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?
You know you’ve been in a city for a long time when you remember what a place was two businesses ago. Before it was The Showdown it was Matador. I never went there...in fact, nobody did. I guess that’s why it’s no longer around. And before it was Matador it was an absolute shit show of a joint called Arrow Bar. Anyone who lived in San Francisco in the early aughts and was of the hipster/PBR/dive bar inclination did some time at Arrow Bar. The interior of the bar looked a half-assed version of Plato’s Cave, you could smell the murky bathrooms from the front door, and cocaine practically spewed from the soda guns behind the bar. Oh god, there was so much cocaine there. I can barely feel my face just thinking about it. Arrow Bar was the perfect bar for the neighborhood at the time; an unapologetic hot mess that mirrored the daily transgressions and tragedies that happen at Sixth and Market. Though there’s a very, very small part of me that misses it, I’m glad it’s gone. All of San Francisco should be glad it’s gone and we should celebrate that The Showdown is here instead.
Billed as an “Urban DJ Saloon”, The Showdown is the love child of Anita Dah and Johnny Venetti, two veterans of SF nightlife. It’s also the perfect bar to mirror what that little stretch of South of Market perdition is now. Crackheads and junkies still buzz and twitter in the street like velociraptors, while the buzz that Twitter is moving in up the street is giving other local businesses (Dottie’s, Pearl’s Burgers) the confidence to open their doors. The Showdown’s beauty is that it has the edge necessary to hold its own in the neighborhood, while also appealing to more than just wispily mustachioed kids looking for cheap thrills and cheaper beer.
Darkly lit with a vaguely Deco-ish back bar and vintage lamps dangling from the ceiling, The Showdown certainly lives up to its billing as a saloon. The DJ part is absolutely on the mark too. Most evenings you can find someone in the DJ booth with music as varied as a Golden Age of hip-hop night on Wednesday and a Smiths night on Thursday. Industry Night is on Mondays where all well drinks are 2-for-1, and every night of the week you can order from Show Dogs and have your grub delivered to your barstool until 10pm.
There’s more going on at The Showdown than just DJs, hotdogs, and strong drinks; Anita and Johnny are using the space to host all kinds of other fun and strange events. One Sunday a month is Bonanza where you can eat spaghetti and watch Spaghetti Westerns and just the other night, I popped in to catch the end of Big Hair Bingo, a night of hair metal music, PB&J sandwiches and of course, bingo. Johnny Venetti was wearing a long black wig and looked like he was in Ratt. It was a good look for him.
San Francisco is in an interesting place right now. We’re neck deep in a second tech boom that many people hope will lead to the Mid-Market area no longer being a zombie wasteland resembling The Walking Dead. Whether or not that’s gonna happen remains to be seen. In the meantime, at least we have The Showdown as a refuge for those of us who wanna get a little bit weird and little bit funky while waiting to see where the cards fall.
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.