Graffiti mars the Mission Street facade, which Sycamore shares with a spiritual psychic and a splotchy-looking mural of something in bottle. It’s hard to tell what. The logo on the window is a poorly vectorized tracing of the first image that pops up when you google “sycamore tree drawing” (for real. I tried it on a hunch). On the other hand, there’s a fantastic Zio Ziegler mural on the Sycamore side—though it regrettably replaced a rare San Francisco Banksy.
The commitment to the black-and-red color scheme continues inside, where half a dozen tables ring the dimly-lit space. The walls and ceiling are a deep red, as is the bar. The chairs and built-in benches are black, with black and white cushions. At noon on a Thursday they’re also empty. Two women stand behind the bar—one counting bills, the other eating a salad. T-Rex blasts from the speakers. It’s our first hint that there’s more to this dive bar than meets the eye.
The next hint is the brunch menu: Belgian wafﬂes stuffed with prosciutto and Manchego cheese, topped with fried chicken and drizzled with maple syrup and Makers Mark, Pork Belly filled doughnut holes, bottomless mimosas, etc. As we look over the menu trying to settle on our sliders (beef and blue cheese, lamb and onion, fried chicken and gravy on a fresh buttermilk biscuit...) a man comes in and asks about the day’s special. “I'm doing a burger today,” the bartender answers, “with cheese, bacon and barbecue sauce. It comes with fries and a PBR for twelve bucks.” Everyone orders one. Medium rare.
We make our way to the patio. The high walls are covered with a sprawling mural by Paul Hayes. A handful of other patrons are taking advantage of the Mission micro climate. Two dogs lounge in the shade. We sit at a steeply slanted picnic table as 20th Century Boy crashes to a close and the Kinks drift in, snaking through the pot-laced air. It’s hot and there are too few umbrellas.
More people wander back. A man and his Pabst. A couple and their cabernet. Our burgers arrive as advertised—pinkish in the middle with all the aforementioned fixings. At most dive bars you can count on the bun letting down an otherwise decent burger. Not at Sycamore. Their bun is soft and airy, with a light crust elastic enough to keep the barbecue sauce from disintegrating the whole thing. The server tells me they come from Chestnut Bakery. It seems symbolic of the city that a Mission dive bar buys artisinal bread from the Marina. But just as there’s no pretense about the place, there’s also no pretense about the burger. Nor is there any vegetable—just a satisfying concoction of sweet, saucy, salty, fatty deliciousness. It’s emblematic of the unifying theory that unites doughnut holes, bacon, never-ending morning mimosas, glam rock and weed: feel-good ingredients only, please.