Mission and Castro
These neighborhoods seem to hold a whole city’s worth of bars. The Mission, despite a recent upswing in its economy, still has plenty of no-frills bars, many with a Latino theme. And of course, men seeking men flock to the Castro’s endless array of gay bars. (But if you’re a lesbian, the Mission might be a better bet.)
For folks who believe that “bar” means “live music,” there’s Blondie’s Bar and No Grill (540 Valencia St., 415/864-2419, www.blondiesbar.com, Mon.–Thurs. 4 p.m.–2 a.m., Fri.–Sun. 2 p.m.–2 a.m.). Specializing in Latin, jazz, and funk, Blondie’s has all sorts of acts playing throughout the week. A dance floor complements the bar’s musical nature, but it’s the martinis that make Blondie’s special. A second bar operates in the lounge on weekend evenings. Blondie’s is known to locals as something of a tourist trap and haven for the bridge-and-tunnel crowd, but that doesn’t stop it from being lots of fun.
Dalva (3121 16th St., 415/252-7740, daily 4 p.m.–2 a.m.) is a small but sophisticated oasis in an ocean of overcrowded Mission hipster hangouts. You’ll find dramatic high ceilings, modern paintings, and a jukebox stuffed with indie rock and electronica.
You’ll have no trouble finding a gay bar in the Castro. One of the best is called simply The Bar on Castro (456 Castro St., 415/626-7220, www.thebarsf.com, Mon.–Fri. 4 p.m.–2 a.m., San.–Sun. 2 p.m.–2 a.m.). 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. Check the website for a list of weekly events and pick your favorite night to show up and party. Believe it or not, the Bar even has a ladies’ night! 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 here, and the strength of the drinks will make you want to take off your jacket and stay awhile.
The Mission and the Castro are the clubbing districts in San Francisco, and as the urban renewal continues, SoMa is making its own play to create a hot nightlife rep. Naturally the biggest concentration of gay clubs sits in the Castro.
Looking for something a little different in the Mission? Check out Levende Lounge (1710 Mission St., 415/864-5585, www.levendesf.com, Wed.–Fri. 5 p.m.–2 a.m., Sat. 6 p.m.–2 a.m., Sun. 11 a.m.–4 p.m.). This new-school establishment fuses two of the coolest things in San Francisco; a high-end restaurant and top-shelf cocktail bar come together to bring you in early and keep you in late. The short but luscious world cuisine–inspired menu is served until 11 p.m. most nights, while the cocktail and wine bar stays open late. Margaritas are the house specialty, but don’t overlook the other mixed drinks and the wine selection. Or if you’re hung over on a Sunday morning and in need of replenishment, Levende can hook you up with some hearty made-to-order brunch fare.
Fans of the hipster lounge scene flock to the Fluid Ultra Lounge (662 Mission St., 415/615-6888, www.fluidsf.com, Thurs.–Sat. 9 p.m.–2 a.m., cover varies). The second you walk in, you’ll probably feel you’re not chic enough for this David Oldroyd–designed postmodern wonderland. Gleaming metal meets fascinating floral-esque accessories in a series of rooms that boast really uncomfortable white chairs. If you’re not up for lots of young and ultra cool clubsters, you may find the decor the best part of Fluid. You can definitely dance on an interestingly lit floor, though it can be tough to pry a drink out of the bartenders at times. Come early or get your name on the guest list (you can sign up online) to avoid the hefty cover charge.
Looking for a stylin’ gay bar-turned-club, Castro style? Head for Badlands (4121 18th St., 415/626-9320, www.sfbadlands.com, daily 2 p.m.–2 a.m.). 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. Are you a straight woman who loves the energy and lack of sleaze at gay clubs? You’re welcome to get your groove on at Badlands! Any number of local straight ladies 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.
© Liz Hamill Scott from Moon California, 2nd Edition