In the Haight, just a few blocks from Golden Gate Park, in the heart of hippiedom, sits a very un-hippie place: the Aub Zam Zam room. A martini bar. And inside the bar used to reside a very decidedly anti-hippie bartender: Bruno. Bruno Mooshei, to be exact (Bruno passed away about nine years ago but the bar still remains). And Bruno hated hippies. I watched him kick person after person out of the bar with a frank, “I’m going to have to ask you to leave,” or “I think you would like it a lot better at the bar down the street.”
Bruno wore the uniform of someone who might be anti-hippie: white shirt, black vest, a tie. He was stout. Making a martini was a delicate affair of engineering. He made change out of an antique cash register. Even while wearing jeans at that bar, I felt like I was wearing a Christian Dior dress out of the 1950s.
In the early days of my twenty first year, my boyfriend, who at the time lived above the Panhandle, and I used to wend our way down Clayton over the narrow track of grass called “the Panhandle,” and down to the Haight for dinner after a listless afternoon of my angst and what I now see as his thirty year old bored amusement of my angst. Oftentimes, we would stop at the Persian Aub Zam Zam for a martini.
There are two visits I will never forget.
The first time we went to the Aub Zam Zam, I didn’t have my ID on me. I was twenty-one. But Bruno let me in, not without first staring me down with a look that made me wilt and want to turn around and say, “Nevermind, I don’t need a martini, really.” He turned to my boyfriend and said in his stentorian voice, “You’re lucky she looks so young.” And proceeded to make me a martini.
I’d ordered a “gin martini,” and Bruno answered right away, “Young lady, is there any other kind?!” Because Bruno never ever served you anything other than a gin martini, stirred. Ask for vodka, and you might get kicked out. Ask for your martini to be shaken, and you might get kicked out. Ask for a whiskey or a cosmopolitan, and you might get kicked out. And you sit at the bar, not at a table, even though the place is clean and all the tables look ready to receive you. Because otherwise, you might get kicked out.
There might be people drinking something other than a martini, but they were on a whole ‘nuther level, possibly Bruno’s friends. You didn’t dare follow their example.
Still, the martini was fine. The best, really. And Bruno was an excellent host if he approved of you. He laid down a napkin for me, “because a lady always needs a napkin.” And he would compliment you–again, in a voice that sounded like he was berating you so that if you were a dog you’d cower in the corner because you wouldn’t understand English to differentiate the content of his message. And the place was clean, and the Moroccan door so old fashioned and…awesome.
He’d berate the street urchins, wish for the old days when the Haight was “not like this, full of punks.” And most of all, it was fun to watch the other people get kicked out. One night, a bunch of folks came in and said they’d just finished dinner and would like a martini.
Bruno kicked them out. “I’m going to have to ask you to leave.” When they resisted he continued, “Don’t you know a martini is not an after dinner drink!” They left, one of them laughing, delighting in the privilege of being kicked out.
Being a “good girl,” I was horrified at the prospect of being kicked out. And yet I delighted in watching others turned away from the bar at which I sat. Another party entered and before they even got to the bar, I knew he’d kick them out. They were boisterous, their laughter and swearing filling what had seemed like a peaceful martini tomb. They got kicked out.
I sipped my martini like it was privilege.
The other time I won’t ever forget…is the time I actually GOT kicked out. I had returned to the bar with another boyfriend-now-husband. This time he was twenty-one, and I was older by eighteen months. It was his second time at the Aub Zam Zam.
We ordered our martinis. Gin. Stirred. Cold. And were sipping. Watching other people get kicked out. I don’t remember who it was Bruno had just kicked out, but I’d had my entire martini, and I was feeling giddy, and I couldn’t help myself: I giggled.
“Young lady? What’s so FUNNY?” Bruno turned his short, stout body to me.
I was horrified. “I just thought something was funny.”
“We don’t LAUGH like that in PUBLIC. You are being VERY RUDE. I have to ask you to LEAVE.” I’d heard him say those lines before, but now they were directed at me. Oh. I could hear my boyfriend-now-husband sucking down his martini next to me, finishing as quickly as he could.
We walked out, my head hanging in shame. My boyfriend-now-husband, knowing my relationship with authority and approval put his hand on my shoulder and said he thought it was funny.
I looked up about to argue that it was NOT funny, this was SERIOUS! But then I saw we’d entered a different world full of street urchins, second hand clothing stores, the air heavy with incense. I guess it *was* sort of funny.
Joining Charlotte’s Web in working through the alphabet with short, memoir-like pieces. It’s called Alphabet: A History.