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?
Naked ladies with bedroom eyes recline while looking lustily down on you from their velvet paintings. The interior of this Mission District institution is dark, lit mostly by hanging lamps of odd shapes; some resembling clusters of grapes, others like tin tribal masks. Couches and cocktail tables are scattered throughout the back part of the space, while the long bar takes up the front. The whole place, from the décor to the sign outside, feels like the bar was conceived around the time the movie Swingers was popular…in a good way. This is the Casanova Lounge, and not much has changed since I first stepped foot into it over a decade ago.
At the time, I was living and going to college in Santa Cruz. I would sometimes come up to The City to visit my cousin Becky, sleeping on her couch in the Fillmore Center. I was newly 21 and flush with enthusiasm about going to bars. It’s funny to think about it now, after logging far too many hours in them, but back then the idea of finally getting to drink in bars was so exciting. “It’s like there’s a party every night of the week!” I told my friend as we stepped off the 22 at 16th and Valencia, extricating ourselves from the sardine can of bums and bummers. Later that night, I’d see a homeless man with his shirt off, rubbing his ass crack up and down the opened door of the coin operated bathroom at 16th and Mission, while he smiled madly and smacked his own ass. “This is city life!” I thought.
I thought the same thing walking into Casanova that night. Pretty girls and boys flirted with each other amongst the sounds of ice in a glass and whatever the DJ was spinning. The bars I’d been frequenting in Santa Cruz felt provincial compared to the Casanova Lounge. The men were in tan leather jackets with flared jeans while women wore short choppy haircuts and halter tops. It was 2002, San Francisco was recovering from the economic belch that resulted from the tech bubble bursting, and the Mission was beginning to hit its stride in the “up and coming neighborhood” category.
With all the fancy new restaurants and condos, today’s Mission seems like a completely different neighborhood than it was a decade ago, but Casanova feels almost exactly the same. While the flared jeans are gone and there are fewer couches in the back (or maybe more? I don’t fucking remember), it’s still the kind of hip San Francisco bar that every 20 year old imagines they’ll be hanging out in when they finally turn 21. It’s cool without being pretentious or expensive, the crowd is attractive without seeming like they tried too hard, and the music is always good. Plus, amongst all the naked lady velvet paintings, there’s one of a guy with a sweet ‘stache wearing an open shirt, with a big cross dangling on his chest. His smirk says “Yes my friend, you can be a Casanova too.” And when you’re 21-years-old, that’s the best news in the world.
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.