The Li Po Lounge is a mood.
The inside is dimly lit and there is no food. Brandy and Monica’s “The Boy Is Mine” hummed in the background, followed by Puddle of Mud’s “Blurry.”
The sign advertising the signature Mai Thai listed three types of rum, “Chinese Liquor” and pineapple juice. “Are we supposed to pick one of the rums?” I asked Jake. “No, it includes them all.”
Bourdain featured Li Po Lounge in his San Francisco episode of The Layover. Toasting him in a place that he loved with a drink that he liked felt very important. This Mai Tai here felt more like a quest.
I haven’t said much about Bourdain’s death and there’s a reason for this; it cut me right to the core. Bourdain was a celebrity who I’ve never met but he truly, genuinely felt like a friend. He died around the same time I experienced a miscarriage. I felt so much loss I could hardly find words.
When I try to identify what I’m most grateful to Bourdain for, it’s probably that he’s always made me feel less alone. From A Cook’s Tour and Kitchen Confidential I felt understood.
He shared his life in a raw, authentic way and took us along with him as he traveled the world. He broke fancy bread and gas station sandwiches at tables with all types of people.
He inspired us to cook and eat and explore. To travel other communities and not observe from the sidelines, but participate as earnestly as possible. A moment that’s always stuck with me occurred on Parts Unknown: Miami while was hanging out with Iggy Pop talking about curiosity.
“It’s my only virtue,” Bourdain says. Iggy Pop replies, “There you go. All right. Curious is a good thing to be, you know? It seems to pay some unexpected dividends.”
The bartender at Li Po Lounge was a woman who I loved immediately.
We arrived the moment she unlocked the door at two p.m and were the first to sit at the bar. She didn’t measure a thing whipping together two, signature Chinese Mai Tais with speed and precision. The last bit of Mai Tai poured from the blender perfectly topped off the second glass.
Frothy, icy, and not too sweet. Strong enough to warrant the three-hour nap in our hotel room afterwards.
I thought it was hilarious that she didn’t card us, but did card the rowdy group of women next to us who were clearly older. Later, she told us about a shirt her friend showed her that said “IDGAF,” imagining what it might be like to wear it. I carry her delight with me.
This is my favorite type of bar bar. No pretenses and very little irony. Come as you are, but don’t be an asshole.