Soda Popinski's, San Francisco, CA
Sandwiched between the base of San Francisco’s Nob Hill and the top of Polk Gulch lives a beaming bar called Soda Popinski’s. The location of this saloon’s humble origins stretches back to the 1950s, where four buddies opened a bar next to the California street cable car tracks. Determined to make the bar a local permanent fixture, the friends worked around the clock to make 1548 California Street a boozy establishment with tipsy permanence. They stuck it out and went to all lengths to make it a home for anyone looking to wet their lips, even building a shower so bartenders could get a quick rinse between dirty shifts.
Stumble forward sixty years to 2012. The bar has swapped hands several times (surprisingly, the shower is still there), but now, this firewater homestead is owned by three new friends. They tried to figure out what to do with the bar, and eventually decide it should feel like a walk through Siberia (maybe they drank too much vodka). While Soda’s initially felt like a Siberian hunting hall upon opening, much has changed. The decor of the bar quickly filled with everything from fake Russian rockets, an old stuffed black bear (shot by one of the owners’ grandfathers), CCCP soccer scarfs, Soviet propaganda posters, pictures of Ivan Drago (from Rocky) and other knick knacks of the communist past. Most importantly, a prominent “wheel of fortune” appeared, giving bar goers the opportunity to spin for free drinks. Make no mistake, the wheel harkens back to the dangerous game of Russian Roulette. At some point in this whole madness they chose the name Soda Popinski after one of their favorite Soviets - the champion in Nintendo’s Mike Tyson’s Punch Out.
When Soda’s first opened it was literally a fountain. A water leak sprung inside the bar, and the freshly minted Soda’s employees had to quickly build a dam on one side of the bar to keep it from spreading onto the main floor. This helped them save the bar and stay open for one of Soda’s biggest opening evenings - the night the SF Giants won the 2012 World Championships. Ankle deep in six inches of water the Soda bartenders stuck it out to keep their patrons well oiled. This set into momentum a bar with character, integrity and a need to probably use the shower.
People come for shots of Fireball and to spin the wheel. The most coveted prize is a free box of champagne. Don’t cheat the wheel or bartenders will scold you like a child. The Nintendo games serendipitously wove its way into the bar when one of the owners brought it in to pass the time when they getting ready to open up. From Super Smash Bros tournaments on Monday nights to trivia on Wednesday and a random Mario Kart championship, Soda’s is committed to old school pleasures. See if they’ll let you use the mythical Nintendo Game Glove. If you happen to come in on Thursday, Friday or Saturday all tips get donated to the charity of choice of the guest bartender. A hot step above a dive bar, Soda Popinski’s wants to feel like your living room (take your shoes off if you dare), and a place where the staff feels like a friend.
Go find your luck at Soda Popinski's right now!