1525 Mission (at 11th Street), 864-1525
This is the destination for hard-core leather boys and S/M and B/D fans. The dungeonlike atmosphere is supplemented with cages and a winch with which boys are often lowered from the ceiling tied and gagged. A mirrored wall, red twinkle lights, and a pool table do not in any way diminish the utilitarian essence of the place. There is an enforced dress code on weekends, and frequent uniform and bondage parties. Drink specials are given on certain nights to men in boots, men in rubber and latex, and men with piercings. There is a Mr. S Leather retail store on the premises.
The only gay bar in Hayes Valley is owned by Her Most Imperial Majesty Silver Peacock Empress Marlena 25, and has been gay-owned for more than 33 years so there's always plenty of royalty on hand with fabulous clothes. Display cases hanging on the wall offer hundreds of royal pendants, and a plaque honors winners of Marlena's Mr. Cowboy and Miss Cowgirl title since 1969. The bar's not much to look at, but the bartenders are always a hoot, and there's a pool table and an upholstered bench outside for catching up on gossip and smokes.
1942 Market (at Guerrero), 636-4726
The drinks may be weak, but the talent is mighty. The city's pre-eminent karaoke lounge offers a small patio, an often broken pinball machine, and over 3,000 songs with corresponding cheesy Massengill-style backing videos. This is where vocalists from all the other karaoke lounges hope to end up one day, but don't be put off: If you act very shy about your "first time," the crowd takes you under its collective wing and encourages you to find your inner songbird.
4049 18th St. (at Hartford), phone number not available to anyone at any time
I don't know what it is about this bar -- with its characterless jet-black walls, street-side windows, and giant retro salt-water fish tank -- but I like it a lot. Maybe it's because, among the competitive hubbub and sniping of the Castro, Dick's is usually nice and quiet. You can get on the pool table and the pinball machines, and the staff is sweet as can be. Or maybe it's the drink specials: two-for-one margaritas every day except Sunday when it's Sex on the Beach.
1225 Folsom (at Eighth Street), 863-2329
It must be said: My Place is. Largely effected by bar manager Sean Cip -- the hot musician with the pierced nipple, bare chest, tight Levi's (top two buttons undone, of course), and long hair serving drinks on most nights -- this little SOMA bar draws a highly eclectic crowd of rockers happy to gaze at Cip and listen to his mix of Hole, White Zombie, Korn, Limp Biscuit, and AC/DC. Bears, leather boys, hipsters, modern primitives, bikers, and a large handful of women, ranging in age from 25 to 75, take advantage of the bar's pool table and dark but friendly atmosphere. Military netting and tree branches cover the ceiling and walls, contributing an urban Black Forest feel, while a brightly lit Toby mural of a man giving himself head adds humor. Folks at the front of the bar are chatty as hell, making frequent wisecracks about the lightweight porn video playing on a small screen overhead; folks in back are probably lurking around the bathroom.
4146 18th St. (at Collingwood), 863-4441
I believe this is the only gay bar with a mostly black constituency, which means folks who come here know exactly what they like. Cruisy, cruisy, cruisy. There's a pool table taking up half the floor space in this small, 30-plus-year establishment, but on Wednesdays it serves as a second stage for the amateur strippers who compete for a $100 cash prize in front of a nice mix of muscle boys, dreads, hip-hop heads, and soul lovers. Music ranges from hip hop to funk, house, soul, and R&B, but there's no room to dance unless you're taking your clothes off. During the Sunday "Beer Bust," Miller pints are a buck.
Wild Side West
424 Cortland (at Wool), 647-3099
Essentially a neighborhood bar where everyone feels cozy and well cared for, this place is run and owned by lesbians, so chicks dig it. Peeling red walls, gold-gilt mirrors, old clocks, wooden floors, cigar Indians, fireplaces strewn with high-heeled shoes, a cash register from the 1800s that only rings up to $7.95, and dozens of old oil portraits make the joint feel like a turn-of-the century saloon, or my crazy great-aunt's house. Not long ago, the quiet Bernal Heights establishment was the target of a "Kiss-In" (after a bartender asked two girls not to grope) but the furor has died down and gals still roar up on bikes wearing little more than chaps.
622 Polk (at Turk), 441-9278
This is easily the smallest bar in the entire Bay Area. It's about the size and shape of a large wooden doll house (you can practically whisper from one side of the bar to the other), which makes it completely respectful and comfortable at all times. The bartenders -- the current and former Mr. Polk Street Leather, Toni Beyer and Jesus Martinez -- take great care to learn your name and make you feel as if you are drinking in their living room. Martinez speaks seven languages, and the Culinary Academy is just a stone's throw away, so the crowd is very mixed and international. The "Trannyshack" crew often flounces in, and occasionally spontaneous open mikes, drag, or leather shows erupt on the 24-inch stage. There's a tiny curtain and a single bulb on a dimmer that serves as lighting. It's too adorable to miss.