A real, legit bar inside an SF gentleman's club? A lady writer investigates.
Editor's Note: while we were writing the Sausalito drinking guide, we met this old dude at Smitty's who told us about a bar hidden inside the back of historic Broadway Ave strip-joint The Condor Club. To investigate, we decided to send our favorite lady writer in SF, because we figured she might be able to, uh, focus better.
What kind of a person hangs out at a strip club bar for hours on end? It's gotta be either the kind of person who didn’t get hugged enough as a child, or the kind of person who, for the sake of journalism, agrees to go drink a ton of beers and “observe” as -- to use purely technical terms -- “the boobies come out”.*
There is no shortage of booby-establishments in San Francisco, but none has quite the panache, nor the history, of The Condor Club. Proudly proclaimed: “The world’s first topless and bottomless establishment”, The Condor’s been up-and-running since 1964. According to Wikipedia, there was some chick who danced there topless for about 20 years. This concerns me. But we’re not here for a history lesson, we’re here to drink. And maybe see some boobs. Let’s get started, shall we?
*Journalism. Someone’s got to do it.
You know what’s funny about The Condor? 1) It’s not really a strip club until 6 pm, and 2) it has two entrances: one for the strip club, and one for a pretty unremarkable sports bar with big-picture windows facing Columbus St, a decent-enough draft beer selection, and live music. The two are separated by a small door frame with a velvet curtain drawn, so if you're new and you make your way in through the Columbus entrance, you might not even put two and two together that you're in a strip club. And, since we’re in the middle of North Beach, it’s exactly the kind of place a hapless tourist could wander into.
I assume my position at the bar and hope to God some middle-aged women from Kansas end up ordering Cosmos exactly when the red lights go on and the boobs come out. Until then, I will drink. I order a light beer, because why not?
Today’s band is made up of two dudes playing a mix of guitar/mandolin/fiddle, and they’re pretty good. One has a legit Charles Manson-style beard going down to his navel. They have a like, five-person fan club here, all of whom are significantly hairier than is likely allowed in a strip club.
There are two other girls here (I assume with the band) -- one is large, with long braids and a long skirt that looks like a tablecloth. The other is sitting by herself, gazing at the lead singer. She’s wearing knee socks, immediately making me wonder if she’s a stripper pregaming her shift.
Do people here think I’m a stripper pregaming my shift?
I order another light beer. Jesus, this stuff goes down like water. Amazing how quickly you forget you’re actually drinking once you get used to real beer.
The bearded dude keeps shouting at A) his other band member, and B) a guy sitting at the bar near us, both of whom are apparently from Sausalito. Their friend is incredibly good looking, in a '70s porn star kind of way. Between that, the facial hair, Braids McGee, and the fact that I’m steadily getting tipsier, I start to feel like I’m in some strange 1974 time warp.
Please, God, let the woman who danced topless for 20 years NOT show up.
Another light beer, please. One of the band members is going to feed the meter. Thankfully, a couple of large, middle-aged white guys have come in -- I was starting to suspect that we were not, in fact, in a strip club.
This folk rock has so much feeling. I consult the “FREE TUNES” postcard on the bar, and learn that they are called Fiddle Dave and the Midnite Farmers. Why is Midnite spelled wrong? Why do references to “fiddle” and “farming” seem extra gross in a strip club? Why is my beer already empty?
Two surfer brahs just walked in. One is wearing an incredibly revealing tank top. His side boob is officially the most action any of us have gotten today at The Condor.
I’m doing the thing where I kind of lazily listen to the pretty, mellow folk rock without really listening, when all of a sudden I realize BeardFace is crooning, “F*** you baby b*tch, you stinking a**hole...” WHAT?!?! What just happened?
I try and figure out if the verse goes, “Stinking a**hole” or “Stinking a** ho”. Knee Socks Girl is chewing her nails and staring at him lovingly. I’m going to go ahead and assume it’s not about her.
The band is now making racist Chinatown jokes. They should probably just stop talking. I start wondering what their stripper songs would be (mine is “Mississippi Queen” by Mountain), and then am struck with a horrific image of the hairy band members, side boob surfer brah, and Braids on the pole. Ugh. Another light beer, please. Now.
The bartender is named Sara(h), and she’s been working here for two years. Now she just works the day shift, but used to do nights.
Is “used to do nights” at a strip club code for “not wearing a top?”
My phone is dying from looking up historical information about The Condor on the internet, and Sara(h) says she can charge it behind the bar. I scrawl “DO NOT FORGET PHONE AT STRIP CLUB” in my notebook.
Now seems like as good a time as any to peruse the food menu, which is covered with unappetizing close-ups of stock images of food (pizza grease, weirdly glare-y ketchup...). I’m immediately struck by the amount of menu items that feature something white and creamy which... [shudder].
Mac ‘n cheese. Ew. Reuben with Thousand Island dressing. Sour cream. Chicken fingers with ranch dre... make it stop!!!
The band just started playing “Wild Horses” by The Rolling Stones, and suddenly I kind of want to sleep with them. Also, I stand up for the first time in 55 minutes and I am not totally sober.
I put in an order for jumbo wings with Buffalo sauce. They spell teriyaki wrong. But it's okay -- Sara(h) then tells me that I get a free light beer with my wings. This place... is the greatest. She hands me another postcard detailing the “North Beach Industry Pass”. Perks include: free admission anytime, and 20% off drink & meal tabs.
But wait, what industry is this? The food and beverage industry? The writing in notebooks while drinking light beer industry? Does Sara(h) think I’m a stripper, too? I don’t know whether to be offended or flattered.
My free light beer arrives, and all of my worries are gone. “This is just the best,” I tell her. “I’m going to come every day!” She looks bemused and a little concerned, then goes back to the other end of the bar to talk to the large white guys.
I just spilled beer on my notebook.
A middle-aged couple wanders in. They look lost. They are definitely lost. They slowly wander through the bar... and head back through the curtained doorway to sit in the (now empty) strip club section.
Or are they just really freaky?
There is an epic fiddle solo going on. Beardo asks if anyone has any requests, and then says, “Lauren, any requests?” HOW DOES HE KNOW MY NAME?! But actually, he’s looking at Knee Socks. Who is also apparently named Lauren. As we were likely both born in the '80s, this shouldn’t be surprising, but however many beers later in a strange sports bar strip club, any coincidence seems wrought with meaning.
The wings arrive, and it is literally the saddest plate of food ever. There are six wings doused in a toxic-looking, orange Buffalo sauce, and maybe seven limp French fries. Plus, blue cheese (again!) in a plastic container which I refuse to open. The wings are soggy, but they taste like Buffalo sauce and I want more. Sara(h) wanders over and asks how they are; I compliment the wings’ spiciness, really, to have something to say. “That’s what the blue cheese is for!” she says, in the kind of voice you reserve for a child that’s on the slow side. I glare at her back as she walks away, muttering about the inappropriateness of blue cheese in this setting.
Someone else has ordered food and I see it arrive... on plates wrapped in tin foil. Suddenly, everything makes sense. And nothing makes sense.
I have Buffalo sauce all over my face.
Beardo just made a super-creepy face at me while pulling a long note on the fiddle. Think eyebrow waggle with a, “Heeeeeeeeeey!” expression. I’m uncomfortable.
I head to the bathroom, which is confusingly down a ramp and through another room with curtained booths (for private time, of course). I walk past an open door with an “Employees Only” sign; it leads to a steep staircase going down, and smells dank and damp and basement-y. There’s humid air coming out of it. Is this where the dead strippers are? McNulty, is that you???
The “performers” are arriving, and are going upstairs. I get my phone back from Sara(h), and see that I’ve missed multiple calls from my boyfriend. I text, “Sorry, was charging my phone behind the bar at The Condor.” He responds, “Sweet. What do you want to do for dinner?”
The fact that he is utterly unfazed by this says more about my day-to-day life than anything else.
I want beer for dinner, so I order another.
Nine minutes ‘til boobies!!!!!
The curtains are closing! Suddenly, it’s so dark in here… and I realize that there are red lights on above the bar. S**t just got real. The bro-dudes look confused. The lost middle-aged couple is nowhere to be found.
The band wraps up, finally, and “Bad To The Bone” comes on the loudspeakers. I almost throw my beer glass on the ground in excitement, and do a little dance on my stool. Sara(h) is purposefully ignoring me now.
The strippers are starting to come down the stairs -- their tops are on, but they’re rocking stacked heels, booty shorts, and money boxes. The first wanders past the bar and into the main room. She’s got meaty thighs and a healthy amount of ass-cheek exposed. I think about the pluses and minuses of working a job in which wearing pants is not really a requirement, and remember that I am a writer who A) often works from home, and B) often does not put on pants until embarrassingly late in the day. I feel pleased with my chosen profession.
Is it time to move into the stripper bar? Maybe I’ll finish this beer.
Suddenly, the stripper MC finally gets things started. “Molly” is up first this evening. I peer into the main room, and it’s still totally empty! Why is it that the straight girl in the bar is more anxious to go see some boobs than anyone else here? I have boobs for Chrissakes; this is really nothing new.
“In Your Eyes” is playing. This is horrible stripper music. The kind that makes you want to go watch Say Anything and cry. What could possibly be a worse stripper song than this? Actually, anything with a father-daughter theme. There we go.
It seems wise to take a shot before relocating to the mostly empty main room. Sara(h) is still ignoring me. She probably knows something I don’t, or at least wants to cut me off. Screw that.
Beardo is making out with Other Lauren. C’mon, Sara(h), help a girl out!!
Sara(h) is back! I ask for a shot of whiskey, and she gives me a bourbon and says, “I’m gonna hook you up with a deal because you’ve been here all day!” Aw, thanks girl... wait. All day? I mean, just a few hours, right? Oh whatever. Cheers!
And that tastes like rubbing alcohol.
Molly is already done? Man. I better get moving.
India is on the main stage! That sounds promising.
Goodbye unremarkable-but-actually-kind-of-remarkable sports bar. Hello, definitely a strip club.
42 minutes later, stumbling outside (trust me, Molly is worth every penny!), I check my phone. Another text from my boyfriend -- “sushi?” I’m not sure why, but this leads me to start laughing maniacally, as I glance back at the curtained-off windows of The Condor. I breathe in deep, relishing the cool, clear air of the Spring evening. I hail a cab, fall in, and lean my head against the side.
Tomorrow is going to be a(nother) no-pants-day. I can already tell.
Lauren Sloss is a San Francisco-based writer who only THINKS she wants to expense a lap dance. Follow her on Twitter @laurensloss.