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A culture blog by Lauren Girardin, a San Francisco-based city girl who eats out and kicks about.

January 30, 2002

Barroom-Etric Pressure: a SF Steelers Bar

Published by Pittsburgh City Paper, the city's leading independent weekly, as part of cover story on 15 Steelers bars across the U.S. Volume 12, Issue 5, January 30-February 6, 2002.

Shanghai Kelly’s Saloon
2064 Polk Street (at Broadway)
San Francisco, CA

Even at 9:30 on a bright Sunday morning, you can hear the chants of the Steelers fans at Shanghai Kelly’s Saloon from blocks away. This small sports bar, which has been attracting Steelers fans for about four years, takes its football, and the requisite drinking, seriously. Terrible Towels, and Steelers posters, caps and other memorabilia hang from the walls and ceiling. Behind the bar is a small cooler labeled “Spare Kidneys.”

Steelers fans unfortunate enough to oversleep hover just outside the doorway, trying to concentrate on the game while trying desperately to plot their path to the bar inside.

Just inside the door stands Tim Padovese, 46, originally from Pittsburgh and now living in Marin County with his wife and two kids. Padovese explains, “I played fullback and tight end for the University of Pittsburgh team in the ‘70s. I left for better weather and career opportunities. I’m in the Bay Area because San Francisco is the most beautiful city in the world.

“I think Pittsburgh is a great city. I was there last week for the first round of playoffs. The stadium is sparkling. The stadium and Heinz are symbols of the city. [But I] probably wouldn’t move back. There are so many business opportunities in the Bay Area that Pittsburgh doesn’t have.”

Further into the mosh-pit-close crowd, Sef Tuma, 27, says, “I grew up in Pittsburgh, so I come to Shanghai Kelly’s to relive the good old days. I think of Kelly’s as ‘Porta-burgh,’ like a Porta-Potty. I walk in here and I’m transported to Pittsburgh.”

Tuma says that “going to high school in Pittsburgh, and to Carnegie Mellon University embittered me to Pittsburgh. The people I went to school with brainwashed me into thinking Pittsburgh sucks.

“I think people in Pittsburgh like to rally around the small thing, like the Steelers. But when that doesn’t go well, it’s the most depressing city in the world. They need something to make living in Pittsburgh worthwhile. Pittsburgh lives and dies by the little things, and they live and die by the Steelers.”

Tuma is unimpressed with Heinz Field. “Pittsburgh is a beautiful city but the new stadium is a monstrosity. Pittsburgh has this amazing open skyline and they put in that monstrous open-air stadium. The stadium is great, though, because it gets the city more excited about football, but it’s not designed well. It looks like it belongs in Texas.”

Would Tuma consider returning to Pittsburgh?

“Pittsburgh is a good place to raise a family, so there’s a chance I’d move back.”

Matt Lason, 30, is noticeable for his well-worn Steelers T-shirt, and because he carries a plastic lizard toy that wears Mardi Gras beads, a yellow lei, and has its own tiny Steelers beer cup.

“I left Seattle when my parents remarried, and I’ve been in San Francisco ever since.” Matt says, “I’ve never been to Pittsburgh, but it’s a hard-working town that loves football. Pittsburgh is a dream for a football fan, not like San Francisco with its fair-weather fans.”

“I love the stadium’s yellow seats. I was supposed to go to Pittsburgh for opening day but, because of bin Laden, I couldn’t go. If I was rich and had all the money in the world, I’d go to Pittsburgh for all the Steelers games and hang with the steelworkers, but I wouldn’t live there.”

Matt does his best to explain his lizard: “It was a serious gift from my stepbrother, though I laughed when he gave it to me. But the lizard’s been a Steelers fan from the beginning, and has watched as many games as me. He’s named Kirk.”

Matt brags, “Once I was here at Kelly’s for a game, and got up on the bar to lead the ‘Here We Go Steelers’ chant. Then I almost fell off the bar. I find it hard to believe I’m still on the market.” True to his word, at the end of the game, Matt hauled himself up onto the bar to rally the disconsolate crowd.

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Lauren Girardin is really more of a baseball fan, but blame that on her New York upbringing. She works at a San Francisco nonprofit that promotes corporate social responsibility.