitfaced in.

For as long as anyone cares to remember, Tempest has been a watering hole for the working and creative classes. All down Natoma echo the sounds of after work beers and shots slammed down by mechanics and plumbers, bike messengers and tattoo artists, firefighters and cops. But most famously it’s the people who work for the San Francisco Chronicle who, historically, kept the till full of cash and the barstools warm; still is for those of them left. Deadlines are nasty, stressful things, so considering Tempest sits in the shadow of the Chronicle building, newspaper folk have been blowing off steam, celebrating and drowning sorrows there for decades.

Paolo and I were talking about this as the barkeep poured us our second round. I asked the heavy-handed man if the slow death of print was effecting his business. “Yes and no,” he said, “But I don’t really give a fuck anyways. I sold this place and I’m moving back to Kansas. I’ve got kids, and San Francisco just isn’t a place to raise them.”

I jokingly said something to Paolo about this being the Inside Scoop’s first scoop, but then started wondering what was actually gonna happen to the place. This was before the death of the old Gold Dust Lounge, and the rebirth of Tosca, and also before they turned Murio’s Trophy Room into the appalling fucking mess it is now. The rapid growing pains in which San Francisco is currently enmeshed were just low rumblings at that point, but they were salient enough for me to ask the barman, “Well, do you know what they’re gonna do with the place? Like, are they gonna fuck it up and rename it Temptress or some shit and pack it full of Financial District douchebags?” He didn’t think so, but once again didn't care. Mentally, he was already packed up and on his way to Kansas.

Luckily, magically, magnificently, they didn’t fuck it up. They actually, somehow, made it better. While the indoor smoking has stopped, it’s been replaced by rotating art shows. And where the place was once decorated in Kansas Jayhawks memorabilia, it now has bicycles hanging from the ceiling. And while there are fewer and fewer journalists who wet their beak there, the difference has been made up by the throngs of bike messengers who’ve moved in to take their stools at the bar, and pound the shot and beer special. Plus, the kitchen is now banging! Called The Box, the former greasy spoon kitchen pumps out dishes with words like “pork belly” and “quail egg” in them, while still totally being an absolute dive bar. I mean, for fuck’s sake,  Tempest’s logo is the silhouette of a dude in a Giants hat, wearing a tie, and pulling out his pockets to show they’re empty. I think a shot and a beer are still $5.

I only ended up writing for the Inside Scoop for a little while, mostly because they didn’t have the money to pay me. But one of the articles I did write for them was about a handful of San Francisco’s literary bars. In it I, of course, included Tempest. While, these days it may not be full of newspaper men drowning their deadline blues, it’s still a place to go if you wanna find some of San Francisco’s most creative people getting absolutely hammered. Also, it might be a place where you go to find me.  

 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. Follow him @BrokeAssStuart.