Best Place to Imbibe Local History While Taking in a Great Show

Great American Music Hall

Every concert at Great American Music Hall feels like a special event. The place exudes genuine historicity: Opened in 1907, 859 O'Farrell Street was originally built to serve as a symbol of San Francisco's rebirth from the cataclysmic 1906 earthquake. The French architect who designed the place certainly fulfilled that order: Great American's marble columns, intricate rococo balconies, and ornate ceiling work produce an atmosphere of indulgence and luxury even today. The building's first occupant was Blanco's, a restaurant and brothel that served up gambling and other sinful pleasures to the nightcrawlers of a then barely civilized San Francisco. Later years saw the room become a jazz hall and a French restaurant; but it wasn't until 1972 that 859 O'Farrell opened as Great American Music Hall, attaining what has to be its highest and best use: a live venue for all types of music. Today the place occupies a comfortable spot in the middle of the size range; its smallish stage and dancefloor surpass the Fillmore in intimacy, but with wraparound balconies, it offers a little more breathing room than Bottom of the Hill or the Independent. Of course, the place wouldn't be anything without good bookings, and the Great American's old-world allure works on musicians, too: Many notable artists, from Robyn Hitchcock to Animal Collective, have specifically sought out shows there. On the best nights at Great American Music Hall, whether the artist is a local upstart or a marquee name, it's easy to get lost in the loud pulse of the PA and the proto-psychedelia of the architecture. Some believe the place is haunted, but even if you don't believe in ghosts, there's a spirit lingering in this former Wild West bordello that you won't find anywhere else in San Francisco.


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