Which Bar Has North Beach's Best Jukebox?

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.

There's something so classic and romantic about San Francisco's own Little Italy: North Beach. Despite the sometimes-obnoxious crowd it seems to attract, the hood itself exudes a warm, old-timey charm, with vintage architecture and jukeboxes that hold swing and blues songs written and recorded before many of today's bar hoppers were born. On dreary, rain-soaked afternoons, swarms of tourists and locals still flock to its dark, wood-paneled taverns, with fragrant plumes of Italian cooking wafting through the bustling streets.

1. Any bar that has a jukebox full of musical love letters to San Francisco has a special place in our hearts. La Rocca's Corner has the classic Tony Bennett album I Left My Heart in San Francisco, along with an enjoyable mix entitled San Francisco With Fond Memories. The vintage street signs on the walls are a complementary touch.

In addition to the local recognition, the jukebox also offers blues queens Ella Fitgerald and Billie Holiday, soul singer Sam Cooke, and even punk Irish acts such as the Pogues and Dropkick Murphys. There also are common, yet satisfying choices like Motown mixes, Elvis Presley, and Willie Nelson. The bar has a few of its own homemade mixes as well, which usually implies a certain level of respect for its own jukebox.

With ample seating, no-nonsense clientele, plenty of musical options, and a friendly bartender who seemed to favor Billie Holliday tunes on our visit, La Rocca's is worth hanging around. It's a good place to wait out a storm.

Juke rating: 5 drinks

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