Choosing the Best San Francisco Nightclub
San Francisco nightlife is as varied as San Francisco, and San Francisco nightclubs and lounges are for the most part localized in different areas. For electronic music clubs, hip hop and chill art lounges, try San Francisco's SOMA. For bar-hopping with hipsters and rockers, Mission district rules. A more elegant (though just as debaucherous) San Francisco nightclub can be found in the Marina district. Gay-friendly bars and clubs exist all over San Francisco and are not necessarily quarantined in the Castro. San Francisco's North Beach is open until the wee hours with neon strip joints and cool hideaway bars.
60 Sixth St. (at Jessie), San Francisco CA; Tel. 415.863.1221
This 6th Street San Francisco nightclub is the closest manifestation of an underground party in an above-ground place. Décor is at a minimum. Water comes from an industrial size igloo at the end of the bar (that's right, no $5 water). The upstairs has a very nice, loft-like feel with lounge music playing (so as not to disturb the neighbors). The basement is like being at an underground rave: low ceilings, lasers, dark hallways and moist walls. Here you can find amazing entertainment with a friendly staff. That is a lot more than can be said for its neighbor down on Folsom St.
375 11th St. (at Folsom), San Francisco CA; Tel. 415.626.1409
Sixth St. & Harrison, San Francisco CA; Tel. 415.357.0827
There ain't no party / like a West Coast party / 'cause a West Coast party / don't stop. For over 25 years, the Endup has kept the San Francisco nightclub torch alive with its all day all night weekend dance-a-thons. The Sunday afternoon gay dance is legendary.
444 Jessie (at Mint), San Francisco CA; Tel. 415.820.9669
235 16th St. (at Third St.), San Francisco CA; Tel. 415.777.5558
111 Minna Street Gallery
111 Minna (at Second Street), San Francisco CA; Tel. 415.974.1719
Nightclubbing is about a lot of things, but mostly it's about energy, and while this city is bursting with fine disco emporiums, in our opinion, the best is 111 Minna. The vibe is just better here -- you won't be frisked upon entering, the cover charge is never steep, and once inside you'll find a decidedly non-bridge-and-tunnelish, peaceful, hip crowd, some of the best electronic music in the city, and stylish art to boot. What this San Francisco nightclub lacks in some departments (sweaty people bumping into you on nights when world-class DJs spin) it more than makes up for in others (a liberal in-and-out policy, a no poseur-infested VIP room, shaken Martinis and Cosmos, and lime-perfect Margs). The music has expanded to sooth more than house fans: rock out on Friday Happy Hour at the Steen and Dave Showe, chilling on psychadelic wood furniture with the aforementioned shaken. If you can't feel it here, you probably never will.
1830 Third St. (at 16th St.), San Francisco CA; Tel. 415.431.4766
Ten 15 Folsom
1015 Folsom (at Sixth St.), San Francisco CA; Tel. 415.431.1200
The line at this San Francisco nightclub is daunting, but after you've been frisked by the doorman and made it past the bouncer, the multi-floored dance music mecca reveals its booming base grandeur.
280 7th St., San Francisco, CA 94103-4004; Tel. 415/621-1197
Rawhide II, formerly a gay country-and-western bar, has been transformed into a venue for a rotating lineup of DJ dance events, each attracting a different crowd. Low cover charges and an intimate atmosphere make it a popular spot.
77 Natoma St., San Francisco CA 94105; Tel. 415.222.6131
A gorgeous new art gallery (the red brick exterior is pure maritime San Francisco) and wine and beer space in SoMa, off an alley near Minna Street Gallery and owned by a crafty bunch of Oakland metal welders and artists.
1539 Folsom St. (at 11th St.), San Francisco CA; Tel. 415.278.9474
181 Third St. (at Howard), San Francisco CA; Tel. 415.817.7836
555 Second St., San Francisco CA 94107; Tel. 415.543.2282
The South Park spot for infused vodkas (the vanilla and grapefruit are best) and haute soul food cuisine.
3140 Mission St., San Francisco, CA 94110-4504; Tel. 415/648-6611
Roccapulco, a cavernous Mission District Dance hall and restaurant that brings in crowds, has live music and salsa dancing on Friday and Saturday. Look for salsa lessons on Wednesday, gay and lesbian dancing on Thursday.
563 2nd St., San Francisco CA 94107; Tel. 415.369.0900
A warehouse brewery in SoMa with simple, honest food. The grape soda is homemade, as is the impressive selection of strong-winded beers.
760 2nd St., San Francisco CA 94107; Tel. 415.227.8660
Pac Bell Park looms large over Momo's outdoor bar and patio in SoMa. Designed by the same architects who crafted Ghiradelli Square, Momo's is an inviting pre-game or happy hour bar with a terrific a la carte menu.
496 14th St. (at Guerrero), San Francisco CA; Tel. 415.241.9944
Beautiful booths, great DJs, and simple, yet endearing dŽcor make this spot a must visit for those who want to feel a little of what San Francisco nightlife is all about. On the wall to the left of the dance floor is a maiden perched on a sliver of a moon. Above her it says Hush Hush. And this Hush Hush really is a secret spot; other than the people smoking out front you probably would not know it was there. The DJs at this San Francisco nightclub spin primarily Latin/Cuban House with funk/soul/R&B mixed in. That is what you can expect if you hit Hush Hush on a Thursday, Friday, or Saturday. Get your feet ready, because they won't stop until you leave. One of SanFrancisco.com's favorites!
2526 Mission (at 21st St.), San Francisco CA; Tel. 415.401.0810
DJs spin smooth, lounge grooves with an international flair. On most nights, there is a film of the DJs choice playing on the wall facing you as you enter. There are also seats available on a small second floor that is reached via a steep wrought-iron staircase at the back of the bar. This place has great presence, as well as offering some hard-to-find cocktails like a real caipirinha, made with mashed limes, raw sugar and distilled sugar can juice. It attracts some of the upper crust due to its affiliation to the Foreign Cinema next door, but Laszlo's lacks attitude and is a sweet Mission spot to get away to.
3024 Mission (at 26th St.), San Francisco CA; Tel. 415.826.7378
A big, cavernous club nestled at the far end of the Mission, 26 Mix is about the music. Unfortunately, the sounds system inside does not lend itself to hearing the finer points of the music that is being served up by the talented DJs that get their started there. Cheap drinks and cheap covers get people in along with the skill of the promoters who have parties there. Definitely a destination (there are not many other places around) so be sure of what you are going for before choosing it as your spot.
The Phone Booth
1398 South Van Ness (at 25th St), San Francisco CA; Tel 415.648.4683
Intellectual ennui and surges of testosterone mix wildly at this refurbished Mission hang out. The jukebox is full of Nirvana, Weezer and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the patrons are full of cold San Francisco Anchor Steam. Cute boys, cute girls, fluid sexuality.
Hyatt Regency Hotel, 5 Embarcadero Center, San Francisco CA; Tel. 415.788.1234
787 Broadway (at Powell), San Francisco CA; Tel. 415.788.4020
714 Montgomery (at Jackson), San Francisco CA; Tel. 415.434.4204
Call up the bride's maid reserves! This champagne-themed nosh pit pairs the expense-account businessman with the tempermentally chic women from ad agencies and law firms. Get out your Platinum card and take off your wedding ring.
Hilton Hotel, 333 O'Farrell (at Mason), San Francisco CA; Tel. 415.923.5002
Harry Denton's Starlight Room
Sir Francis Drake Hotel, 450 Powell (at Sutter), San Francisco CA; Tel. 415.395.8595
Swinging, clinging, and dipping 21 stories above the asphalt can be a truly celestial experience, especially at the Starlight Room, which offers its dancers unparalleled visual proximity to the cosmos. As you and your partner head onto the dance floor, seduced by the Motown rhythms of the Starlight Orchestra, you'll realize that your terpsichorean backdrop won't be the plywood, concrete, and laser beams de rigueur at many a lesser hot spot; beckoning your booty instead is an expansive panorama of illuminated skyscrapers, glittering bridges, festively lit ferryboats, and the brilliant constellations that give the venue its name. The inside view's pretty nice, too: gilt-carved mirrors, silk draperies, a black marble bar, and elaborate florals that add to the whole ascendant atmosphere. The Starlight Orchestra performs Thursdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m. to midnight; DJs spin their stuff the rest of the week.
181 Eddy (at Taylor), San Francisco CA; Tel. 415.885.1977
Not much was lost in translation when this New York '70s club franchised. Expect to dance at least once to «I Will Survive» while doing a jello shot. Memorabilia lines the walls and day-glo colors complete the club's culture.
Argent Hotel, 50 Third St. (at Market), San Francisco CA; Tel. 415.974.8715
York Hotel, 940 Sutter (at Hyde), San Francisco CA; Tel. 415.885.2800
Bimbo's 365 Club
1025 Columbus (at Chestnut), San Francisco CA; Tel. 415.474.0365
Last October, bereft and confused a mere hour or two after the Giants had lost Game 7, we made our way to Bimbo's, much as our more devout fellow fans trekked to Grace Cathedral. It wasn't long before the rattle of the cocktail shaker, the live samba of Brasil 66, the matchlessly swanky setting, and the comeliness of Dolfina the Fishbowl Girl inspired us to forget our troubles, at least for the evening. Bimbo's has been part of the exuberant San Francisco tradition since it opened at 365 Market in 1931 (Rita Hayworth was one of the chorus girls) and then moved to North Beach in the early '50s. Have a drink in the Continental Lounge or on the Flambeau Terrace and enjoy a top-flight act – headliners have included everybody from Van Morrison and Cake to Cassandra Wilson and Buck Owens. You can find out about upcoming shows at Bimbo's Web site; the box office is open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
504 Broadway (at Kearny), San Francisco CA; Tel. 415.982.6223
This North Beach sidewalk cafe is as charming as North Beach gets. Sit on the heated deck, sip a mojito, look out on the Broadway strip club barkers and marvel at the neon wonder of San Francisco.
Gino & Carlo's
548 Green (at Grant), Tel. 415.421.0896
Conclude your revels with a wobbly game of pool in the back room, with its autographed photo of Frank Sinatra and other memorabilia. Few bars offer a friendlier vibe, and the jukebox ain't bad either; it's the perfect place for a nightcap. Now take two aspirin, drink a gallon of water, and get some sleep.
San Francisco Brewing Company
155 Columbus (at Pacific), Tel. 415.434.3344
Begin the evening in this heritage-rich Barbary Coast saloon (established 1907) where Jack Dempsey was once employed as a bouncer and Baby Face Nelson was apprehended by the FBI. The original mahogany-and-beveled-mirror bar is a fine spot to sip the house-brewed Emperor Norton Lager or Alcatraz Stout.
12 William Saroyan Alley (at Columbus), Tel. 415.421.4112
Up the alleyway across Columbus is this ancient, dimly lit seafarer's saloon decorated with amazing and unearthly artifacts from around the world. Postcards from homesick regulars are in a shoebox on the bar for your perusal, and huge wedges of Monterey Jack (carved on some antique contraption out of Two Years Before the Mast) are available for purchase. Beer No. 3, coming up.
1232 Grant (at Vallejo), Tel. 415.989.7666
Now head up Grant – the Vieux Carré of the West Coast – and settle in at San Francisco's oldest watering hole (established 1861 or thereabouts). Live music bounces off the well-worn walls and encourages the dancers who crowd the place on weekends. Time to switch to bourbon.
1434 Grant (at Green), Tel. 415.362.7023
Grab a seat on the patio and watch the world amble by at this perpetually packed landmark. Young urban professionals are the plat du jour, if you're into that sort of thing. Yeah, I'll have another bourbon, on the rocks this time.
255 Columbus (at Kerouac), Tel. 415.362.3370
The glorious old bohemian bar, with its stained-glass windows, mezzanine seating, and overwhelming, ever-evolving décor, is your next stop. Beatifically located next to City Lights Bookstore. Give a listen to Charlie Parker on the jukebox while you down a pint of Anchor Steam and discuss Rimbaud.
The Mission bar scene is thriving, SOMA still has it going on, and the Lower Haight continues to be the city's premier bohemian drinking enclave. But if you want to know where it's fucking happening, man, get your ass down Polk. From the Civic Center to Russian Hill, Polk offers something for every type of drinker: yuppie bars, dive bars, rocker bars, a piano bar, and the most hopping gay scene outside the Castro. From the «gulch» section, you can wander into the nearby Tendernob and find still more bars (the venerable Overflo, the spanking new Julip, Edinburgh Castle, Ha Ra, An Sibin, we could go on). To honor the blistering torridness of the Polk Street bar scene, we've decided to run a one-time promotion: Mention this item to Rainy the bartender at the Bigfoot Lodge (1750 Polk) and she'll flip you off, free of charge, then pour you one of the finest Maker's Mark Manhattans in town (of course, you'll have to pay for the drink).
1351 Polk (at Pine), San Francisco CA; Tel. 415.885.4535
Tourists looking for more family-friendly San Francisco drag shows should stick to Beach Blanket Babylon. Kimo's ladies are hard-core, hard-livin' and workin' hard for their money. Still, expect a fair share of Celine, Cher and Stevie Nicks.
N'Touch Dance Club
1548 Polk (at Sacramento), San Francisco CA; Tel. 415.444.8413
This large gay dance club in San Francisco's “Polk Gulch” caters to Asian men and their admirers. Euro-pop, dance, imports. (Review: Michael Stabile)