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21 Club: The 21 Club is one of the last remaining bastions of Tenderloin dive bar living. This small liquor den — located at the untouristy intersection of Turk and Taylor — serves stiff drinks and frothy beers to a diverse crowd of both grizzled old-timers and bohemian youth. The walls are crammed with dusty mementos and non-ironic kitsch that complement a jukebox laden with musical memories from decades gone by. Although the overhead TV is usually tuned to sports or the primetime movie du jour, sometimes the most intense drama happens right outside the 21 Club's front door — here in the heart of the Tenderloin, life itself is a round-the-clock tragicomedy. 98 Turk, 771-9655.
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330 Ritch: With "Popscene," the hitmaking indie-dance weekly, having relocated to the Rickshaw Stop, this brick-walled nightclub — tucked into an otherwise quiet South Beach alleyway — is now primarily oriented around weekend hip-hop nights, plus the occasional midweek concert featuring touring MCs. 330 Ritch, 541-9574, 330ritch.com.
500 Club: The 500 Club is a lounge in the old-fashioned meaning of the term: rather than boasting sleek modern furniture and slick modern cocktails, this longtime Mission District standby features retro leather booths, back-to-basics drinks, and classic rock and country on the jukebox. Sadly, the pool table is no more — they needed the extra space to pack 'em in on weekends. A more favorable and flavorful recent development, however, is the opening of Clare's Deli next door, meaning you can now get delicious sandwiches and snacks delivered to your seat in the bar. 500 Guerrero, 861-2500, fivehundredclub.com.
540 Club: Haute and hardcore at the same time, the 540 Club is a place where drinkers of many social classes can commingle comfortably: This Inner Richmond hangout often features punk rock on the stereo and custom low-brow art on the walls, while the vintage setting feels like a private men's club from the early 20th century. 540 Clement, 752-7276, 540-club.com.
The Attic: The grittiness of your favorite dive bar and the sounds of your favorite DJ combine to create a great Mission District spot that transcends all trends. There are plenty of dark corners in which to hide, and the graffiti-covered restrooms ensure that no one gets too uppity. 3336 24th St., 643-3376.
Aunt Charlie's Lounge: Boys, girls — what's the diff? Guys become gals as part of Aunt Charlie's "Hot Boxxx Girls" lip-sync show every Friday and Saturday night. During the day, this place is a Tenderloin dive bar — albeit one more gay than the neighbors — while nighttime events attract both old drag queens and ghetto-fab young hipsters. 133 Turk, 441-2922, auntcharlieslounge.com.
BeatBox: This location can claim more identities than Sybil, having been called Studio Z, Fat City, Siberia, and other names over the past few years. After a brief incubation and renovation period, the name has changed once again — to BeatBox — with a newly updated interior whose boxy, brick-walled forms are reminiscent of the neighborhood's recent industrial past. 314 11th St., 500-2675, beatboxsf.com.
Bender's: Sure, it burned — but a little fire can't keep rock 'n' roll down forever. With some new paint, a fresh supply of cheap beer, and a restocked jukebox blaring the scrungy S.F. bands of past & present, Bender's has resurrected itself to rock anew. Bands often prop themselves on the elevated corner steps and blast the Pabst out of your hands. The two pool tables are in constant use. And even the new paint job is finally starting to return to its faded former self. 806 South Van Ness, 824-1800, bendersbar.com.
Bimbo's 365 Club: Great sound, classy lighting, and staffers dressed like The Love Boat's Capt. Stubing come together to make this one of the city's finer concert halls. Bimbo's 365 Club is a shrine of mid-20th Century luxury, complete with multiple ornate bars and nudie oil paintings that would be the pride of any erstwhile Rat Pack member. The music programming ranges from international jazz to indie rock, plus the occasional retro dance band to confirm that Bimbo's is the perfect place for anyone who wants to know what it was like to party in the past. 1025 Columbus, 474-0365, bimbos365club.com.
Boom Boom Room: Couches and cocktails complement a blues and funk boogie, which makes shaking it on the checkerboard dancefloor an old-fashioned must. Nightly, up-and-coming national acts play sweaty, steamy sets on the venue's small stage — always a rollicking time. 1601 Fillmore, 673-8000, boomboomblues.com.
Bottom of the Hill: This indie-slash-punk rock club is a revered local institution with all the staples you'd expect: kitschy retro decor, sticker-smothered bathrooms, and nightly entertainment that ranges from loud-as-hell to what-the-hell-was-that. A smoker's patio in back offers a welcome respite from the crowds and noise inside, or, for another form of distraction, you can scope the old event calendars from years gone by and try to count how many musicians played this small stage before moving on to huge theaters or even arenas — you'll run out of fingers before you run out of bands. 1233 17th St., 621-4455, bottomofthehill.com.
BrainWash Cafe & Laundromat: Torn between catching a gig and staying home to do laundry? Pack up the grundies and hit Brainwash, an enterprising cafe/laundromat/gallery/club. All-ages crowds can catch free shows across the DIY spectrum, chomp on snacks, and wash their whites — simultaneously. 1122 Folsom, 861-3663, brainwash.com.
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