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?
The most beautiful bar in the world might be in Belfast, Ireland. The mesmerizing tiling, haunting stained glass, and intricately hand-carved Italian woodwork of the Crown Liquor Saloon actually made me gasp when I first walked through its hallowed doors. Having been refurbished in 1885 at the height of Victorian opulence, the Crown’s beauty is only fitting, considering that Belfast was Queen Victoria’s pet city. But considering this is Belfast, nothing is ever exactly as it seems. There are many who say that the lovely mosaic of a crown that one must step on to enter the building, was a subtle “fuck you” to the Queen due to the owner’s secret leanings towards Irish Nationalism. That said, my favorite part of the Crown was all of its private little snugs.
The first time I stepped into Tradition and saw its tan wood and intimate snugs, I immediately thought of Belfast, and the Crown in particular. While nothing compares with the over-the-top grandeur of the Crown, the folks at Future Bars did what they do best: Build something that allows you to, momentarily, suspend your disbelief and imagine you’re in some place and time other than San Francisco at the start of the 21st Century. Out of all their bars (Bourbon & Branch, Rickhouse, Local Edition, etc.), Tradition is my favorite. And like the Crown, this is probably because of the snugs.
For those unfamiliar with snugs, they are essentially private booths with high walls that create a private space for you and those you keep company with to enjoy your tipple. In the Crown, many snugs had little hooks that rang a bell behind the bar, alerting the barman to come and serve a patron who might not have wanted to be seen in a drinking establishment. Often these were women, because it was “unladylike” for them to drink in bars (sausage fest!). While the snugs in Tradition don’t have hooks or bells, they are used for privacy, but less so for not wanting to be seen drinking than not wanting to be seen making out. There’s nothing like snogging in a snug.
There’s more to Tradition than just drunk make out sessions, though. Like everything in the Future Bar family, Tradition has exquisite cocktails that read (and taste) like a history of the American drink. While it may feel to me like a bit of Belfast in the Tenderloin, Tradition bills itself as the American Cocktail Bar. In fact, each snug has a dedicated drinks menu that pays homage to different parts of America’s drinking history, like the Tiki snug and the Prohibition snug. If I’m not mistaken (and I often am), you can order from any of the nearly 10 drink menus at the main bar, which is most likely where you’ll be, since you have to make reservations to get the snugs.
I haven’t been to Belfast or the Crown since 2006. But it’s good to know that here in my own town, there’s a place where I can go to drink delicious cocktails and act unladylike in the privacy of my own snug. I actually just wanted an excuse to write the word “snug” one more time in this piece. There, I did it again.
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.