Choosing the Best San Francisco Club
Among others, San Francisco's Mission District offers visitors unparalleled foods and flavors, bars that range from downright nasty to secret gems, impromptu mariachi bands, Coca Cola in bottles, vintage clothing "by the pound" and interesting people by the carload. Funk, soul, jazz, indie rock, & authentic Hispanic music are more common in the Mission than are big beats and huge sound found in the San Francisco's larger clubs. The same goes for the people; there is not a lot of Bling! Bling! in the Mission. Instead, you get underground and thought-conscious San Francisco club patrons who are more impressed by that obscure cocktail you ordered rather than the car that you have parked out front (although, parking is scarce).
853 Valencia (at 20th St.), San Francisco CA; Tel. 415.970.8336
This Belgium beer bar is a great Mission spot to chill with its red glow, bench seats and free pretzels. This San Francisco club and bar has a neighborhood bar feel with some panache and DJs spin anything from 80s new wave to funk to house. Friday Happy Hours go off with progressive house and great beer prices.
3336 24th St. (at Mission), San Francisco CA; Tel. 415.643.3376
It's a tight squeeze in this tiny Mission District hole-in-the-wall bar where the bartenders sport biceps and bruises. Then again, squeezing ain't the worst thing in the world.
2299 Mission (at 19th St.), San Francisco CA; Tel. 415.285.0323
With its indelible mix of glam rockers and Betty Page turners, this retrofitted beauty parlor dispenses more than its share of tonic. And while the decorative hair-dryers now serve as chairs, there's always a manicurist on hand at this San Francisco club and bar.
2389 Mission (at 20th St.), San Francisco CA; Tel. 415.648.7701
Take a step back to the be-bopping days of the '50s & '60s at Bruno's, with its high-back leather wrap-around booths, swanky bar and jazzy tunes. Bruno's has three distinct parts: the dining area serving family-style and retro Italian cuisine, the bar area where you would expect to see JFK, Marilyn and Frank all sipping cocktails, and the club with live jazz, funk and soul reminiscent of the original Blue Note. A great spot for a date, to chat with the bartender or to get away from the over-crowded pick-up joints over on Valencia Street.
1710 Mission (at Duboce), San Francisco CA; Tel. 415.864.8999
High-class dining and music are what attracts people to Butterfly. A common first date spot, their business has suffered a bit since the dot-com bust (it's a little pricey). Juxtaposed between downtown San Francisco and the Mission, Butterfly's crowd is generally not from the Mission. It is high-class compared with other venues that embrace the Mission's cultural identity. Still, it is a beautiful location with delicious food and melodious tunes. Butterfly is definitely worth a try.
678 Green St.,San Francisco, CA 94133-3878 Tel. 415/421-4222
Club Fugazi is famous for Beach Blanket Babylon, a wacky musical revue that has become the longest-running show of its genre. A send-up of San Francisco moods and mores, Beach Blanket has run since 1974. Although the choreography is colorful, the singers brassy, and the songs witty, the real stars are the comically exotic costumes and famous ceiling-high "hats" -- worth the price of admission in themselves. Order tickets as far in advance as possible. The revue has been sold out up to a month in advance. Those under 21 are admitted only to the Sunday matinee.
1062 Valencia St., San Francisco, CA 94110-2427, Tel. 415/826-5750
The Marsh books an eclectic mix of alternative and avant-garde theater, performance art, comedy, and the occasional musical act, with an emphasis on solo performances and seldom-staged plays. The room is homey and dimly lighted, and you can purchase freshly baked treats and excellent coffee at intermission
3121 16th St. (at Valencia), San Francisco CA; Tel. 415.252.7740
One of San Francisco's smallest bars pumps out great music on the turntables, great drinks and a very nice, relaxing atmosphere. An old, rough wooden bar awaits you with a good selection of beers, as well as one of San Francisco's best juke boxes, with eclectic music from around the world. Smoking is a tongue in cheek taboo in Dalva's secret back room. On the weekends, Dalva's gets crowded, as it is one of about a half-dozen bars worth visiting in the 16th & Valencia vicinity.
647 Valencia (at 18th St.), San Francisco CA; Tel. 415.552.7788
Just a couple of the things you will find at the Elbo Room: great music, pool tables, cheap drinks, an instant-photo booth. The Mission's Elbo Room is, as the aforementioned mellow attributes might suggest, unpretentious and crowded. The upstairs of this San Francisco club offers live music ranging from rockabilly to funk to salsa and it can get really hot up there when the music gets bumping and peoples feet get jumping. There is always a great time to be had at the Elbo Room.
2202 Oxygen Bar
795 Valencia (at 19th Street), san Francisco CA; Tel. 415.255.2102
If you're not savvy enough to trick a doctor into a prescription for medical marijuana, then get your high the legal way -- at 2202 Oxygen Bar. Any "drug" is expensive, and the O2 served up at this hip Mission bar is no different. At $10 a pop for a 10-minute session ($15 for 20 minutes and $25 for 40 minutes), the uplifting elixir is more expensive than a fancy cocktail you can nurse for half an hour. But it's infinitely healthier. According to oxygen addicts (and really, who isn't?), increased oxygen levels treat a variety of symptoms from hangovers and headaches to fatigue and malaise. Your basic oxygen can also be enhanced with aromatherapy blends like Aphrodisia, a tempting concoction of ylang-ylang, sage, bergamot, and blue cypress that will, according to the menu, "encourage feelings of well being and dissolve emotional coldness." A great change of pace from the typical drunken bar scene, 2202 is hip and trendy San Francisco club -- dimly lit; decorated with an intriguing mix of vivid tribal paintings, sleek leather sofas, retro disco balls, and eerie alien masks -- without the attitude. For a surreal experience, visit the bar on a low-key Friday evening when the DJ spins trippy, spaced-out tunes and peaceful patrons stare blissfully into space with oxygen tubes running out their noses. No alcohol is served, although herbal elixirs and tinctures are available.
3089 16th St. (at Valencia), San Francisco CA; Tel. 415.621.9294
Bustling and attentive bartenders will serve you concoctions to quell any thirst. Combine that with a perfect location close to scores of other bars, restaurants and ATM machines (cash only here), and the Skylark is a perfect spot anytime. Skylark tends to get busy later, after 10pm most nights. There is a small dance area in the back, and a long bench seat that stretches the length of the right wall opposite the bar with cocktail tables and chairs to boot. It gets very crowded on the weekends, and the music is loud. If you want a place to have a soft, quiet moment, this is not the right San Francisco club. If you want strong music and inventive drinks (the Chivas Regal cocktails taste nothing like scotch), you are in the right place.
RUSSIAN HILL 1500 Broadway, San Francisco, CA; Tel. (415) 346-7683
Harry Denton is the man everyone in San Francisco wants to know. Why? Because he owns two of the hottest San Francisco clubs: Starlight Room and now Rouge. While Rouge's décor resembles that of a Vegas showgirl after the show, its plush red interiors are attractive enough for young lads and lasses who throng this Russian Hill hangout every weekend. While the security is tight, and getting in can set you back $20 per person, drinks are reasonably priced between $7 and $10. We recommend that you avoid the Cosmopolitans and Martinis, but the Sidecar is terrific. Cocktail dresses and black suits are dress of choice. Rouge is packed with beautiful women by 10 P.M. At midnight, the special bar-top show is a perfect way to end the evening.
Jazz at Pearl's
256 Columbus (at Broadway), San Francisco CA; Tel. 415.291.8255
At this point in history it's pretty clear that thirtysomething white professionals have a predilection for jazz and Chardonnay, especially together. If you like good jazz, get yourself to Pearl's, order a bourbon and ignore the Ann Taylor Loft collection sitting next to you.
333 11th St. (at Folsom), San Francisco CA; Tel. 415.522.0333
A quintessential San Francisco live-music space with alt-pop, alt-country, alt-rock and any other alt you can think of. Afterwords, hit the grunge-glam South of Market bars for a post-ironic shot of Jagermeister.
1131 Polk (at Post), San Francisco CA; Tel. 415.923.0923
What seemed at first to be a dicey proposition -- put a hipster bar in a neighborhood where few hipsters live -- has now proven to be gold. Since opening last October, the spacious Hemlock Tavern has become a beacon for jean-jacketed, bedheaded coolios who like to toss back a few drinks, eyeball each other's duds, and check out some great music by bands they've never heard of. Thanks to a very open-minded booking policy, the Hemlock's 55-person-capacity performance space has offered everything from the symphonic pop of the Shimmer Kids to the raucous garage tunes of the Flakes to the metal madness of Thunderbleed aka Blind Vengeance. It's a fair bet you'll find something of quality any night of the week, be it the twisted pop of the Foibles, the raunchy rock of Killer's Kiss, or the vaudevillian oddness of the semiregular "Unnatural Acts" showcase. The tavern also features some terrific -- and free -- DJ nights, including the Sunday afternoon country show hosted by DJ Blaze Orange and Monday night's "Punk Rock Sideshow" featuring Kut 'n Paste and the Duchess of Hazard. All this beautiful ruckus and gratis bags of warm peanuts, too.
Café Du Nord
2170 Market (at Sanchez), San Francisco CA; Tel. 415.861.5016
Once a speakeasy, and more recently than that, a swing dancing hot spot, the multi-historied Café du Nord now features an eclectic number of goth-influenced singer/songwriters and earnest young men with guitars. And just when you don't expect it, du Nord totally rocks your world.
Mint Karaoke Lounge
1942 Market (at Duboce), San Francisco CA; Tel. 415.626.4726
Don't mess with the Mint. While Friday nights are generally packed with post-work parties and birthdays, most nights the performances can bring down the house. Think American Idol, but sponsored by the vodka industry.
199 Valencia (at Duboce), San Francisco CA; Tel. 415.255.7505
On a Sunday afternoon, there is no mellower place to be in San Francisco than the courtyard at Zeitgeist. Hidden behind a somehow foreboding purple exterior on a block not quite in the Mission or the Castro, an eclectic mix of hipsters, bikers, and weekend warriors mingles among rows of picnic tables, passing around pitchers of beer, joints, and, occasionally, a damn good string-bean-garnished Bloody Mary. One of the city's best jukeboxes blasts a selection of tunes that's as mixed as the crowd (metal for the bikers, literary altcountry for the hipsters) as a bullhorn-wielding grill master bellows the names of customers who need to pick up their burgers. When the weather cooperates, it's tough to beat.
398 12th St. (at Harrison), San Francisco CA; Tel. 415.626.0880
The Eagle has come into its own, of late, with bare chested bears, punk rock dyke bands and such a hardcore following and laid back vibe that even Ben Sherman-ed straight kids are getting in on the action.
1600 17th St. (at Missouri), San Francisco CA; Tel. 415.503.0393
This quirky Potrero hill bar caters to blue-collar locals and prose punks from the San Francisco Bay Guardian, whose offices are a quick block away. Not unexpectedly, weekday happy hours on the Parkside's back patio are more popular and populous than the toned-downed weekends.