Best Bars: Aunt Charlie’s Lounge grimily on a block that is Genuinely Sketchâ„¢, Aunt Charlie’s Lounge warmly opens its door to all who stumble in. Dimly lit to the point of squinting even in daylight, once your eyes adjust, you’ll discover that you’ve entered a narrow railroad car of a space. A metaphysical layer of dust fondly rests on fixtures and furniture that have not been updated in decades. Yes, fellow lushes, this is a true dive bar. And with this neighborhood, one that actually smells less bad inside than outside the door. I can’t believe I’ve been coming to this place for years now already. And each and everytime, from the patches of memory left preserved post-binge, I’ve always had a colorful good time.

bestbars_logo_sm.gifThe main man behind the bar is Joe: a grizzled, gravelly-voiced sweetheart, with a shock of white/gray hair. Joe pours my vodka crans strong. (The cranberry juice is just an obligatory cough of an afterthought into the glass.) Needless to say, the drinks are not only blindingly stiff: they are cheap cheap cheap. I especially like coming here after work, when it’s relatively quiet and sparsely populated. And despite the occasional whiff of desperation from the tragic-appearing crowd of elderly gay men who like their cheap daytime booze, there is still a vibe of fun chattiness. Without a doubt, Joe goes out of his way in decorating the place for holidays and special events, which makes it often cheerier. (The upside-down Christmas village – complete with lights and trees – that suspended from the low ceiling this past year was a terrifically elaborate enterprise.)

Thursday nights are time for the very popular “Tubesteak Connection”, spun by DJ Bus Station John. Vintage gay porn magazine pages cover the length of the bar. And since all objects seem to be a tad sticky at Aunt Charlie’s, most every other surface as well. Curtains of glam album covers hang from above. Not only is he a genius at fleshing out the cruisy 70’s/early 80’s homo bathhouse era of electro-disco and funk, Bus Station John’s pastiche flyer art is dead-on as well. Creatively executed and successfully in keeping with the overall ‘retro urban manwhore’ theme. Odd chestnuts playing on the tv screens might be “Eyes of Laura Mars”, “Body Rock” or just your standard ‘classic’ porn flick. The bar demographic changes significantly, as the art fag thrift store crowd starts to pack the place. (It really doesn’t get going til around 11:30-ish btw.) As the evening progresses and the well drinks take their toll, the vibe gets increasingly slutty and rowdy (in a good way).

Friday and Saturday nights are the utterly fantastic “Hot Boxxx Girls” drag shows, hosted by the gracious Gina LaDivina (“The $65,000 Silicone Wonder”). If you at all cherish San Francisco for its often surreal gay glamour, you owe it to yourself to check it out. With a performance roster that often resembles former NFL players decked out in sloppy drag than your stereotypically glossed ‘gender illusionists’, these ladies work hard for those dollar bills. Squeezing their broad-shouldered way through the narrow path that separates the bar from the mirrored wall, they have ample opportunity to grope for the cash. Parts David Lynch, John Waters and genuine flawed professionalism, I die and go to heaven at some point during any show.

I’ve actually turned on several of my (straight) coworkers to this place and they’ve fallen for it too. We try to schedule an “Auntie’s Outing” every couple of months. It’s a rally call we only periodically make – since there’s no way any of us have ever set foot in this place without getting really really messy. It’s also a great place to go to pre-Warfield show, if you wanna get your drink on (I’ll say it again: cheap!) since it’s right around the corner. With its melancholy regulars, riotous atmosphere – not to mention, community fundraising drives – it truly is that inviting neighborhood dive bar kinda place. Its location might probably scare off many folks from ever stepping in. Or returning. But selfishly, I’ll keep it that way.

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