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San Francisco Nightlife

111 Minna Gallery
111 Minna Street
San Francisco , California
Tel: 415 974 1719

This large, warehouselike space is a gallery and performance venue as well as a bar and club. In the main room, eccentric local art is displayed. On the dance floor, a giant dragonfly dangles from the ceiling, and trippy visuals flicker on the walls. On Wednesdays from 5 to 10 pm, the club hosts Qoöl, the finest happy hour in the city; the after-work crowd dances to techno with a wild enthusiasm usually reserved for Saturday nights. Note that the place has no sign, so it's easy to miss. Look for the bright red door.

Absinthe Brasserie and Bar
398 Hayes Street
San Francisco , California
Tel: 415 551 1590

With copper-topped tables, checkerboard-tile floor, and antique mirrors, genteel Absinthe evokes a French brasserie of the Belle Époque. Its excellent cocktail menu is in keeping with this theme, using recipes, such as the Ginger Rogers, culled from early 20th-century cocktail books. The bar has a separate menu from the adjoining restaurant—chiefly nibbles and small plates, ideal for a bite after the nearby symphony or opera. The soft, flattering light makes this a perfect date choice. Our only regret is the sometimes-snooty staff.

Open Tuesdays and Wednesdays 11:30 am to midnight, Thursdays and Fridays 11:30 am to 2 am, Saturdays 11 am to 2 am, and Sundays 11 am to 10 pm.

Asia SF
201 Ninth Street
San Francisco , California
Tel: 415 255 2742

If you can't commit to the over-the-top drag dinner theater of Teatro ZinZanni, visit Asia SF to admire its gender illusionists. Unlike drag queens, these svelte odalisques in low-cut evening gowns try to look convincingly female. On the hour, they perform lip-synch revues on top of the bar. The vaguely Asian decor includes rice-paper lanterns and shoji screens that shift from pink to gold. Instead of paying an entry fee, customers must purchase one of three reasonably pleasant pan-Asian dinner menus. If you're bringing guests, don't tell them about the "girls," and see how long it takes them to figure it out.

Bourbon & Branch
501 Jones Street
San Francisco , California

Situated in an authentic 1920s speakeasy, Bourbon & Branch is SF's answer to New York and London's Milk & Honey—an unmarked watering hole in Tenderloin that requires an online reservation (the phone number is unpublished) and a password at the door. Okay, now that you've heard the spiel, here's the real deal: If you want a primetime table in the front room on a Thursday, Friday, or Saturday night, then by all means make a ressie. Otherwise, walk-ins are accommodated in the modish mezzanine lounge, secret library room with vintage tomes, and antique tractor seats at the bar. Despite a glam atmosphere—pressed-tin ceilings, velvet wallpaper, and a custom blown-glass chandelier—the artisan cocktails, crafted with homemade ingredients and fresh produce, are the real draw.

Open Mondays through Saturdays 6 pm to 2 am.

580 Sutter Street
San Francisco , California
Tel: 415 398 0195

Dozens of votive candles cast a honeyed glow upon coppery tequila-hued walls and neo-tropical wallpaper inside this cozy Latin art salon and "culinary cocktail" lounge near Union Square. It's a comfortable hole-in-the-wall with cowhide armchairs and wine-barrel tables. Owner Duggan McDonnell is known for his artisanal drinks, and bartenders from around town grab stools at the long bar to watch him mix up exotic cocktails. The blackberry and cabernet caipirinha—available by the pitcher—is a blend of Three Thieves Cab, cachaca, and fresh fruit. Other libations play with hints of pastis, riesling brandy, and sangiovese. If you're stumped about what to order, the margaritas are superb. Deejays spin most evenings, and if you're so moved, there's a tiny space to dance.

Open Mondays through Saturdays 5 pm to 2 am.

Eagle Tavern
398 12th Street
San Francisco , California
Tel: 415 626 0880

The Sunday afternoon beer bust at the Eagle Tavern is—by far—the biggest daytime boy-bar scene in the city. Everyone from leather-clad biker dudes to bicycle shorts–wearing gymheads shows up to swill all-you-can-drink beer on the huge outdoor patio. (If you're still recovering from the night before, you can also take refuge in the always-dark billiards room). It's dinner time when you see a tiny Mexican woman carrying a red cooler; she's the famous “Tamale Lady” and makes some of SF's tastiest. Say yes when she asks if you want hot sauce. The scene peaks between 4 and 6 pm, then dies when the sun goes down.

Open daily noon to 2 am.

The Fillmore
1805 Geary Street
San Francisco , California
Tel: 415 346 6000

Once a 1920s dance hall, the Fillmore is decorated with concert posters dating back to its heyday in the mid-'60s, when legendary rock producer Bill Graham lured some of the biggest names in music here. Santana and the Grateful Dead played the Fillmore before they were widely known. Today, it's still the place to see big-name rock and alt-rock groups, and, strangely, free apples are always provided (a tradition started by Graham). Barring a few balcony seats, admission is standing room only; you can snag a place up front if you arrive early. Don't miss the million-dollar collection of psychedelic concert posters in the upstairs gallery.

Foreign Cinema/Laszlo Bar
2534 Mission Street
San Francisco , California
Tel: 415 648 7600

One wall of this restaurant's expansive heated courtyard functions as a screen for art-house foreign films—but most patrons don't actually watch the movies. Rather, the flickering frames of Antonioni's Blow-Up and Reggio's Koyaanisqatsi serve as a glamorous nighttime backdrop for cocktails and flirting. The California-Mediterranean cuisine is reliably good, although—again—it plays second fiddle to the scene. The adjoining industrial-chic Laszlo bar has rotating DJs. The whole ensemble makes this a great date spot.—Updated by John Vlahides

Open Mondays through Fridays 6 pm to 2 am, Saturdays and Sundays 11 am to 2 am.

46 Minna Street
San Francisco , California
Tel: 415 777 1077

Named for the Barbary Coast–era prostitutes who dominated SoMa back in the day, Harlot is situated on shadowy Minna Street behind a velvet rope and mysterious facade. Until nightfall, it's a moody happy-hour hangout, then it morphs into an ultralounge. The interior features a black-on-black palette, 24-foot onyx bar, leather banquettes, and cowhide accents. Harlot further entices revelers by spoiling them with rare amenities like valet parking and a well-edited wine list, by sommelier Mark Bright (of restaurant Michael Mina); bottles come with olives, nuts, and local chocolates. There's also a white-on-white upstairs VIP lounge with table service. Wednesdays and Thursdays draw a mostly local crowd, particularly at happy hour; on weekends, the place gets overrun by Bacchanalian suburbanites. Finicky bouncers pick who comes in: To avoid getting stuck outside, dress smartly.—Updated by John Vlahides

Open Wednesdays through Fridays 5 pm to 2 am, Saturdays 9 pm to 2 am.

Lexington Club
3464 19th Street
San Francisco , California
Tel: 415 863 2052

Considering San Francisco is the gayest city in America, there's a surprising dearth of lesbian bars. Thank goodness for the stalwart Lexington Club, which (accurately) bills itself as "your friendly neighborhood dyke bar." The crowd is on the young side and ranges from shave-headed grrrls with motorcycle helmets under their arms to pin-up glamour gals, all out for a good time. The space is remarkably small, just one room, with a bar running the length of it, and a pool table at one end. On busy nights, the shoulder-to-shoulder scene can get a little raucous; cat fights aren't unheard of here. Seek refuge in the ladies' room, which has possibly the best graffiti in all San Francisco.

2247 Market Street
San Francisco , California
Tel: 415 621 5256

Lime recalls the swinging '60s, with pink-tinted windows, shiny white plastic furniture, and an aggressively (sometimes annoyingly) hip gay clientele. Cocktails are the big thing here; you'll do fine if you order anything muddled, especially mojitos. There's a sexy dining area with swooping booths and a pretty good small-plates menu (try the mini burgers) served until 11 pm on Mondays through Thursdays and until midnight Fridays and Saturdays. But reserve an early table if you want to enjoy dinner conversation: Once the DJs arrive on weekend evenings, the noise level is deafening. Quieter types may prefer to come for the surprisingly good weekend brunch with all-you-can-drink mimosas.

Open Mondays through Thursdays 5 pm to midnight, Fridays 5 pm to 1 am, Saturdays 11 am to 3 pm and 5 pm to 1 am, and Sundays 10:30 am to 3 pm and 5 pm to midnight.

4 Valencia Street
San Francisco , California
Tel: 415 241 0205

The city's only true piano bar, Martuni's draws an always-animated crowd of mostly male bon vivants, ranging in age from 20s to 60s and clad in everything from jeans to tuxedos. The unifying theme here is a love of cocktails and song, specifically martinis, Broadway musicals, and the Great American Songbook. Crooners snag seats at the piano and wait their turn to sing at the open mic. But this ain't karaoke—don't ask to sing if you can't carry a tune, unless you want to flounder, ignored, in the spotlight. If you prefer your music in the background, stick to the front room, where you can sip drinks at high cocktail tables.

Open daily 2 pm to 2 am.

Noc Noc
557 Haight Street
San Francisco , California
Tel: 415 861 5811

Evoking a nuclear fallout shelter, a Dr. Seuss illustration, and a Martian cocktail lounge all in one, Noc Noc may have the strangest interior of any bar you've seen. Neon and black lights illuminate the splatter-painted, zebra-striped space. The TVs on the wall show a permanent snowstorm. The music can get bizarre—think Moog synthesizer space tunes. If you've ever been to Burning Man, you'll fit right in. Come early to secure one of the nooks: Later, the bar can get crowded with Lower Haight locals, some studiously hip, others looking like they just rolled out of bed. No hard liquor is served—only wine, sake, and a great selection of beers. Just don't ask for Bud, Coors, or Miller; they don't serve it. Nothing is common at Noc Noc.—Updated by John Vlahides

Open daily 5 pm to 2 am.

Orbit Room Café
1900 Market Street
San Francisco , California
Tel: 415 252 9525

A cool place to mingle with local Vespa-riding hipsters, the slightly grimy Orbit Room features a pressed-tin ceiling, an Art Deco facade, and rose-colored cone tables. But the real attraction here are the cocktails. The showstopping Bloody Mary gets zing from horseradish-infused vodka and is garnished with five vegetables. Be forewarned: Service is s-l-o-w; order your second round before the first is done.—Updated by John Vlahides

Open Sundays through Thursdays 8 am to midnight, Fridays and Saturdays 7 am to 2 am.

1347 Folsom Street
San Francisco , California
Tel: 415 552 8689

The Powerhouse holds a torch for the old-school gay-bar standard of hard drinks and heavy stares. Though not particularly big, the space has two levels. The well-lit lower bar has a pool table and a mellower vibe, good for socializing with friends; the upstairs attracts guys more focused on hooking up, and there's a smoker's patio outside where new friends go to make out. The regular crowd tends toward 40-somethings, but there's more of a mix during the frequent special events (like strip billiards or ink-and-steel night for the pierced and tattooed). NB: The Powerhouse is an inappropriate place to bring women.

Redwood Room
Clift Hotel
495 Geary Street
San Francisco , California
Tel: 415 929 2372

The Redwood Room, at the Clift Hotel, can be a pickup joint, popular with rich businessmen and bottle blondes, but it also blazes with splendor. With its burnished redwood walls, tiger-striped carpet, and enormous bar carved from a single redwood tree, the room resembles an opulent hunting lodge and has been a San Francisco landmark for decades. Ian Schrager and Philippe Starck took over the place a few years ago, installing now-tired furniture and ugly plasma screens designed to look like oil paintings with shifting eyes, but the legendary room still merits a visit, if only to see the gorgeous woodwork. Just don't come on weekend evenings, when drunk suburbanites jam the place. Try the signature martini drinks; flavors include lavender and lychee.—Updated by John Vlahides

Open Sundays through Thursdays 5 pm to 2 am, Fridays and Saturdays 4 pm to 2 am.

Specs' Twelve Adler Museum Cafe
12 Adler Street
San Francisco , California
Tel: 415 421 4112

Tucked in an alleyway off Columbus Avenue, near the storied City Lights bookstore, this North Beach saloon is at once a dive bar and a museum of oddities. Random-seeming objects dangle from the ceiling, gather dust in display cases, and hang everywhere on the walls. The wacky collection includes a New Guinea bone calendar, a petrified marine mammal's penis, scrimshaw art, and a stuffed mongoose. Genial bartenders cater to a mellow crowd of bohemian regulars who plunk out tunes on the old piano, scribble in their journals, and debate the latest conspiracy theories.—Updated by John Vlahides

Open daily 5 pm to 2 am.

657 Harrison Street
San Francisco , California
Tel: 415 348 0900

An average night's entertainment at Supperclub might include an aerialist, a python-festooned exotic dancer, and a couple of women in cat costumes prowling about on all fours. Guests loll in white beds to watch the dreamlike spectacle and to enjoy standard global-eclectic fare along with cocktails. There are several prix-fixe menus ($35–$70, depending on the day of the week) and only one seating per night, at 7:30—but as with most "dining experiences," the real draw is the experience, not the dining. (If you'd prefer to forgo the food, show up on a Friday or Saturday night after 10 pm, just for drinks and dancing.) Book a table well in advance, and don't wear white—not only will you vanish in the all-white dining room, but when eating in bed, it's far too easy to make a mess of yourself.—Updated by John Vlahides

Open Tuesdays through Sundays 7 pm to 2 am.

Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar
Fairmont Hotel
950 Mason Street
San Francisco , California
Tel: 415 772 5278

Lovers of kitsch will relish the Fairmont's faux-Polynesian bar, its entrance guarded by a stern-faced totem. Inside, there's a dance floor made from an actual ship's deck, and a small lagoon, its surface ruptured by an artificial monsoon every 15 minutes. A live band plays cheesy covers, and the drinks are the umbrella- and fruit-laden concoctions you would expect, such as the "Zombie," which comes in a miniature Easter Island head.

Open Sundays through Thursdays 5 to 11:45 pm, Fridays and Saturdays 5 pm to 12:45 am.

1900 Folsom Street
San Francisco , California
Tel: 415 252 0306

Truck pulls mellow gay guys and gals off the beaten Castro path. It's an easygoing place, with cheap micheladas, burgers, and fries and free shots at the start of happy hour. With its auto-garage decor and no-nonsense attitude, this is the type of place to slug back a few and feel like a real local, particularly on Sunday evenings, when locals stumble from Beer Bust at the Eagle to Truck's always-odd drag show with hot mess Suppositori Spelling. Tuesday nights (men only) are notoriously sexy, but you'll need to find out the password to get in. The rest of the week, it's your classic neighborhood gay joint.—Updated by John Vlahides

Open Mondays through Fridays 11 am to 2 am, Saturdays 4 pm to 2 am, and Sundays 2 pm to 2 am.

199 Valencia Street
San Francisco , California
Tel: 415 255 7505

The city's de facto biker bar is patronized by tattooed Mission hipsters, bicycle-riding twentysomethings, blue-collar dudes in thermal shirts, and, of course, motorcyclists, most of whom favor crotch rockets to Harleys. Though you could hang out indoors by the pool table, the long wooden trestle tables on the enormous outdoor patio are the place to sit—every underground artist comes through here sooner or later. The place gets packed on warm evenings; be prepared to squeeze in where you can. The kitchen serves tasty pub grub such as burgers and barbecued chicken, and the Bloody Marys are damn good. Note: If you don't have an ID, you won't get in, period—no matter how old you look.—Updated by John Vlahides

Open daily 9 am to 2 am.

Information may have changed since the date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.