San Francisco’s Gay and Lesbian Nightlife

You’ll have no trouble finding a gay bar in the Castro.

You’ll have no trouble finding a gay bar in the Castro. Photo © Torbakhopper, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

San Francisco’s gay nightlife has earned a worldwide rep for both the quantity and quality of options. In fact, the gay club scene totally outdoes the straight club scene for frolicsome fabulous fun. While the City’s queer nightlife caters more to gay men than to lesbians, there’s plenty of space available for partiers of all persuasions. For a more comprehensive list of San Francisco’s queer bars and clubs, visit GayCities.

You’ll have no trouble finding a gay bar in the Castro. One of the best is called simply Q Bar (456 Castro St., 415/864-2877, Mon.-Fri. 4pm-2am, Sat.-Sun. 2pm-2am). Just look for the red neon “Bar” sign set in steel out front. Inside, expect to find the fabulous red decor known as “retro-glam,” delicious top-shelf cocktails, and thrumming beats spun by popular DJs almost every night of the week. Unlike many Castro establishments, the Bar caters to pretty much everybody: gay men, gay women, and gay-friendly straight folks. You’ll find a coat check and adequate restroom facilities, and the strength of the drinks will make you want to take off your jacket and stay awhile.

Looking for a stylin’ gay bar turned club, Castro style? Head for Badlands (4121 18th St., 415/626-9320, daily 2pm-2am). This Castro icon was once an old-school bar with pool tables on the floor and license plates on the walls. Now you’ll find an always-crowded dance floor, au courant peppy pop music, ever-changing video screens, and plenty of gay men out for a good time. Any number of local straight women count themselves among the regulars at this friendly establishment, which attracts a youngish but mixed-age crowd. Do be aware that Badlands gets incredibly crowded, complete with a hot and packed dance floor, especially on weekend nights. There’s a coat check on the bottom level.

The Lexington Club (3464 19th St., 415/863-2052, Mon.-Thurs. 5pm-2am, Fri.-Sun. 3pm-2am) calls itself “your friendly neighborhood dyke bar.” In truth, the Lex offers a neighborhood dive environment and cheap drinks—think $3 sake bombs on Wednesdays. Friendly? Depends on how dyke you are—tats, piercings, short hair, and tank tops make for a better Lex experience.

Unlike some of the harder-core Castro gay clubs, Truck (1900 Folsom St., 415/252-0306, Mon.-Fri. 4pm-2am, Sat.-Sun. 2pm-2am) offers a friendly neighborhood vibe. Truck lures in patrons with cheap drinks, friendly bartenders, and theme nights every week. When it rains outside, they offer two-for-one cocktails. Oh, and yes, that’s a shower. Stop by late on Friday night for the Truck Wash to see it in action.

The Lookout (3600 16th St., 415/431-0306, Mon.-Fri. 3:30pm-2am, Sat.-Sun. 12:30pm-2am, cover $2-5) gets its name and much of its rep from its balcony overlooking the iconic Castro neighborhood. Get up there for some primo people watching as you sip your industrial-strength alcoholic concoctions and nibble on surprisingly edible bar snacks and pizza. Do be aware that the Lookout hosts quite a few “events” that come complete with a cover charge.

Yes, there’s a Western-themed gay bar in San Francisco. The Cinch Saloon (1723 Polk St., 415/776-4162, Mon.-Fri. 9am-2am, Sat.-Sun. 6am-2am) has a laid-back (no pun intended), friendly, male-oriented vibe that’s all but lost in the once gay, now gentrified Polk Street hood. Expect fewer females and strong drinks to go with the unpretentious decor and atmosphere.


Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Coastal California.

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