425 Cortland Avenue (at Wool St) [Map]
Total Spent: $1 (but it could easily have been much more)
Tucked away in homey Bernal Heights, the rule at Wild Side West is ladies first. The Salvation Army decorations inside are reminiscent of a kitschy saloon, complete with a sad hobo leaning on a little streetlamp next to the ancient cash register (which still works). The true greatness of this place, though, is through the back door, past the bathrooms, and down the stairs. Unlike so many outdoor drinking areas in the city, this one feels like you've stumbled upon a brilliant secret. The seating areas are arranged so that you and your friends have your own private little niche among the tall flowers, lemon trees, hubcaps, and amateur pottery.
The wall-mounted jukebox is located next to the front door and the volume is kept at such a level that you can't really hear it out back in the garden. However, since I made the mistake of allowing a male friend to step up to the bar and buy a round, I was able to spend more time inside than planned. Unfortunately, nothing stood out while we watched the women get beers first, except for something that sounded like a Peaches song. But when we did our frenzied flip through on the way out the door we found a rather odd collection.
For starters,the jukebox is packed with ladies—Fiona Apple, Indigo Girls, Sade, Le Tigre, and the Dixie chicks all have albums behind the glass. But it gets much more interesting. Mixed in among the collection of standard classic rock and chick rock, you'll find The Best of Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits' Rain Dogs. The juke even ventures into the top 40 charts with Usher, 50 Cent, and a 2005 Grammy nominee compilation. One can only hope these are included for kicks, like the random arrangement of worn out shoes above the bar's fireplace.
This jukebox does contain some very impressive gems. I was delighted to see a full album from contemporary blues legend Taj Mahal as well as an album by jazz guitarist Stanley Jordan. Gillian Welch's accomplished Revival also makes an appearance. Most importantly, though, Wild Side West is the first jukebox thus far to have an entire Sam Cooke album, The Best of Sam Cooke. It's no Night Beat but it was enough for me to throw a dollar in the box and put on 3 Sam Cooke tracks as I went out the door.
Truthfully, I was too busy enjoying the nice weather, beer, the company of friends, and the impromptu jam session in the garden to get a feel for what people do with the jukebox. However, it is still very clear that the jukebox's collection is well-suited to the bar patrons, who range from neighborhood lesbians to Zeitgeist refugees. It is not by any means an average jukebox, nor should it be since Wild Side West is not your average bar.