Thursday, September 02, 2010

The Top 10 Saloons of SF

Sometimes when you need a drink, simply heading downstairs to the beer fridge isn't enough. Sometimes you've got to head out to your local pub, club, or dive bar. Maybe a place where everybody knows your name, maybe some joint where you're another face in the crowd. Science fiction and fantasy are rife with saloons of all sorts. Of all the gin joints in all the worlds of SF, here are the ones I think would be most worth walking into.

The Top 10 Saloons of SF:

10) Imhotep's - The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor
Regardless of what you thought of the movie in general, you've gotta love its recreation of an old supper club. Built with money from the sale of the ultimate blood diamond - the Scorpion King's pyramid-bling that lured desert travellers to their deaths for ages - Jonathan's club features a swinging band, dancing girls who are easy on the eyes, and Egyptian-inspired decore. And if you're heading out to battle the undead or just returning from saving the world, you can always grab some tasty Shanghaiese cuisine from one of the neighbouring restaurants or street hawkers. Grab your white dinner jackets, gentlemen!

9) The Crystal Palace - The Wild Cards edited by George R. R. Martin
Down in Jokertown, there's a place where anyone who's contracted the Wild Card virus can feel at home, whether you've developed an elephant's trunk or you're a guy who's been turned into a troll. And the owner, Chrysalis, is the most beautiful woman you'll ever meet - or, she would be if her skin weren't transparent. In the Wild Cards stories, the Crystal Palace plays a role as a New York mutant's ansewer to Rick's Cafe Americain in Casablanca as much as it does the neighbourhood's bar, with Chrysalis collecting intrigues like Rick. Might be interesting to visit, if there wasn't a risk of having to take a barstool next to Snotman.

8) The Gentleman Loser - Burning Chrome by William Gibson
In this story (and, I believe, some of Gibson's other cyberpunk tales), the Gentleman Loser is the place to be for hackers and other denizens of the underground economy. It seems like a great place to drop by just to see the techno-hipster crowd, never mind if you need to find some electronic gunslingers to pull an online bankjob for you. Also, it has one of the best bar names in SF.

7) The Waystone Inn - The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
It may seem like any other country tavern in a quiet little farming town, but if you're there at the right time, you may get a hint that something's a little different about the staff. Maybe you'll figure out that the waiter is a demon. Or maybe you'll discover that the owner is more than just a simple barkeep, he's a great musician, one of the toughest fighters you'll never want to meet, a sorcerer, and that the incredible tale he doesn't want to tell is all true. But even if you don't find any of this out, it's a cozy enough place to get a refreshment.

6) Quark's - Star Trek - Deep Space Nine
Okay, so the Ferengi owner probably waters-down the drinks and will stiff you on your change if you aren't paying attention, but DS9's tavern is probably worth a visit. You've got interesting patrons - especially that Morn guy at the end of the bar, holosuites, and dabo girls. Ahhhh dabo girls. Need I say anymore?

5) Gina's bar - Porco Rosso
Located on a tiny island in the middle of the Adriatic, Gina's bar is the favourite haunt of bounty hunters, air pirates travellers and assorted others. Even though most of the movie takes place in the air, when Porco Rosso stops in, I just soaked up the details of the place. Comfortably dark with exquisitly rendered ambience. If it was real, it would be enough to tempt me to move to Italy and buy a plane or a boat just to drop in once in a while.

4) the Zocalo bar - Babylon 5
If B5 is the crossroads for most of the galactic civilizations, then the Zocalo market and its bar are the true hub of the station. Take a seat and you could find yourself next to a Drazi merchant, a Narn assassin, or you could have Centauri Ambassador Londo Mollari hit you up for a free drink or some credits to back his latest system down at the casino. Say what you will about the Fresh Air restaurant or the Officers' Lounge, the Zocalo bar is where it's at. It's the setting of several major meetings and confrontations during the series, and is even part of that poinient goodbye scene in the final episode where the main characters leave the station for the last time, with Garibaldi reaching over and taking a forgotten shotglass. In many ways, the bar was as important a set as the bridge of the Whitestar.

3) the cantina in Mos Eisley - Star Wars - A New Hope
Come on, you knew the cantina had to be on the list somewhere, right?! Where else in the universe could you go for a drink where the wolfman might be the guy sitting next to you, and not have him try to eat you? And the jazz band onstage kicks ass - even if they only play two songs. Here's another bar that tries to invoke the opening pan around Rick's in Casablanca, and is one of the most memorable settings in the entire Star Wars saga. The downside, of course, is that in a town referred to as "a wretched hive of scum and villainy", a bar that "can get a little rough" is probably not a place you want to frequent. And it sucks that they've got a no droids policy, 'cause there's no excuse for racism, even against silicon-based lifeforms. Worst of all: from time to time, Bea Arthur tends bar and breaks into song.

2) Cicero's - Hyperion by Dan Simmons
What can you say about a bar so huge it's expanded like a virus over the years to take over several buildings along the waterfront in Old Jacktown, where you might find yourself drinking with poets, governors, Shrike pilgrims, mercenaries, Ousters, and just about every other type of patron you can imagine? In just a couple of sentences, Simmons' description of Cicero's had grabbed me. If it was possible to go there, I would - except for the whole impending universal armageddon thing. Still, it might be worth chancing it just to say you'd hung out at Cicero's.

1) Callahan's - The Callahan Chronicles by Spider Robinson
There was never any doubt that Callahan's would top the list of the best saloons in the SF-verse. Everybody goes there, from aliens to vampires, for the booze and for the bad puns, and each patron's story is more entertaining than the last. Best of all, unlike many of the other bars on this list, there's actually very little chance of getting killed there. Toss your empty glass in the fireplace, order another shot of Bushmill's, and let's have a toast to Callahan's!
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