TRAD’R SAM DRINK MENU SAN FRANCISCO 1987-1992
I did a lot of drinking between my early teens and my early forties. I took a few years off once or twice but by and large alcohol figured significantly in my life all that time. That’s thirty years of very regular sipping, slurping, guzzling and gulping.
I drank in every mode and mindset imaginable in those years.
I drank socially in groups and crowds and often had a blast. I was more often than not funny, popular, witty, warm, and charming. People liked to drink with me because I was very rarely an out-of-control, boring, or boorish drunk. I had countless very meaningful, genuinely profound conversations and bonding sessions with good friends, close acquaintances, and with complete strangers while lit, smashed, and getting smasher’d.
I also drank alone a lot. These words immediately read as sad and tragic but it wasn’t always, or even mostly depressing or bummerish when I drank solo. In fact many times I had wonderful hours drinking alone, joking, cooking, and singing to myself. I did some of my best thinking and creating in those years while alone and buzzed. Looking back, this was probably due in part to the fact that I was buzzed so much of the time when I did any creating or living good or bad, happy or sad.
Everything I did straight I also did under the influence. I worked. I travelled. I read. I watched movies. I wrote. I slept. I dreamed. I played music. I performed. I argued. I joked. I cried. I laughed. I made out. I had sex. I fell in love. I drove. I rode. I walked, talked, staggered, ran, and crawled, all under the spell of that warm sensation that comes with alcohol consumption.
I could go into long a list of major life milestones I had while ripped, tipsied or merely feelin’ it. I won’t though because you get the idea. There are a bunch.
I drank when I was happy, sad, lonely, when I was content, when I lacked confidence, when I brimmed with it, when I wanted out, when I wanted in, when I wanted to celebrate, annihilate, or obliterate whatever I liked, loved, hated or loathed about people, places, things, situations, and my station in life. I didn’t need much reason, or any reason at all, to pull a cork, twist a cap, crack a can, or pop a lid. Sometimes I was able to stop drinking exactly when I wanted to, other times I couldn’t seem to stop at all.
I first started drinking in my late adolescence as I was struggling with the difficult task of trying to grow a garden of the heart and mind under the shadow of an oppressive, opaque cloud of inadequacy, low self-esteem, and fear. I experienced a tough transition between the magically inclined, imagination-centered world of my childhood and the harsher, more demanding social reality of teendom. Like many thoughtful, creative kids I wasn’t thrilled about entering this new world.
In alcohol I found a panacea custom made for me. Early on it gave me the added confidence to be social, a devil-may-care attitude, and the courage to take risks when they needed taking. It boosted my sense of myself as a thinker (a genius even!) when as the titanic waves of free-form association, inspiration, and revelation came crashing in I was able to stand up (on wobbly legs) and ride that wave where ever it took me. Plus it was fun, cool, and it was social to drink. So it was game on.
Looking at it now, I can see that all my life I drank the way I did for a complex web of motivations, many of which I may never fully understand. One obvious thread I have identified is the mysterious force of genetic predisposition. I’m ¾ Irish ¼ German. I don’t have to explain that these bloodlines in the human family aren’t exactly known for shying away from beers and boozes. We likes the drinks.
It also didn’t hurt that my parents weren’t drinkers but many in my extended family were. This meant I had plenty of exposure to alcohol without having been forced to live through the first hand devastation of in-your-face alcoholism of the kind that might’ve put me off the stuff all together. It might also be worth noting that when I was young the world was run by the generation that had survived The Great Depression and two World Wars. This generation set the tone for a culture that was totally unapologetic about drinking. (questions? see the TV show Madmen for details)
I started out experimenting with beer. As a young Punk Rock kid I liked getting trashed at Jr. High parties in Tacoma, at Punk parties with an older crowd, and on The Ave in Seattle. Sometimes we’d sit on the roof of Domino’s Pizza on The Ave and pound Mickey’s Big Mouths or we might make a plastic jug full of O.J. and vodka and drink it on the sidewalk until I’d find myself leaning against a plate glass window, trying hard to make sense of the visual field spinning around me. I remember really enjoying the feeling of wild freedom that accompanied these times.
As I got older, alcohol was still my party pal but it was also a companion when I found myself feeling let down, alone, and lonely. Drinking seemed to be the one thing that would always keep me afloat when I was adrift on a grey ocean of sadness, bitterness, and hopelessness about my life and the world around me. Alcohol didn’t give me some line about looking on the sunny side and it didn’t judge or reject me because of my grim attitude.
I may not have the love, talent, sex, money, fame, and adulation I want and deserve, and this world may be completely unjust and f-cked, but I have you my sweet friend. You’ll always be there for me. A refuge, a distraction, a collaborator, a lover, a pal. Never hard to find, you don’t ask me to be someone I’m not. All you ask is that I meet you half way and you’ll make sure we get to oblivion together.
It seemed like the least I could do, considering everything I was getting from the deal! So I did it, and did it, and did it again. The bargain seemed to work out most of the time too.
I got pretty blitzed as a teen whenever and wherever I could get away with it but it wasn’t until I was a legal drinker in San Francisco in the late 80’s and early 90’s that I really hit my stride with the stuff. In that era I still drank in houses, apartments, at parties, in parks, the streets, and on the beaches but mostly I drank all over the city in all kinds of bars.
I drank at stripped-down rocker bars on Haight St., super divey dive bars in the Tenderloin, dancey gay bars and quiet, soft-chaired old queen bars on Castro and all over the city. The big political Irish pubs on Geary and Clement Streets were some of my favorites. I liked getting hammered at Chinese places in Chinatown and in the Richmond District, Piano bars in the Marina District, South of Market punk bars, weird old-man bars out in the foggy Avenues, gimmicky yuppie spots in Pacific Heights, wood-paneled cigar bars in the Financial District, Post-Beatnik North Beach literary bars, Italian bars in North Beach too. I drank in old union laborer joints and mariachi places in the Mission. I got fuzzy, feely, friendly and I got ripped, blitzed, blotto and smashed in these spots. I could go on and on…
I walked into these establishments stone-cold sober, lightly buzzed, and already smashed. I entered them eagerly, sadly, bored, excited, in a group, with a friend, and all alone. I breezed out into the afternoon with buzz, I limped out into the night exhausted and broke, and too often I staggered out into it with one hand cupped over an eye wondering how the city could get away with installing sidewalks at such a ridiculously impractical angle!
I usually made it home alright, although I did from time to time find myself regaining consciousness in a doorway as the city woke up around me…
Good morning lady walking your dog! Good morning joggers! Top of the morning to you delivery guy…you wouldn’t happen to be delivering a truck load of aspirin would you? No? Oh, that’s too bad… excuse me while I…BlaaaAAAAARRRph!…
No huge disasters befell me but I made a fool of myself plenty of times, had tons of epic hangovers, made my girlfriend miserable, I more than once narrowly avoided being hit by cars. I fell off some barstools, did a slurred fake Irish accent once or twice (ouch!), may have skipped out on a tab or two. I shared WAY more than a few color-corrected, hyper-saturated accounts of my life and times. I definitely put in some long hours in some smoky, drinky dojos earning a black-belt in b.s. and blarney.
To my credit as a drinker, or maybe it was due to the kindness and irresponsibility of the bar staff, I was never cut-off and I was never asked to leave a bar, not even once that I can remember. I never got in a fight, I can’t even recall ever exchanging heated words with anyone. I never threw up in a toilet stall, I hardly ever spilled a drink. I was never arrested. I was polite to ladies. I didn’t break or even bruise too many hearts. I didn’t pick up any souvenereal diseases because most often once I was trashed I only wanted to be left alone to savor my moment of confusion and peace in peace.
I did more than my fair share of embarrassing sh-t but mostly I kept it together. It is possible I’m forgetting some truly awful story from those days, after all I was drinking at the time.
I wasn’t particularly into the romance of it all like a lot of younger drinkers are about their drinking. The fact that I didn’t read Bukowski or listen to Tom Waits is more proof of this fact than anyone should ever want or need. I didn’t aspire to write or be a character like them either. I just liked the way booze made me feel. It’s just as well that I didn’t try to be a writer anyhow because most of my material wouldn’t have been such a great a read.
My best/worst drunky drinky stories are simple tales of garden variety, slack-jawed, bleary-eyed, sub-felonious idiocy and not much else. A good example of this sort of sorry narrative mini-arc might be one like the time I found myself wending my way home in the wee hours of the morning, taking the scenic route while in a drunken stupor. I stopped along my journey to take a piss all over a beautiful vintage Vespa scooter innocently parked on the sidewalk in The Haight. I recall feeling inexplicably justified and somewhat delighted in this unwarranted random assault on another person’s prized possession.
…take thad you yubbie Mod, Vezpaaah riding azz-ole! Bay backz a bidge, huh…muhvugger?…haha…ha…take thad!…blaaahwww, haw haw…
The stuff of legends…I can almost hear Tom Waits’ gravelly voice singing this tale, only in his song a one-eyed Mod dwarf would probably come out of his house to punch me in the nuts…
I felt terrible about that act the next day for obvious reasons and I still feel bad about it today. Such a stupid sh-tty thing to do. I didn’t do a lot of stuff like that but in 30 years of drinking I did enough stupid sh-t to feel like I should issue a blanket apology to the world at large. Sorry! Sh-t like that hurts others, sends bad vibes into the world, and put major dents in my own shaky self-esteem too. Enough dents you have a banged up car, bang a car up long enough it stops working altogether. Not a great way to get where you wanna go in life.
I don’t recall where I picked up the vintage Trad’r Sam menu pictured above I think it might belong to my brother. It looks to me like it dates from the 1940’s or 50’s. By the look of the place I’d guess not a lot had changed about it by the time my brother, my friends and I started walking in (and staggering out) the door of the place in the 80’s. The prices might have gone up, but not as much as one might suppose. It was still very reasonable.
Trad’r Sam was a classic, well trodden, dog-eared, first-wave Tiki bar that made no bones about serving huge, super-charged boozy drinks. Just look at the drink special on that old menu: “…A LOW-DOWN SNEAKER WRECKER” What does that even mean? Is it a promise you’ll vomit? I guess so!
All the drinks on the menu had descriptive subheadings like that when we drank there. “This will have you seeing double”, “Guaranteed to give you sea-legs” stuff like that. We used to joke that they’d built the slurred voice into its very name, as in “I …hic…love Trdrrr Samz …hic…” The power of the potions was enough of a draw for me but there was plenty to like about the place.
The friendly middle aged female bartenders were warm and welcoming. They hosted a wide, unpredictable variety of drinkers that included elderly neighborhood regulars, working men tying one on after a hard day, gal pals out for a wild night, college-kid spring break types there for the implied sun and fun of the decor, and other assorted low-lifes, weirdos and absolutely normal, well-adjusted aspiring alcoholics like myself.
Like I’ve said, it wasn’t hard to get a little too brightly lit by Tradr Sam’s tiki-torch concoctions. I remember one time as I approached the front door watching a guy walk out, turn, walk nose first into the wall of the alcove the door was set in, apologize to the wall, straighten his hat, and keep on walking. A point for politeness goes to the gentleman in the hat!
The place usually had a vibe of hazy joviality but occasionally the pineapple did turn sour. I was there one time when two older guys started arguing at the bar until one of them stood up, pulled his sportcoat back to reveal a shoulder-holstered revolver. As he did this he repeatedly issued a very sincere sounding promise the other guy:
…Punch me and I’ll KILL ya! Go on…PUNCH ME…do it! I’ll kill ya!…c’mon…
Then a short guy suffering from a potentially lethal case of alcohol induced courage, stood up and put his hands to their chests and set about calming them down. Eventually he prevailed and the men sat back down on their stools.
Later when I asked the bartender about the potentially homicidal scene that had unfolded a little earlier she told me “I’d have called the cops but he IS ONE so I didn’t bother…the cops were ALREADY HERE! Haha..”
One last story, I can’t resist…
One time my brother Gavin, our third brother by a different father and mother Sean Kelly, and I were drinking at Trad’r Sam until we closed the place and stumbled into the frigid young morning. We were completely out of our heads and we decided it might be a nice to stagger the twenty or so blocks between Trad’r Sam and Ocean Beach so we could enjoy the bracing December air with our toes in the sand and the smell of salt water in our nostrils.
Its hard to say where the warm numbness we’d acquired in Trad’r Sam’s tropical climes gave way to the hypothermic non-feeling we began to experience once we reached the dark emptiness and white noise roar of the beach. Whatever the source of the non-sensation, we were feeling none of it by the time we started wrestling and pile-driving one another into the wet sand and having whip-fights with the long leathery lashes of seaweed lying all around.
One of these seaweed whip battles was in full swing when I became aware of a white light illuminating the misty ocean air all around us. Maybe this was it. Had my core temperature dipped so low that St. Peter himself was scooping me up from the sand to deliver me to the lap of Heaven? Or maybe, juuust maybe, it was an SFPD patrol car doing a routine scan of the beach?
…yeah...it’s the cops.
The light stayed trained on us from beyond the tall concrete wall above the sand while we stood there illuminated, clutching our seaweed ropes, mouth’s agape, panting like dogs, squinting, covered head to toe in wet sand, in a halo of our rapidly cooling body fog and breath.
We are so…BUSTED. We… are going to…jail.
Then after a minute or two the light went out. Our eyes readjusted to the darkness. The ocean roared and the patrol car drove away. Can you imagine the laughs those cops had looking at us standing there with our seaweed, like three drowned rats? It must’ve made their night.
I don’t know what happened next except that we somehow dragged ourselves the sixty or so blocks between the crashing waves and our beds back home. I’ll also say that the next day Sean Kelly had a Christmas tree in his apartment that hadn’t been there the day before and the tree had a strangely rounded stump on it as though it had been dragged for miles along a sidewalk. He may have had a brutal hangover that day but at least he also had…
A Christmas miracle!
Oh yeah, if you want to know why I quit drinking it’s simple: I’m not getting any younger and I know my chances of living longer and better would increase if I did, I knew I’d be happier and more honest with myself and others if I did, and I came to realize there was tons of stuff I wanted to do that I’d never get around to doing if I didn’t quit. So I quit and not once have I been sorry I did.
Trad’r Sam’s menu from my personal archive.