distillations(This story first appeared in the SF Weekly)

A mutual friend introduced Rusty to me on email, and we’ve been trying to get together for weeks. She’s a legendary arts blogger. I was once mentioned in a tweet.

“Have you been to Local Edition?” Rusty emailed. I had not.

The first thing Rusty said, after we figured out who we were and sat down at our table, was, “I’m so sorry, I had no idea this bar was so douchey.”

There are a lot of ways to create a “newspaper-themed” bar. You could have the bartender get drink orders wrong and then issue corrections. You could have two competing menus offer drastically different descriptions of the same drinks. You could lay employees off every week. And ask the ones who remain to start blogging for free.

What you probably wouldn’t do is stack old typewriters on the walls, surround them with curtains that look like they fell off a truck behind the Castro Theatre, and turn the lights down until the room is so dark that you can barely see any of it.

How dark is Local Edition? Dark enough that you know who’s looking at the menu by the way all the phones at their table turn on. Everyone’s trying to figure out what to order before their batteries die.

Because every bar needs a theme the way every text needs an emoji, Local Edition decided to create a “newspaper-themed” bar in order to appeal to tech and financial douches who love the links from Buzzfeed they read on Facebook. Upscale bar promoters would never actually try to attract people who like newspapers with a newspaper-themed bar, because those people have — and I don’t think I’m exaggerating here — all been laid off by the San Francisco Chronicle.

So instead they put typewriters on the walls in the dark, because sales guys from online brokerage houses think this seems classy to hot girls who work in marketing.

Stylishly dressed servers walk around numerous tables to take your order (newspaper reporters are never stylish), and after using the combined light of our phones to examine a menu, Rusty and I waited for service. And waited. And waited. Maybe no one could see us in the dark?

I picked up the candle at our table and waved it back and forth over my head. For nearly three minutes. And still no one came. Rusty was laughing so hard that they should have been able to navigate to us by sound.

Five minutes later a waiter came over by accident. “Do you need drinks?” he asked in a way that suggested he was extremely surprised to find us here. By then we had decided to order one of the punches, because the menu forbade us from doing it. Punch, it said, is only for parties of three or more. So we’d pulled a third chair over to our table, put Rusty’s jacket on it, and then asked for three glasses and a bottle of punch.

“Our friend Joey’s in the bathroom,” Rusty explained.

We spent the rest of the night filling and emptying Joey’s glass, and coming up with a new excuse for where Joey was whenever a member of the waitstaff accidentally stumbled over us in the dark.

We would have pulled more people into our game, but Local Edition is designed to make it nearly impossible to meet interesting strangers. Dark, noisy, and cavernous, it kills social energy. Fortunately Rusty has gotten high with internet celebrities, so we never ran out of stories.

I came clean when we got the bill. “Listen,” I told the waitress, “there is no Joey. There’s only two of us. Yet we ordered the punch! I demand consequences!”

The waitress checked out the bottle. “You’ve still got enough for a glass each!” she said. “I can drink a whole bottle myself. There’s proof: There’s video of me drinking a whole bottle and passing out on these tables.”

Rusty perked up. “Give us those videos,” she said, “and you’ll be famous.”

The waitress waved it away. “I’m already famous. Everybody in the cocktail industry knows who I am, because of the way people can stack things on me.”

Poor Rusty, as I write this, is still plumbing the depths of Google, desperately trying to find whatever video there is of people stacking things on our waitress. Her name is Courtney. If you have links, please send them to me. We would like to see people stack things on her.

Just don’t confuse it with journalism.

Benjamin’s collection of short stories  “A Guide to Bars and Nightlife in the Sacred City” was published in 2014, and his novel “The Deeds of Pounce” is scheduled for publication this spring.

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