Muslim Chinese Food & Affordable Booze at Chug Pub
OFF MENU IS SPONSORED BY EMPEROR NORTON’S BOOZELAND THE TENDERLOIN’S NEWEST HISTORIC DIVE. HAPPY HOUR NOON – 7PM
**NOTE – An astute reader has pointed out that the Uyghur are ethnically Turkish, and may not consider themselves part of China, but a conquered people like the Tibetans. My friend and I referred to them as “Muslim Chinese” during this experience, but may well have done so from a place of ignorance. While they are certainly “from China” in a geopolitical sense, I sincerely apologize if this piece has minimized a desire for independent and autonomy, and hope this note serves to call attention to it. – Benjamin Wachs**
“This place is so weird!” Iris whispered across the small table.
“I KNOW!” I said. “It gives me hope for San Francisco!”
“Really?” she asked. “Why?”
We’re at Chug Pub, in the slightly Outer Sunset. It’s small and narrow, with a bar, some tables, and a pool table. It’s got red walls, Guinness signs, lots of sports memorabilia, and 9 TVs (that I can see). It’s also got a smoking area, and serves Muslim Chinese food.
It’s like an Irish bar turned into a sports bar taken over by Muslims from China, who would like you to try their meat pies.
“Because it is weird, and unexpected, and completely organic,” I said. “You don’t know how this happened. I don’t know how this happened. We cannot imagine any set of circumstances that would create a place like this. No consultant would ever put it on a flow chart. And yet it exists. It makes no sense and yet it’s here. The fact that it can still happen here … that gives me hope.”
It’s also cheap drinking: the special that night was a $2 Amstel, and it wasn’t even happy hour so beat that. A Moscow Mule was $7. It was easy to load up on food, hope, and drinks that night.
I take credit for Iris being in San Francisco. (I tell everybody this story – they’re getting sick of it.) Six years ago she’d moved to Beijing from New York for school, but decided to go to Burning Man. She sent in an application to volunteer. She wanted to be a Lamp Lighter. (So many of the cool kids do.) But I sent her a note luring her away from them and onto the volunteer media team. I told her lies. I promised her that we give every media volunteer their weight in chocolate. It worked, and she kept coming back for years.
When she decided to leave China, she came to SF – and now works full time for Burning Man. Was it me? Was it all because of my influence? Yes. Yes it was. You’re welcome.
Neither Iris nor I had ever bothered going to the Chug Pub before, though we live in the neighborhood. But suddenly Iris starting hearing about a local bar serving Uyghur (Muslim Chinese) food – which even around here is pretty unusual. The fact that it’s in a bar is even more bizarre, because of course strict Muslims don’t drink. (“Yeah,” the bartender said to me. “We get some people who come in here for the food who are pretty weirded out by the bar part.”) Now a steady stream of people has been coming in, asking WTF and ordering noodles and meat pies.
Of course we had to come here. After all her years in China, Iris knows from Uyghur food, and confirmed that it is definitely authentic. Admittedly that was the best thing she said about it, but still: she’s coming back.
As one of the TVs played a sports talk show in which a panel of all men discussed women’s sports, I pondered the crowd. When I’d first arrived, it had been comprised entirely of Asian men – except for me, and one other white guy who was joking around with them. By the time we left there was only one Asian guy in the main bar (though there were some Chinese in the smoking room), and he was joking around with a crowd of white men. It’s like there are two different neighborhoods in the same space, and they time-share the bar.
“Do you think I should teach writing in China?” I asked Iris. A mutual friend with an extensive background in China recently suggested that, if I’m dissatisfied with San Francisco, it would be a good move for me.
But Iris looked shocked.
Chug Pub isn’t the only bar like this in SF, of course: Kennedy’s Irish Pub & Curry House is probably our reining champion, a long-established institution that makes no sense except from within. In fact Chug Pub’s Uyghur food is a new thing: the owner rents out the kitchen space to whomever he likes, and somehow (details were not forthcoming) the food truck chef who rented the kitchen until recently is out, and a Chinese chef specializing in the delicacies of China’s Muslims is in.
But the actual explanation is beside the point. The fact that there’s still enough room for such places to spontaneously occur, that we’re not yet so programmed and A/B tested and optimized, is what really matters.
Iris shook her head at me. “I don’t know,” she said. “You seem like you’re still having fun here.”
1849 Lincoln Way
All photos from yelp.com