San Francisco loves its dive bars. The cheap beer, the seedy tagged up bathrooms, that one guy who's been there since 11am, all of it mixes together to create that wonderful cash only ambiance. They serve as a welcome respite from the polished facades of so many ultra lounges and dance clubs and draw boozers from every walk of life. The one thing you don’t see a lot of though is bikers (and I don't mean the drop bar variety). Of course there are bikers in San Francisco—anyone who’s seen the first 10 minutes of the pride parade can attest to the awesomeness that is Dykes on Bikes—but it’s a rare sight to see a row of Harleys parked anywhere other than the front of a motorcycle shop.
The concept of a biker bar has been ingrained in our cultural understandings of the fringes of society. Just thinking about it conjures images of long beards, leather vests, and loud exhaust pipes. When I was a kid, there was a bar on the outskirts of my hometown that everyone knew as “that biker bar on the Santa Susana pass.” It was so shrouded in mystique that anything they actually had inside must have paled in comparison to the things we imagined riding by on our bicycles. It was a sad day in 2006 when I was visiting some friends in SoCal and discovered that it had closed after 73 years of operation.
Fast forward a few years and here I find myself still thinking about that bar. Since moving to San Francisco, I’ve run across a handful of drinking holes that, in one way or another, fulfilled my unrequited fascination with that biker bar on the pass. I decided to go back over the last few weekends and get to know them a little better. I met some crusty old men, some smoky old women, read some inspired bathroom poetry, and heard some unbelievable stories, all just by showing up and saying hello. Everywhere I went people greeted me with handshakes and beers. These are the spots where, on any given Saturday, you’re just as likely to find two or three locals hanging out sharing a pitcher as you are to see 150 of the hardest motherfuckers on two wheels. Nobody’s going to give you a hard time if you pull up in a car but I guarantee you’ll have a better time on a bike.
“In a car, you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it you don’t realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You’re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame. On a motorcycle the frame is gone. You’re completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming.”
-Robert M. Persig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
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