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The Weeknighter: The Willows

Photo via Yelp user Liz R.

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 moved into my neighborhood a little over a year ago. It’s the border of The Mission and SoMa, a kind of a no-man’s land I call the Smission, just because it makes the area sound cuter than it is. I love where I live, I’m a few blocks from Market and Van Ness, thus satisfying every transit need ever, plus I’m near Trader Joe’s, Costco, Best Buy, Rainbow Grocery, and the super cheap/super strange Foods Co. I have so many Foods Co. stories…but that’s for another time.     

Within the past few months the neighborhood went from pretty desolate after dark (excluding the deranged shit show that happens near 11th and Folsom on the weekends) to a sudden explosion of new businesses. Most notably, due my particular predilections, The Willows has come into my life.

Owned by the same folks who own The Sycamore, The Willows fills a specific need that, up until now, hadn’t been met in the neighborhood. There were plenty of places to dance (Holy Cow, Wish) and plenty of places to rock leather chaps (Powerhouse, the newly reopened Eagle), but there was no place to get a bite, shoot the shit, shoot some pool, play some board games, and get drunk. Plus they have hard alcohol, not just beer and wine, something that’s always discouraged me from visiting the Sycamore more often.

Awhile back, while researching a piece about the history of The Mission (which, ahem…I still haven’t finished yet) I came across a reference to a resort called The Willows that used to be near 18th and Mission in the 1860s. Back then, what is now the Mission District was actually considered “out in the country” from San Francisco and people would visit for weekend excursions. Shortly after learning this, I was visiting my friend Lara at the Noc-Noc, and ran into Tim, one of the owners of Sycamore/Willows. I drunkenly slurred something like “Congrats on the new place! I even know where you got the name The Willows from, you clever bastard!” and gave him a self-satisfied wink that said, I too am a student of San Francisco history. He then said “Oh you’re from Massachusetts?” and I sheepishly realized we were talking about different Willows completely.

It doesn’t matter to me, though, because The Willows, not the one in New England or the one from the 1860s, is a kind of resort in its own way. Besides the aforementioned activities, there’s also a room with Big Buck Hunter and pinball machines, and a room they’re calling a “beer den” which has rare beers on tap. Plus there’s a real jukebox, not one of those internet jukeboxes that crush your soul when someone throws in a $50 and plays nothing but dubstep. Fuck you, whoever you are. There’s also solid food, creatively named cocktails, and couple of snuggly little booths for that awkward date you’re going to go on with the person you met Tinder yesterday.

The Willows has been open for less than a month, and they already know my name and face. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but it’s certainly a thing. Regardless, I have a feeling I’ll be spending a lot of time there. And who knows, maybe I can convince them to let me do a history night where I talk about the 1860s Willows and Woodward’s Gardens, and all the other cool things that lived in these neighborhoods before people ever thought of using silly names like The Smission.