By Emma Silvers
By Gary Moskowitz
By Alee Karim
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
By Derek Opperman
By Emma Silvers
By Alee Karim
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.
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.
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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.
Brick & Mortar Music Hall: The former Coda Nightclub is back and stirring up a stew of new live music. Brick & Mortar's eclectic calendar presents funk, soul, jazz, rock, hip-hop, classical music, and more in a small, open space on the nothernmost edge of the Mission District. 1710 Mission, brickandmortarmusic.com.
Cafe Du Nord: Descend into this subterranean nightspot and you'll find yourself in an intimate hideaway where good food and drink, a roomy dancefloor, and a wide and eclectic entertainment lineup keep the customers partying into the wee hours. Built in 1907, the former speakeasy's deep red walls, classic paneling and wainscoting, and 40-foot hand-carved mahogany bar make you feel you're in a vintage Left Bank bordello. A brief menu of salads, burgers, pizzas, and bar food complements the cocktails nicely. 2170 Market, 861-5016, cafedunord.com.
Cat Club: Exposed brick walls, soft sofas, and industrial-chic fittings fight for decor prominence in this central SOMA dance club, while moody black-clad swirlers, tough hip-hop dykes, and nostalgic '80s Wavers fight for floor space in the two separate dance areas. But while so many new neighborhood venues fight to become mainstream hotspots that draw in rich, suburban weekend warriors, the Cat Club caters to a mostly underground clientele that's usually more gay, goth, or just plain weird than the kids down the street. 1190 Folsom, 703-8964, sfcatclub.com.
Cobb's Comedy Club: Almost every big-name stand-up comedian you can think of has performed at this local institution. A great place to catch stars on the rise and established names. 915 Columbus, 928-4320, cobbscomedy.com.
Dear Mom: The Mission District's trendier half extends itself eastward at Dear Mom, a newly hip hangout in the (now totally unrecognizable) old El Rincon location. There's a pool table and Pabst for those who dutifully maintain a downscale-twentysomething hipster profile, but it's the exposed wood and bare bulbs that give away the bar's fancier adult airs. Dear Mom, can we borrow some money? 2700 16th St., 625-3362, dearmomsf.com.
Delirium Cocktails: A change of name and management has turned this grubby Mission District haunt into a slightly less grubby Mission District haunt, with nightly DJs playing good ol' rock 'n' roll. The small, black-walled back room can get pretty hot and sweaty when the DJs are firing on all cylinders. With a motto like "service for the sick," we can dig it. 3139 16th St., 552-5525.
DNA Lounge: Looking like a spaceship from The Matrix with futuristic factory decor on two floors, the remodeled DNA has long been a fixture on this happening 11th Street block. Regular goth-industrial nights, weekly "Bootie" mash-up parties, cabaret shows, burlesque escapades, and miscellaneous house or hip-hop jams happen alongside occasional rock gigs and other special events. Some nights are all-ages and/or 18+, so check with the club before heading out. 375 11th St., 626-1409, dnalounge.com.
El Rio: With moderately priced (and heavily poured) drinks, a sprawling patio, and an intimate stage in a side room, this Mission District destination is a keystone of indie-hipster nightlife. DJs spin everything from country to funk, bands play everything from samba to punk, and the $1 Monday nights are the stuff of legend. 3158 Mission, 282-3325, elriosf.com.
Elbo Room: The Elbo Room ain't the rock Valhalla it once was, but a bar and pinball machines downstairs and a music venue upstairs provide entertainment that varies between DJ nights and live bands ranging from hip-hop to punk to funk to samba. There's never a cover charge for the downstairs bar, whose crimson-candlelit booths are often jam-packed with attractive scenesters. The second-floor music room, meanwhile, attracts a crowd as varied as the events themselves: hippies, hipsters, goths, rockers, hip-hop heads, salsa dancers, old-school soul twisters — name any demographic, they've all been here at one time or another. 647 Valencia, 552-7788, elbo.com.
Endup: A nightclub that (fortunately) stays up well past its bedtime, the Endup has a hard-earned reputation as an after-hours mecca that still holds up. Though somewhat dated in style, this venerable club's backyard grotto remains an urban oasis, with fountains and ferns and reverberating dance beats distracting from the fact that the highway runs right outside the gates. 401 Sixth St., 646-0999, theendup.com.
Esta Noche: A hub for the gay Latino community for more than two decades, Esta Noche offers its club patrons a refined DJ mix of Latin and house music and outrageous, gender-bending special events. 3079 16th St., 861-5757, estanocheclub.com.
F8: Formerly Icon Ultra Lounge, F8 retains Icon's glowing space-age lighting scheme, while DJs spin dubstep, drum 'n' bass, trap, and other bass-heavy brands of EDM. 1192 Folsom, 857-1192, feightsf.com.
Gold Dust Lounge: The Gold Dust has long been a San Francisco institution, heralded by the late Herb Caen as "the last of the authentic nightcapperies" — a rave that must have delighted owners Jimmy and Tasios Vovis, who've plastered it all over the walls. Unfortunately the original Union Square location closed in 2012 after a controversial dispute with the building's landlord, but the bar's beloved antique lamps and oil paintings were packed up and moved to a new Fisherman's Wharf space in early 2013. 165 Jefferson, 397-1695, golddustloungesf.com.
Hemlock Tavern: By showcasing some of the world's best underground indie-rock bands, this microvenue has quickly become one of the city's best. A crowded, clamorous bar up front — decorated with kitschy thrift-shop art, vintage beer paraphernalia, and some choice retro lamps — hides an intimate music room in back. There's also a terrarium-like smoking section off to one side, so you can get your nic fix without having to abandon your cocktail. The great (and free) jukebox selections, plus weekly punk DJs, fill out the hours when bands aren't playing. 1131 Polk, 923-0923, hemlocktavern.com.
Holy Cow: It's always a party at the famous Holy Cow. Watch frat boys and bachelorette-party girls freak nasty on the dancefloor as you sip half-price cocktails and groove to '80s music and R&B. 1535 Folsom, 621-6087, theholycow.com.
Hotel Utah: The Old West and indie music come together at the Hotel Utah Saloon, where a small stage, an antique bar, and a diversely stocked jukebox set the scene. A gigantic taxidermied elk head stares down upon drinkers in the main section, which is dominated by a beautiful old wooden bar on one side and a long row of picture windows on the other. The adjacent music area is split between a small balcony (shaped to look like the stern of a sailing ship) and an intimate downstairs section with a scattering of tables and corner booths. Meaty grub fills the menu during the day, while eclectic local bands and acoustic songwriters fill the calendar at night. 500 Fourth St., 546-6300, hotelutah.com.
Jay 'n' Bee Club: Checkered linoleum floor tiles, framed photos of old jazzmen and jocks of yore, and the occasional rockabilly DJ give this Mission/Potrero neighborhood bar a comfortable throwback vibe. The rear patio is a bonus on warm evenings, and the menu at this welcoming dive has evolved from standard bar grub and Mexican eats to delicious pizzas and an array of salads. The pizzas are thin-crust, with locally sourced toppings such as sausage from long-running Mission District deli Lucca's. 2736 20th St., 824-4190, myspace.com/jaynbeeclub.
The Knockout: The Knockout has been called a clubhouse for big kids, and that's a pretty apt description. Started by brothers and longtime Mission District bartenders dX and John Segura, the place just bleeds love for kitsch, rockabilly, monster movies, and low-brow culture. On any given night, there might be a touring mod band tearing up the stage, or a DJ spinning metal or old funk 45s, or a drunken, raucous game of bingo going down. There's a photo booth, a few tabletop videogames, and walls covered with dX's distinctive paintings and poster art. Look for the hip kids out front, plenty of tattoos inside, and John serving up an overflowing shot glass of Jim Beam on the planks. 3223 Mission, 550-6994, theknockoutsf.com.
Lexington Club: Cozy lesbian bar tucked into a Mission sidestreet. It's a bar, with lesbians — what more do you need to know? 3464 19th St., 863-2052, lexingtonclub.com.
Little Baobab: An offshoot of Bissap Baobab, the rollicking Senegalese restaurant right around the corner on Mission Street, Little Baobab is more of a club than an eatery — well-known for its reggae and afro-pop dance nights. The menu is similar to the larger restaurant's — festive, shareable Senegalese and Pan-African appetizers and entrees, like shrimp marinated in cloves, chilis, and garlic, tropical salads, and lamb in peanut sauce. The cocktails are unique here; try the Flamboyant (hibiscus, lime, and vodka) or the Salaan (a tamarind-based margarita). 3388 19th St., 643-3558, littlebaobabsf.com.
LookOut: The elevated location, long windows, and outdoor balcony give this Castro bar its name, where queers nosh on pizza and dance to DJed music while keeping an eye out for people to meet. 3600 16th St., 703-9751, lookoutsf.com.
Madrone Art Bar: Unless you're dying to catch a show at the Independent, this is the place on Divisadero to go. Everything in here is created by local artists, from the design of the space right down to the menus, while DJs spin everything from hip-hop, funk, and soul to vintage jazz and retro rock 'n' roll. 500 Divisadero, 241-0202, madroneartbar.com.
Make-Out Room: It feels almost like a bingo parlor at the community church. Fortunately, the quirky Midwestern atmosphere of this bar lends itself to the mostly folk and country acts that perform here. Regular DJ nights also expand the soundtrack to include everything from Latin funk and Jamaican ska to New Wave and indie dance hits. 3225 22nd St., 647-2888, makeoutroom.com.
Mezzanine: A top-flight club on a dark city sidestreet, Mezzanine has elements of both red-velvet slickness and brick-wall industrial chic, although the dancefloor's loud enough and packed enough that you may not notice. Every week brings a fresh new music lineup, with talent ranging from electro hipsters and European house DJs to hip-hop MCs and indie rock bands, all playing through a sound system loud enough to shake the floor. If dancing isn't your thing, you can always go upstairs to the more chilled-out lounge or head out back for a cig break in the fenced-in smoking section. 444 Jessie, 625-8880, mezzaninesf.com.
Mighty: This warehousey (but stylish) location on the edge of Potrero Hill hosts many mid- to high-profile DJ events, from house music love-ups to multi-crew hip-hop throwdowns and even the occasional roller disco. 119 Utah, 762-0151, mighty119.com.
Monarch: The people behind the Om Records music label, Black Pancakes vinyl emporium, and other local culture outlets have taken over this two-level nightclub along the Sixth Street corridor just south of Market. Expect a lot of house music to fill the vaguely steampunky space, decorated like a fancy, retro-futuristic Victorian parlor where brass horns sprout cephalopod chandeliers and pipes are bent into privacy screens. 101 Sixth St., 284-9774, monarchsf.com.
Pilsner Inn: At the busy corner of Church and Market in the Castro sits this casual neighborhood sports bar with simple wood tones, a pool table, pinball, and a garden patio. This is more of a straight-friendly gay bar, reminiscent of a small town bar that supports the community pool, softball, and bowling leagues. Trophies and plaques adorn the walls along with a strong, yet random, puffin theme (if you get the chance, you should query the bartender), as well as a few old-school touches such as a hanging surfboard and classic telephone booth. The patio can accommodate large groups with dark wood benches (with built-in ashtrays) lining the garden and a cornered-off porch for more intimate groups. The patio is well-lit with a transparent canopy, and it never gets smoky even when it's crowded on Friday night. The seating is well-designed so everyone has space, yet it all feels very intimate and social at the same time. A strong rosemary smell, babbling fountains, and Christmas lights help keep the mood calm, juxtaposing the lively but poised position inside, where the '80s hair metal streams from the jukebox. 225 Church, 621-7058, pilsnerinn.com.
Powerhouse: Having club nights with names like "Nipple Play" (nipple fetish night), "Underwear" (panty fetish night), and "Wrasslin'" (wrestling fetish night where grown men sport high school wrestling outfits and try pinning each other to a mat), it's safe to say that this isn't the place you want to take Mom and Dad when they come to town. It is, however, the place to go if you're looking for a daddy and a dirty time. DJs spin a mix of house and techno every night, and the back room/dancefloor, rife with leering men lurking in the shadows, is appropriately dark. 1347 Folsom, 552-8689, powerhouse-sf.com.
Public Works: Tucked into an alley at the northern edge of the Mission District — look for a Banksy stencil and a bunch of other great street-art murals on the outside wall — Public Works is a multi-use space that hosts art shows, DJ dance events, live music, and more on its two floors. It's become one of the city's hippest hangouts in only a short period of time, attracting diverse crowds that include queer party fanatics, electro-house hipsters, exploratory foodies, gallery crawlers, and other San Franciscans looking for the latest in artsy underground entertainment. 161 Erie, 932-0955, publicsf.com.
The Riptide: With its roaring fireplace, wood-paneled walls, hearty drinks, and amazing free live music calendar, the Riptide is a cozy home away from home for many. DJs spin punk, ska, and metal on Wednesday through Friday nights, with folk, bluegrass, and Americana bands and players taking over Saturdays and Sundays. Homemade vittles on Friday evening, surf videos on the TV, and a friendly staff make this a perfect after-beach warm-up spot. 3639 Taraval, 759-7263, riptidesf.com.
Ruby Skye: One of San Francisco's most well-heeled dance clubs, this multilevel venue is host to steamy house-music and trance DJs (with several special guests and events each month), weekly concerts, and corporate parties. 420 Mason, 693-0777, rubyskye.com.
Slate Bar: Som Bar has rebranded itself as Slate, but the mod-minimalist decor and funky DJs remain. 2925 16th St., 558-8521, slate-sf.com.
The Stud: Although small and cramped when packed, the Stud rules over other gay clubs with some of the best local DJs, innovative club nights, wild drag queen performances, and overall atmosphere. This old SOMA standby eschews the flashy glitz of trendy new nightclubs, instead cultivating a comfortable, almost bordello-like environment with lots of warm wood surfaces and plenty of dark corners in which to canoodle with your latest date. 399 Ninth St., 863-6623, studsf.com.
The Uptown: So you're a new hipster in town. Or you've just decided that you want to have sex with a hipster. Where should you go? Try the Uptown, particularly on Wednesdays when beer is extra-cheap. You'll know you've arrived when you begin to feel vaguely uncomfortable and notice all the chained-up fixies, their owners puffing cigarettes outside and snubbing homeless people. Head inside, though, and the quirk, red-tinted innards of Uptown and its warm weirdness welcome you to stay a while. Maybe it's the cushy old booths, or the pool table that's slightly off. All we know is that seven PBRs later, you'll be playing Simpsons pinball against some guy with big sunglasses and a pet rat on his shoulder, wondering when your Steely Dan jukebox selection will come on. That is when you know you are home. 200 Capp, 861-8231.
Underground SF: This small, dark, and unpretentious Lower Haight spot attempts to inject a subversive element back into the nightclub scene — and, for the most part, it succeeds. The music runs the gamut (from vintage disco to drum 'n' bass to hip-hop to reggae), as does the crowd. A good place to escape from upscale and trendy nightclubbers. 424 Haight, 864-7386, facebook.com/undergroundsf.