The Endorsement: Going Out Early

Posted by Glenn Gritzner on April 6, 2009

Hello Enthusiasts –

For today’s post, I’ll be talking about the virtues of being an early bird at your favorite drinking establishment.  But first, some context.

Last night, at the recommendation of a fellow Enthusiast, I checked out CitySip, a newish wine bistro in Echo Park (on Sunset, just west of Alvarado).  It’s really nice – unique, boutique wines, knowledgeable and friendly servers, and a cool urban vibe.  You feel like you’ve stumbled into a neighborhood wine bar in San Francisco … except you’re on Sunset and Alvarado.

Unbeknownst to me, they start offering half off glasses of wine out of already-opened bottles on Sunday nights starting at 9 pm.  I got there around 8:30, so imagine my luck.  My friend and I got two seats at the bar without much of a problem, tried a flight of reds, waited until 9:00, and then enjoyed a couple of nice, cheap glasses of wine.

As 9:00 rolled around, the place got pretty crowded – people clearly knew about the 9 pm half off deal.  Which made me think:  why are these people getting here at 9 pm?  Why not do like I (inadvertently) did and get there a little early, bide your time, and then have good seats for when the deal starts?

Which then made me think about a complaint I’ve heard about the places I’ve been writing about Downtown:  they get so crowded late.  The lines get really long.  Some places have Hollywood-style doormen.  Some places attract the bridge-and-tunnel crowd on Saturday nights.

I never have this problem.  Why?  Because I don’t go when everybody else does!  Pretty simple.

So, with (not so sincere) apologies to Esquire magazine which gave me the idea, from time to time, I will be posting an “endorsement” of an idea, place, or thing to make the Downtown experience (or just the going out experience overall) more enjoyable.

Therefore, here is the first endorsement:  going out early.  Especially when going out Downtown.

I understand not wanting to go out early to some places.  There’s nothing more depressing than an empty bar with loud music and a disinterested bartender waiting for some tips to come in.

But in Downtown, in the right places, it’s different.  Getting to the bar early opens up a whole different world.  It becomes more like what you see in the movies:  you walk in, pick out any stool you want, maybe throw your favorite song on the jukebox, order a drink, and talk to your newest best friend, the bartender.  If you’re in a place that actually serves good cocktails, they’ll tell you the origins of the drink you ordered.  Or, if you seem a little adventurous, maybe they’ll offer you something that’s not on the menu, or the newest scotch they just got in, or maybe they’ll concoct something on the spot just to see how it tastes (and if you’re really lucky, they won’t charge you for much of this).  And honestly, even when your bartender can’t tell you the difference between a manhattan and an old fashioned, it’s still fun to chat with them – you often find out about special events or, at a minimum, you develop a relationship so you get better taken care of next time.  When it’s late, those kinds of conversations or cocktail adventures are impossible – and you’ll be lucky to even get a decent drink when the bartenders are sweating and just trying to rock out enough drinks to keep up with the demand.

The point is, unlike more traditional clubs, the places I’ve written about like Seven Grand or the Edison or Crocker or the Association don’t get better when it’s late and crowded – they get worse.  And if you are coming from work, the other nice thing about Downtown establishments is that they expect this – I have never once felt out of place in a suit (I mean, at least loosen your tie, but you get the idea).  Finally, if you do get there early but can manage to pace yourself a bit, you’ll have a prime seat for when it does get busier, and the bartender will make sure to keep taking care of you (because by now they know that you’ll be leaving a decent tip … right?  RIGHT?)

I actually avoid Downtown when it’s late and I’m going to have to fight my way in – what’s the point?   I’d rather be at a nice meal and seeing a movie somewhere.  But walking into my favorite bar at 5:00 on a Friday?  Now that’s something special.

Happy travels.