Red Jack-of-All Trades


It’s just before noon on a gorgeous Sunday in San Francisco’s outer Mission District. Malia Spanyol walks into Pop’s Bar with her runty, deaf, spotty, impossibly handsome cattle dog, Goose, who has no idea that the Scorpions are pouring from the jukebox while the beer is flowing from the taps. Spanyol opened Pop’s in 2003 with her business partner, Harmony Urmstrom. Each had experience working in bars, plus Spanyol already had two business-owner credits under her belt. The first was Sparky’s Bookkeeping.

Sparky’s had Spanyol running all over town setting up QuickBooks for punk-rock, rockabilly and classic heavy metal business owners of every stripe. Clients ranged from shop and café owners to independent contractors. Spanyol still toils away during long April nights during tax season, as well as doing consulting work for her friends.

“One of my dirtbag friends will approach me and say, ‘I have this idea. Fill in the blank. I don’t want to work for anyone anymore. I just want to do what you do. How did you do it?’ So I sit and talk to them about how things work, where you can start, and mostly just assure them that they can do it,” Spanyol says.

Spanyol closed the books each night, but her day was far from over. Red Rat Industries ( started in Spanyol’s garage. Having spent many hours in the tattoo chair already, she had plenty of time to talk to tattoo artists about how the vibration of the machines took its toll on gifted hands and exhausted nerves. She and a skin artist friend talked at length about a simple device that would slip onto the machine, absorb vibration and withstand the sterilization heat of the autoclave. Using a tried-and-true trial-and-error technique of mixes, Spanyol poured molds in her leased parking space alongside her sputtering car until the prototype was perfected. Eight years later, Red Rat now has its own warehouse, small staff, pallet jack and loyal clientele of both legendary and emerging tattoo artists.

But building a desk-based life wasn’t Spanyol’s vision for herself. So together she and Urmstrom opened Pop’s neighborhood dive to the celebratory response of San Francisco’s fine citizens. Spanyol wanted to own the kind of place she would want to go to: loud, affordable, rough around the edges and ambitiously fun.

Spanyol grew up on Oahu. Even though it’s one of the most beautiful places on earth and she misses it desperately, she plans never to leave San Francisco. In 1989, she packed her bags in the middle of her college career in Arizona to move to the City by the Bay after a mere weekend visit. She pretty much moved here to be herself. And for the ladies.

“It was the first time I ever really felt comfortable. I can be covered in tattoos and feel totally at home. I can be a total dirtbag and never sit behind a desk and have a really good life.”

Her first job was as a buser. After that she was a dishwasher, a bartender at a pool hall, a dildo craftsperson, a bar back, a self-taught bookkeeper and now an entrepreneur. Never one to tire, the friendly Spanyol recently expanded her empire, adding yet another bar, Thee Parkside (, to her list of businesses she runs.

Spanyol has no regrets, despite the grueling hours, the bar antics and the frequent need to use her drunken-whisperer skills, or the difficulty in getting a vacation. She wouldn’t change a thing.

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