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The Best of the Gays: Bartenders, Food, and Drinks

by Matthew S. Bajko
Tuesday Apr 10, 2012

Bartender has an Edge with customers

Perhaps it is his Irish brogue, having grown up in the midlands of Ireland in Athlone.

Maybe it has something to do with his unattainability as a straight man working in a gay bar.

Or it could just be that he pours a mean drink.

For whatever reason, Gavin Thompson had a clear edge with Bay Area Reporter readers who named him the best bartender for 2012.

"He is hot as hell and we just love him," one patron cooed when the B.A.R. popped into the Edge, where Thompson has worked since 2010, on a recent Saturday afternoon to talk with the barman.

As for why he has become a customer favorite, Thompson, 23, thinks he knows.

"I do flirt. I am not going to lie," said the single Thompson with a sheepish grin.

He is upfront about his sexual orientation when asked. The inquiries happen "constantly," admitted Thompson. "People are always coming up to the bar and saying 'My friend thinks you're cute.'"

Asked how many hearts he has broken since joining the staff of the 21-year-old neighborhood pub at the corner of Collingwood and 18th streets, Thompson smiled and said "a couple."

He doesn't mind the attention, however, nor would he want to work in a straight bar.

"I love it," he said. "I wouldn't work at an Irish pub."

Born in Boston, his family moved back to Ireland when Thompson was a young age. Across the pond, Thompson's formative years were spent inside bars.

His family not only owned various pubs back in Ireland but also called the taverns home.

"I grew up in a bar," said Thompson. "My family owned four bars and we always lived upstairs."

Since he has dual American-Irish citizenship, Thompson decided to move back to the United States several years ago after he landed a job in Santa Cruz working with people with special needs. He then moved to the city to study to become an EMT.

"I want to be a paramedic," said Thompson.

In tending bar, he keeps to a simple rule on how to treat his customers.

"I know how I like to be treated," said Thompson.

He also credits his bar skills to the tutelage of Mike McHale, an Edge bartender who passed away earlier this year.

"Mike took me under his wing. He taught me to be a smart ass," said Thompson.

Thompson can be found manning the bar at the Edge most Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays from noon to 7 p.m. or Tuesdays from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m.

The Edge, 4149 18th Street, San Francisco, (415) 863-4027.


Best Bartenders, Best Overall Bar
440 Castro

Once again the staff at 440 Castro has proven it knows how to keep customers happy and ensure they are repeat visitors. The bar, whose name doubles as its address, was named two years in a row as the city’s gay watering hole with the best bartenders in the Best of the Gays poll.

Best Farmers’ Market
Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market

It seems as though every neighborhood plays host to a farmers’ market, but B.A.R. readers continue to head down to the Ferry Plaza to forage for organic greens and vegetables from an array of local harvesters. Nearby office workers mingle with tourists at the Tuesday and Thursday markets, held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., while weekend shoppers make a beeline for the outdoor bazaar Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Operated by the Center for Urban Education About Sustainable Agriculture, the bayside stands attract up to 25,000 shoppers weekly, so those in the know set their alarm clocks early in order to purchase the cream of the crop. Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market, One Ferry Building, San Francisco, (415) 291-3276.

Best Grocery Store
Trader Joe’s

No wonder Trader Joe’s has been a serial courter of the Castro as it expands its presence in San Francisco. The national grocer once again is where B.A.R. readers love to shop. Twice now plans for a TJ’s in the gayborhood have fallen through, as nearby residents fully aware of the store’s popularity raised concerns about increased traffic. One day the company’s Castro courtship may check out, but until then area denizens will have to make their way to its other San Francisco locations. Trader Joe’s.

With its infamous Monday underwear nights and Wooden Nickel Wednesdays, featuring two-for-one drink specials, as well as a bevy of hot go-go boys arousing patrons, the bar also edged out its competitors to be named best overall bar this year. 440 Castro Street, San Francisco, (415) 621-8732.

Best Happy Hour
Midnight Sin

When it comes to cheap drinks after a hard day at the office, however, gays flock to the Castro’s video bar the Midnight Sun. It isn’t unusual to find a line of thirsty patrons outside the 18th Street hangout Friday nights. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the cheap drinks flow until 9 p.m. most nights and never end Monday nights when every hour through 2 a.m. is "happy." Midnight Sun, 4067 18th Street, San Francisco, (415) 861-4186.

Best Dive Bar
Hole in the Wall

Those wanting a grittier atmosphere to get their drink on feel most at home at a hole in the wall, literally. Celebrating 18 years this month of serving clientele South of Market, the Hole in the Wall Saloon continues to maintain a working stiff attitude. Voted the city’s best dive bar two years running by B.A.R. readers, the saloon promotes itself as "a nice little queer bar for filthy bikers and loudmouth punks." Hole in the Wall Saloon, 1369 Folsom Street, San Francisco, (415) 431-4695.

Best Swanky Bar

The ascot-wearing set will feel most at home at Martuni’s, advises B.A.R. readers. This piano bar near the nexus of Hayes Valley and the Valencia Street Corridor serves up pool-sized martinis and other elixir concoctions at the semi-circular bar. Chanteuses and ivory ticklers - some famous, others less well known - hold court in the back room. Pull up a seat at one of the tables or slide into a banquette for a boozy evening of cocktailing á la Mad Men ’s Don Draper. Martuni’s, 4 Valencia Street, San Francisco, (415) 241-0205.

Best Wine Bar
Blush Wine Bar

The enoteca craze is alive and well in San Francisco but B.A.R. readers are still enraptured with the Castro’s Blush Wine Bar. Bringing a taste of European flare to the heart of the gayborhood, Blush serves up 50 different wines by the glass and a tasting menu along with live music Tuesday and Thursday nights. On weekends patrons can enjoy brunch starting at noon on Saturdays and Sundays. Blush Wine Bar, 476 Castro Street, San Francisco, (415) 558-0893.

Best Cafe
Cafe Flore

One could say that Cafe Flore owner J.D. Petras was the inspiration for the city’s recent parklet boomlet. Years ago he caused a minor stir when he expanded the sidewalk tables at the eatery located on the corner of Market and Noe streets. One of the few Castro places to offer al fresco dining, the cafe’s patio is packed on sunny days and extra space was sorely needed. Since then parklets offering outdoor seating in the city’s merchant corridors have popped up all over. Yet Cafe Flore remains a favorite spot for sunning, dining, and sipping on drinks with B.A.R. readers, who named it the best cafe two years in a row. Cafe Flore, 2298 Market St., San Francisco, (415) 621-8579.

Best Pizza
Marcello’s Pizza

Readers’ taste buds did switch this year when it came to picking the town’s best slice. Castro mainstay Marcello’s bills itself as the "best pizza in the universe." While the B.A.R. didn’t poll galactically, respondents did name the restaurant the best in San Francisco. Not only satiating hungry bar patrons before they head home, Marcello’s also provides "fast, fresh, free," delivery for orders more than $10. Their drivers can be just as appetizing as the pizza. Marcello’s Pizza, 420 Castro Street, San Francisco, (415) 863-3900.

Best Brunch

It has been quite the year for Lime, the Castro small-plates eatery on Market Street. Its bottomless Mimosa brunches have attracted negative press and complaints from residents about inebriated patrons. Then a tax payment hiccup led state regulators to briefly close the place. But as the maxim goes, even bad publicity is good press and word has gotten out about the weekend bacchanals (though recent Yelp reviews suggest the free-flowing booze may have dried out.) The crowd is decidedly 20-something and the music can be deafening, so a polite post-church brunch spot this is not. Lime, 2247 Market Street, San Francisco, (415-621-5256).

Best Burger and Fries
Super Duper Burgers

DIYers will find this Castro burger flipper aptly named. For at Super Duper Burgers you can choose a dozen different toppings to add atop the mouthwatering Niman Ranch beef patties. Those who can’t decide can just tell them to throw everything in between the two buns. The restaurant, which this year secured a solo win in this category after sharing the honor last year, also offers ice cream lovers soft cones and milk shakes made with organic products from the local Straus Family Creamery. Super Duper Burgers, 2304 Market Street, San Francisco, (415) 558-8123.

Best Burrito
Zapata Mexican Grill

Forget about the numerous taquerias in the Mission, when B.A.R. readers are craving a burrito they head to the Castro’s Zapata Mexican Grill. The family-owned and -operated eatery has been packing them into its 18th Street location since 1993. Conveniently located near three of the gayborhood’s bars, the eatery is open until 10 p.m. most nights, 11 p.m. Saturdays. Zapata Mexican Grill, 4150 18th Street, San Francisco. (415) 861-4470

Best Asian Restaurant
Brandy Ho’s

Hot and spicy is the name of the game at Brandy Ho’s, hence the local family-owned restaurant’s pepper motif. Cooked Hunan style and served "country style," the eatery’s peasant-inspired southern Chinese dishes use very little oil and no MSG. Instead the food is simple, substantial, and down-to-earth.

Operated by the Ho brothers - Brandy, Jack, and Sedgwick - the trio chose to play off of the heat and humidity the ancient Hunan region is known for. Their menu takes inspiration - and a bit of perspiration - from the Hunan saying, "when you eat pepper you sweat and cleanse yourself." Brandy Ho’s, 4068 18th Street, San Francisco, (415)-252-8000,

Best Restaurant with a View
Cliff House

Someday the powerful waves ceaselessly crashing into Ocean Beach will eventually erode the sandy shoreline inward. Until that day of reckoning comes, the best spot to view Mother Nature’s stunning power with drink in hand is the Cliff House. Perched atop Point Lobos at the mouth of the Golden Gate, the restaurant has been wowing guests with its menu and the stunning marine scenery since 1863. Known for its Sunday Champagne brunches and nightly sunset dining, the Cliff House has three dining rooms and two cocktail lounges that all provide breathtakingly beautiful views. Cliff House, 1090 Point Lobos, San Francisco, 415-386-3330.

Best Late-Night Restaurant
Orphan Andy’s

Once again Orphan Andy’s has been named the place for night owls by B.A.R. readers. A go-to spot to sober out once the bars close, this diner at the corner of Castro and 17th streets doesn’t look like it has changed much since it opened its doors more than three decades ago. Owned by a gay couple that lives nearby, the restaurant is one of the few places open 24 hours, seven days a week. It is also a great place to grab a meal and people watch while seated at one of the tables in Jane Warner Plaza. Orphan Andy’s Restaurant, 3991 A 17th Street, San Francisco, (415) 864-9795.

Best Dessert
Sweet Inspiration

Your sweet tooth needs some attention? Then there is no better place to head for a sugar fix than Sweet Inspiration. The Market Street bakery has been offering confections to its Castro patrons for three decades and is well known for its array of sumptuous birthday cakes. Last June business partners Michael Colter and Wendy Mogg, who is bisexual, took over the shop. Both parents of out, queer kids, they have maintained close ties to the LGBT community as they have upgraded the space into a modern-day soda shop. Sweet Inspiration, 2239 Market Street, San Francisco, (415)-621-8664.

Best Vegetarian /Vegan Restaurant

Housed inside a former marine warehouse at Fort Mason, Greens Restaurant has been a pioneer in vegetarian cooking since the 1960s. Opened by the LGBT-friendly San Francisco Zen Center, the eatery’s menu is now overseen by celebrated chef Annie Somerville. Much of the organic produce comes from the Zen center’s Green Gulch Farm located in the Marin Headlands. The foodie favorite is a sensory overload, from the delectable dishes to the eye-popping views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marina. Greens, Fort Mason, Building A, San Francisco, (415) 771-6222. class=relative>

Best Splurge Restaurant (more than $20 per person)
Gary Danko

At minimum it is a two-month wait for a table at the 65-seat Gary Danko, and the bill is sure to be a wallet drainer. But the patience and cost continue to be time and money well spent, say B.A.R. readers, when looking to splurge on a night out on the town. Danko’s namesake restaurant - awarded one star this year by the Michelin Guide - is also one of the few reasons many locals will venture into the tourist-soaked Ghirardelli Square section of San Francisco. Gary Danko, 800 North Point, San Francisco, (415) 749-2060.

Best Cheap Restaurant (less than $6 per person)

While saving up to pay for your tab at Danko’s, the best place to grab a cheap meal is at the Castro’s Dinosaurs, a Vietnamese sandwich shop on 16th Street. Overlooked by the crowds at nearby sandwich purveyor Ike’s Place, whose location struggles and devoted followers have been detailed to death by the media, this tiny shop on the other hand has barely registered among the food cognoscenti. Not true for B.A.R. readers, who have discovered this gem of a quick lunch place to grab tasty Banh mi sandwiches not far off Market Street. Dinosaurs, 3518 16th Street at Prosper, San Francisco, (415) 503-1421.

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