On the Hunt for the Best Jukebox in the Haight

The heyday of authentic jukeboxes is long over. With many bars installing those nasty touchscreen digital Internet boxes, the old school record-flipping kind of jukebox is a dying breed. And this is in the town that originated the concept of jukeboxes back in 1889. So what denotes a quality juke these days? It's subjective, but there are some key signifiers: diversity of the records and mood-setting capabilities. In this column we seek out and celebrate the remaining machines. We also measure their success with a one to five drinks scale, based on how long you'll want to linger and listen.

The Haight might be the best place to start a serious jukebox search. With its strong ties to the musical past, the rich history of impromptu park concerts, and easy Amoeba Music scores (plus hippies and crust punks!) it has more classic jukeboxes than most neighborhoods in San Francisco. Here are some highlights from the Upper and Lower Haight.

1. On a brisk Wednesday evening at retro Upper Haight bar Aub Zam Zam, Frank Sinatra came crooning through the classic jukebox. It could have been a whole lot worse. In the many options on any given jukebox, Sinatra ranks pretty high; he's not the Offspring or some other crappy '90s throwaway.

One thing Aub Zam Zam has going for it: the juke absolutely fits the tone of the location it sits within. A dark and moody spot, with a rounded plush red vinyl bar and whiskey bottles stacked high, the Zam Zam has a decidedly nostalgic vibe. And its jukebox fluidly continues this theme with a mix of classic 1930s jazz, blues, and swing peppered with '60-era pop. The pages flip to albums by Bessie Smith, Robert Johnson, Otis Rush, and assorted girl groups. But while the album choices are good, Aub Zam Zam lacks much variety outside of retro classics — it'll be tough keep a listener hanging on all night.

Juke rating: Two drinks.

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