The Tenderloin's Best Jukebox? We Go on the Hunt at 21 Club, Hemlock Tavern, and Geary Club

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 Tenderloin gets a bad rap. Sure, there are often people stumbling through the streets. The sidewalks aren't always terribly sanitary. But the eclectic downtown neighborhood also has many great bars, a glut of late night pizza, and colorful crowds to go with it all. Some of the better jukeboxes in the area have gone digital (Whiskey Thieves, Edinburgh Castle), but a handful of the original jukes remain, hiding out like precious relics in the dim corners of certain dives:

1. You can pretty much guarantee that any night you drop in to Hemlock Tavern, you're going to hear good music. Not only because the refurbished and spacious bar hosts superb local and touring bands every week, but also because the jukebox, which boasts both local and touring bands, perfectly reflects the clientele. On any given page flip, the juke has a healthy smattering of musicians young and old, loud and louder. The centerfold page alone features discs by local garage rockers Thee Oh Sees and the Fresh & Onlys alongside Bikini Kill's singles compilation (a personal favorite), and a disc from revered '70s/'80s punks Bad Brains.

The jukebox compliments the usual Hemlock Tavern crowd (young, hipsterish, party-inclined), there's good variety — and here's the kicker: it's free. As long as there's not a DJ spinning, you can push-button songs on the Hemlock's excellent jukebox to your heart's content.

Juke rating: 5 drinks

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