Beyond the Stage

The history of San Francisco's most iconic music venues

From techno warehouses to indie-rock taverns, San Francisco has no shortage of music venues. We’re especially lucky to have a few that are over a century old, having weathered fires, multiple owners, and at least one earthquake.

But if you’ve visited any of these spaces, a few questions have probably popped up (aside from “How much are the drinks?” and “When does the headliner come on?”). You might have wondered why The Fillmore gives away free apples or why there’s a window behind the stage at Bottom of the Hill. Perhaps you wanted to know why there’s a balcony above the stage at Great American Music Hall that never gets used. Or maybe you were curious about Social Hall, the music venue below the Regency Ballroom that looks like a mid-century school auditorium.

Well, today’s the day that those questions get answered! From top to bottom, we scoured five of San Francisco’s oldest music venues — The Warfield Theater, Regency Ballroom, The Fillmore, Great American Music Hall, and Bottom of the Hill — and uncovered forgotten histories, discarded relics, crumbling wall paintings, and secrets up the wazoo.

Check out our stories on each venue if only so that you can brag to your friends the next time you see a show. “Notice the rounded walls and railings around The Fillmore?” you can say. “That’s from when it was a roller rink in the ’40s.” Your friends will think you’re really cool. You’re welcome.

Bottom of the Hill
‘Gigging alone at the Bottom of the Hill.’

The Fillmore
From roller rink to psych-rock mecca.

The Regency Ballroom
Thrones, trap doors, and double-headed phoenixes.

Warfield Theatre
Bullet holes, Anna Nicole’s lips, and (allegedly) a tunnel built by Al Capone.

The Great American Music Hall
Prostitutes, tax evasions, and the dotcom boom.

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