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 often feel like my writing for 7x7 is singlehandedly lowering the bar for this publication. Some of the places that I cover would absolutely never make it onto this site if I weren’t writing about them. They are seedy, weird, and déclassé, and absolutely perfect because of it. The Hot Spot is one of them.
The first time I ended up at the Hot Spot was the same night I went to the Top of the Mark, a night I already wrote about here. The difference between the places is so palpable that it’s almost hilarious. It was like ending up at the Bottom of the Mark. After hitting up a couple places, including the Showdown, Lindsey said, “Have you all been to the Hot Spot? It’s my favorite place!” I’d walked by it enough times to know exactly where it was, but I’d always thought The Hot Spot was the kind of joint where veterans in wheelchairs piss away their lives on cheap booze and prostitutes. From the outside it reminded me of some of the frightening Tenderloin bars I’d spent time at in my youth while mapping out the best and worst of what this city had to offer: the kind of place where you didn’t sit with your back to the door. I was totally wrong.
I mean there’s no mistaking the fact that The Hot Spot is a total dive bar. The drinks are cheap, the lighting is dark, and the windows are lit up with neon beer signs like it was some kind of Budweiser Christmas. But instead of walking in and finding total Market Street wretches waiting for the opportunity to mop the floor with anyone who has all their teeth, I found dive bar perfection. The crowd was a mix of hipsters, recently off-work line cooks, business professionals who were drunk holdovers from the happy hour shift, and of course, Market Street weirdos. The vibe was certainly a bit unsavory, but in a good way, a way that said “You want a fancy drink? Then take your fucking ass to Absinthe, yuppie.” It was love at first sight.
The Hot Spot has the best deal in all of San Francisco. For $5 you get a shot, a beer, and a Lotto scratcher! I was telling Maggie about this as we were coming back from the Treasure Island Music Fest. I had eaten some molly and was feeling hyper sensitive, just wanting to hang out and chat with good friends. I expected the Hot Spot to be empty enough that a group of us could huddle together and tell each other how much we cared about each other, and other heartfelt, drug-fueled babble, while remaining undisturbed. Instead, we walked into some big, bumping, gay party where I ran into Marke B. and Bus Station John (a man whose moniker is even better than mine). Quiet, bombed out, bonding time was not to be had, but beers, shots and Lotto scratchers flowed like the Euphrates. The Hot Spot had managed to surprise me yet again.
And I guess that’s what makes The Hot Spot a special place. You literally have no idea what you’re gonna encounter each time you walk through those doors. I’ve seen a tiny cute female bartender 86 someone three times her size, all by herself (she didn’t need my help), and I’ve seen brutal karaoke renditions of songs that should never have existed in the first place. I’ve seen love connections happen over Lotto scratchers, and I’ve also had a straight dude Valentine’s date there with my friend David*. But mostly, I’ve found a holdover of a San Francisco that’s a little stranger, grittier, and down to earth than the one we’re living in now.
*Randomly enough, we’ve run into each other on the street two years in a row on Valentine’s Day and decided to get drinks and be each other's Valentines.