Tonight I tried to go to my favorite happy hour in San Francisco, at a sushi restaurant in the Marina District. I pride myself on finding good deals in a city where going out to eat at a mid-range restaurant costs $75 for two, nearly double the national average. So I find spots where I can sneak in some food and a beer for under $15, and think I’m doing good.
Ace Wasabi has been one of my regular “go to” places for a couple of years now. They had a “Tokyo Trio” for $9 that included an IPA, a sushi roll, and a shot of sake. It’s on the way from the city up to Marin County, has a fun ambiance with music ranging from hip hop to rock and roll, and a good beer selection, which can be hard to find in a sushi joint. My boyfriend and I have spent many a fun night there, dancing to the crazy tunes, eating Rock N’ Roll while Mick Jagger blared it on the speakers.
But tonight, my dream happy hour was no more.
“What happened to your Tokyo Trio?” I asked as I scanned the happy hour menu. It looked different, more expensive.
“Oh, we don’t have that any more,” the bartender told me. “We were losing too much money.”
Now, sushi rolls were $6 alone for 5 pieces, and there were no prices for the beer. I had a sinking feeling in my gut.
“So, how much is a Saint Archer IPA now?”
“Eight bucks,” she said.
I couldn’t believe my ears? $8 for a beer? A BEER? Really?? Beer was supposed to be the cheap drink you could get going out, one that is satisfying, almost a meal in itself. A beer could offset the horrific food prices in San Francisco by acting like an appetizer, a little hunk of bread. But there was no way in hell I was about to pay $8 for liquid bread. It was absurd, and I recoiled in disgust.
“I’ll have water,” I told her. My boyfriend ordered a happy hour beer, some Japanese version of a Budweiser for $4, which with tax equaled about $4.50, which with forgotten change and a tip equaled about $6. Still too much for a beer that could barely say it had hops.
“I guess this is my last time at Ace Wasabi,” I told him. “What a bummer. I really liked this place.”
We left and went to the neighborhood market where we bought a six-pack of Lagunitas IPA for $12. Along the way, I peeked into the restaurants lining Chestnut, and a Mexican place caught my eye. It was full of well-coiffed people sitting along a dimly lit bar, raising martinis to their lips. Menu items were in the upper teens and low twenties. My heart sank even more.
Co-existing with the upper echelon in San Francisco while not making enough to afford to rent a room can be quite depressing. I can’t help but thinking – who exactly is this city for? The Beat Generation couldn’t even afford to live here anymore. Let alone musicians and teachers and police officers and office managers.
San Francisco has become a playground for the rich, unless you’re lucky enough to be in a rent-controlled apartment or share a space with a gazillion roommates. This city is now for people who work in tech and banking or have somehow made it big. The only way to truly enjoy SF is to make a ton of money which you can use to spend on rent, food, $8 beer, and luxury bus rides to work. Everyone else is left in the gutter, commuting over an hour to far away places like Concord or Fremont or Santa Rosa or even Manteca, where maybe, things are a little cheaper.
I’ve only noticed the true expense of San Francisco in the last few months, after my layoff at KGO radio. As soon as the income wasn’t coming in, I really felt it going out. Even though I make enough now to survive doing odd jobs and fill-in work, I can’t justify spending large amounts renting a room and dining out. I keep track of my expenses down to every nickle and dime, and an $8 beer just seems to be way too much. There’s no way someone making minimum wage, or even a normal wage, could afford that without going into debt.
Still, there are good happy hours left in San Francisco, and I hope they don’t all die the same death that Ace Wasabi did. There’s Ottimista on Union, where you can get $4 Saint Archer IPA and bruschetta for $3. There’s Bar Crudo on Divisadero, also with $4 beer and $1 oysters and $5 for a bowl of the most amazing seafood chowder I’ve ever had. There are many places I’ve found in Marin, my favorite being Las Moles in San Rafael with an assortment of $4 bites, $3 Mexican beers, and $5 margaritas. There are still small oasis’s in a metropolitan area that takes way, way too much.
I’m sad to say goodbye to Ace Wasabi; I had many fun memories there. But I suppose I should be cooking more instead, finding cheap recipes that last not only a dinner, but a lunch. And I’ll continue poking my head into dive bars and fine dining restaurants alike, always hunting for that ever elusive deal, that endangered species in a forest of $8 beers.