My longest San Francisco relationship is with a bar. For the last 18 years, Zeitgeist and I have, in the wise words of Billy Paul, had A Thing Going On. Our connection goes beyond the strength and unfathomable deliciousness of the margaritas. It goes beyond my love for a greasy grilled cheese on a sunny Saturday. And it has even survived the unforgivable decision to take the best fried potatoes in the Mission off the menu.
In the last three months of COVID-related closures, it is Zeitgeist's that I've found the hardest to stomach. (At one point last month, I even contacted a bartender to see if he could push for a margarita take-out system like the one Thee Parkside has been running.) Needless to say, when Zeitgeist finally opened back up—for three hours on Friday, June 12—I was one of the first in line. But what greeted me was jarring to say the least.
The process of getting a drink in Zeitgeist currently looks like this:
- Patrons enter through the back door, directly into the yard. The inside is not currently accessible to anyone but staff.
- Once inside the yard, the line follows a winding path of appropriately distanced markers, leading to an outside desk in front of what is usually the bicycle rack (No bikes are permitted at this time).
- In order to purchase any beverage, you must also purchase food, since Zeitgeist is currently operating as a restaurant.
- After you place your order, it's electronically transferred to both the bar and kitchen staff.
- For the first time ever, you can now pay with a credit card.
- Tables (maximum: six people) are separated by large glass doors, with smaller benches (maximum: three people) perched at the end of each row.
- Prominent, laminated instructions for patrons are posted at each table, along with warnings about the consequences of stickers, tagging and other things the world has come to expect inside Zeitgeist.
- Due to the long line to get in, it is not possible to place more than one order per visit. (At least it wasn't when I went.) Patrons are encouraged to stay for one hour only, due to demand and limited space, but you have the option of buying to-go.
- Before two people could sit at the same table as me and my companion, our permission was politely asked by a member of staff. As soon as that couple departed, the staff member rushed back to disinfect the table and benches.
It was all unceasingly, extraordinarily unnatural.
"I don't like it," my friend said to me before we'd even sat down.