Best midnight cowboy

Rod Tyler, doorman at Simon’s Bar & Cafe

Photo by steven chea

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The late-afternoon sun splashing against his boot heels, Rod Tyler sits at the bar, nursing the last quarter of a steadily warming beer. Dressed in his signature wide-brimmed Stetson and matching black shirt buttoned to the collar, Tyler, who turns 78 this month, has his back to the door, an unusual sight for those who know the cowboy.

If you’ve ever stumbled down 16th Street in search of a strong drink on a weekend night, chances are you’ve run across Tyler. Tall and drawn, with a back cut from pine, the cowboy has become a downtown fixture at Simon’s Bar & Cafe, where he’s worked the door for half a decade.

But this is one of the gentleman’s days off, so he empties his glass, switches to vodka and chats warmly with a stranger about his eventful, knockabout life.

The Stetson has an unlikely origin. A doctor long ago told Tyler his eyes were light sensitive, and he’d need to start wearing a ball cap to shield the sun.

“It’ll be a cold day in hell when I’d wear a baseball hat,” Tyler says. “So, I went down and got myself a black cowboy hat. And yes, I’ve ridden.”

He doesn’t mean just horses. The former Marine, who says he almost got blown to bits aboard a tank at Camp Pendleton, rode the bulls in Redwood City until, he cracks, “I found out they were trying to kill me.”

Tyler briefly took to racing motorcycles, but eventually settled into a lengthy career with Caltrans. It was after retirement when Simon Chan himself, who knew Tyler ran a bar called Rod’s Hideaway in San Francisco during the 1960s, asked the cowboy to help him keep the peace.

There hasn’t been a fight at the bar since. Asked his secret, the thrice-married cowboy grins.

“Be nice. And if you can’t be nice, stand close.” He pauses. “Because they can’t swing at you.” 1415 16th Street, (916) 442-7668.