Yesterday was quite a day. Not knowing what to do with the gorgeous weather, my wife and I simply drove along the El Camino route until we reached its San Francisco counterpart: Mission St. There's a lot to do in this wonderful neighborhood, especially when the sun is out. There are new places to eat and drink popping up every week it seems like and sometimes those locations can be impromptu. We mostly bounced between many very familiar, popular, non-hole-in-the-wall type places, however, as I was not planning on more AoEC research. Hog and Rocks where we had some jamón and oysters. Cafe Revolution for some sangria and people watching. Beretta for pizza and punch (and a random encounter with my old Epic sales rep Mike Smith that resulted in a delightful lunch double-date). Tacolicious for dinner and a michelada.
As we cut over a block from Mission St. on our way out of the Revolution, we noticed some activity coming out of a small room near the corner of 22nd and Valencia. There was music, excitement, and festivity. There was a party going on!
Being a few sheets to the wind at this point, we went in without even thinking about it. In a tiny space, maybe twelve by seven feet, was a group of Cuban-Americans playing drums, singing, and clapping to the beat. A small gang of onlookers gathered near the bar by the front door. On the counter was a bowl of tortilla chips available to anyone in need of a snack. The fridge contained a few import bottles of beer and a pitcher of sangria. The tap had one beer: Anchor Steam. I had a pint while my wife had a glass of the fruit-macerated wine. We didn't plan on staying too long. Just one drink. Three pints later we were speaking Spanish, dancing, and talking to some of the men about our longing to visit Cuba. "Necessitas visitar mi hermana," said the man with the red hat from the top photo. "Va a cocinar una fiesta grande por tí, pero no vive in Habana." Our new friend Francisco was already telling us to stay with his sister when we went and that, if we did, she would cook for us – a huge feast!
He eventually left us to rejoin the singing (which you can see in the above video). We eventually made our way up Valencia to a gigantic bartending competition with all my friends in it (yet, I had no idea it was happening – another completely fortuitous encounter). The hour we spent at the Radio Habana Club was truly fantastic. It was different. It was exciting. It was friendly and welcoming to everyone who wanted to come and join in, as well. I wish more places like this existed further south along El Camino Real, but sometimes you have to travel further down the Royal Road for new experiences. Simple options. Simple appetizers. A bit of live music. And then you're on your way.