It was Sunday and I hadn’t eaten anything since brunch when my boyfriend picked me up and we headed out. He didn’t know where we were going since this was going to be part of his Christmas present, and I didn’t really know where we were going either.
I only knew the address and that we were heading to The Riptide, “the bay area’s best little honky-tonk by the beach” for their Hillbilly Hootenanny West Side Review. It happens at the beginning of every month.
The Riptide is buried deep in the Outer Sunset, all the way at 46th and Taraval. Many people from farther in the city aren’t even sure the intersection exists, believing deep down that most of the Sunset is a foggy myth created to scare hipsters of their potential oblivion. But seek and ye shall find, and find we did.
We headed further and further until we reached that dark corner, San Francisco’s last resort before it gives into the ocean.
It’s a clear night and the world was silent as we got out of the car, looking ahead at Taraval Street. A couple of restaurants lit up the sidewalks, but it felt empty and forgotten. The lonely Riptide sign, a blue wave, shone on up the street.
Inside the bar it’s warm, both temperature and atmosphere-wise, and packed with regulars and more people wearing western gear than I could yell yee-haw at. The walls are covered in nautical motifs as well as a moose head and some country paraphernalia. Somewhere, I suspect, there’s a mermaid wearing a cowboy hat. All around us, people are greeting one another and being friendly-like, excited to get the hootenanny going, or maybe just excited to get blammo’d on a Sunday night. I’m not a sociologist.
Finally, a man in a pearl-button shirt and a cowboy hat takes to the microphone, introducing the musicians, including a man that looks like Johnny Bravo’s cousin and a walking, talking, handle-bar-mustaching caricature of a saloon piano player. The music starts.
The definition of a hootenanny is something like “a gathering at which folksingers entertain, often with the audience joining in.” But what that definition neglects to say is that hootenannies are often spiritual affairs and can cause a deep stirring in the soul. The music was wonderful, country and heartbroken and twangy, sung by people who probably have day jobs and look forward to this all week or all month.
After the first couple of sets, guest musicians started to play and then the fun really began. My favorite performers were a pair of no-nonsense, fun-loving, belt-buckle brandishing women who didn’t just sing and play music. They took it to the next level, becoming the music they played and hamming it up shamelessly. We loved them for it.
Then it was time to go, on a Sunday, and we stepped out of the bar onto a street as silent as ever. But now we knew its secret, the secret of the honky-tonk and the fire inside (both literal and figurative).