I've written about the classic neighborhood bar plenty of times, the kind of place where the locals go to have a few beers and blow off some steam after work. Sometimes there will be food, and often there will be sporting events televised on several screens throughout the bar. The concept is in no way revolutionary or unique, but it's an undeniable part of American culture. The archetype of the local sports bar is one that we all recognize.
Clubhouse Sports Cafe is by all definitions a neighborhood bar: sports, food, beer, and a clientele consisting of a group of steady regulars. As soon as I stepped inside, I could tell that nearly everyone knew each other. In some cases, this can cause a place to seem unwelcoming to the outsider, but I learned that this was not the case at the Clubhouse.
I took a seat on one of the creaky stools along the bar and was immediately greeted by Stacy, the bartender and part-owner of the Clubhouse. Surveying the draft selection, I realized that this place is pretty bare bones, with four beers on draft, three of which are variations on Budweiser. I ordered a Bud Select (when in Rome …), which arrived in a chilled 12-oz. mug, with a basket of peanuts on the side. The total thus far: $1. Not bad!
The beer selection is sparse and decidedly blue-collar; but there are a few additional options in the cooler for those who would forgo the domestic macro lager route — Sam Adams Boston Lager, Heineken, and St. Pauli Girl. If you'd prefer to skip the beer entirely — an option that I would imagine is fairly uncommon at the Clubhouse — there are several wines available, as well as a house sangria.
The décor of the Clubhouse follows the same no-frills approach. The bar area has a vague sports theme involving youth sports uniforms hanging from the wall, while the rest of the interior carries this motif a bit further with various memorabilia on display — helmets, footballs, trophies and so on. The majority of the Clubhouse is set up in restaurant seating formation, with two massive projection screens against the front wall, a hit during big games, when I'm told the bar can get pretty crowded.
In the back corner is a somewhat-hidden arcade area. I had heard about this arcade before coming; it was one of the selling points for me to stop in and take a look around. Some of the games seemed in need of a little repair, with a faded picture or glitchy display. But a California Speed console was in normal working order, so I sat down and raced through the streets of San Francisco, placing a disappointing fifth. A few of the games that I had heard were in the arcade (such as the excellent Simpsons game) were mysteriously absent, so I headed back to the bar for another round.
Happy hour had just ended — 7:30 p.m. — and the place was starting to pick up. A few of the tables had small groups ordering food and pitchers of beer. Before I could even tell Stacy that I'd like to order a Sam Adams, she already had a fresh mug out and was pouring me another draft. I may not have been a regular, but I felt like part of the crowd.
The Clubhouse isn't a flashy craft beer bar or cocktail lounge. Those looking for a bar of this sort will likely be disappointed by what is essentially a family restaurant and sports bar where the locals hang out and enjoy a few cold beers and conversation. But every once in a while, it's hard to improve upon the simple formula utilized by the Clubhouse Sports Cafe — cheap, cold beer and a welcoming, neighborhood bar vibe.