This won’t be the last time I write about the Stray Bar. First of all, it’s my dog’s bar. Literally. Moxie will pull me in there every time we walk by because she knows there are treats and there may be some of her pals in there (human and canine). Also, Bernal Heights is my home neighborhood. I’ve lived in various parts of Bernal since 2000: Mission @ 30th, Coleridge @ Virgina, and now up the hill on the South side, Crescent @ Andover. It’s a neighborhood I didn’t even know about the first 5 years I lived in San Francisco and until just before I moved there, despite spending countless hedonistic days and nights rampaging through neighborhoods from the tenderloin to the Haight to SOMA and, of course, to the Mission. Now, I can safely say it’s the best neighborhood in the city: The Mission-adjacent part has Mexican bars and food, Blue Plate, Vietnamese, the Front Porch, a supermarket, and is walkable to anywhere. The part near Cortland has a village feel, two fantastic parks, lots of nooks and crannies, good restaurants, and fun bars.
A few years ago, a new bar opened up on Cortland Street (near the end of the commercial area, just before Cortland heads down hill towards Mission Street) in the location of the old Charlie’s (which I never bothered to enter, for whatever reason). The name “Stray Bar” was originally a play on words – combining “Straight” and “Gay” – for the Lesbian-owner who wanted to avoid being pegged as a “gay” or “lesbian” bar.
Much like the rightfully famous and fantastic “Wild Side West” down the street, the Stray Bar is a queer-friendly base for a neighborhood with a high percentage of lesbians. However, more accurately, it is indeed a friendly base for the neighborhood. Period.I read a couple of stories saying it has a “predominantly” gay clientele, and that may be the case, but it doesn’t feel like it. It’s just not noticeable because the clientele are just people, after all, enjoying a beer or a drink, some party food or a bacon dog from time to time, and some occasionally raucous parties. Oh yeah, Bernal also happens to be a neighborhood with a high percentage of dogs and dog owners as well, which also makes the Stray Bar a very popular neighborhood place because the owner made it a point to get the extra insurance coverage and licensing required to make this an officially “dog-friendly” bar. That’s going above and beyond to serve the neighborhood demographic. Very cool.
With the recent closure of Skip’s (pending a reopening under new management), I’ve noticed even more customers lately, but it’s never over-crowded. My recent visit found me visiting with a new-to-me bartender at the Stray Bar – Jones.
Turns out, Jones had been there from the start as Manager of the Stray Bar, but had recently returned from an 11 month tour as a machine-gunner in Afghanistan. Not your usual run of the mill hippie liberal the media loves to paint as the only face of San Francisco. Jones didn’t have much to say about the goings-on in Afghanistan as he is still an active member of the National Guard, but he’s a genuinely soft-spoken, interesting guy who had complete command of a ragtag group of locals cheering on the Giants and feeding treats to the various dogs around the bar. I don’t know the name of the gentleman wearing the Dublin tee-shirt or his Irish lass, but I’ve had numerous small talk chats with them both over Guiness, Racer5 IPA, Blue Moon, and dog biscuits. The Stray Bar has become a Saturday or Sunday afternoon regular for Moxie, Yina, and me after a walk and maybe brunch at one of the spots on Cortland. As a neighborhood place – Straight or Gay or Stray or Dog bar, it’s a winner.