San Francisco is great during the day when you have clear views down the steep hills, can take in the fog, and enjoy the natural wonder of the city. But the freaks come out at night, as they say, and in SF that's no different.
If you want to return to your middle school's theater room with art on the walls and warm light and bubbly staff, this your spot. It's a collective, nonprofit community radio station set up in an old storefront, in the middle of the nowhere (i.e. the Mission, where people still live). Hosts broadcast live music, poetry, open mics, comedy, and theater.
This is a beautiful event space inside the historic Redstone Building, birth of the first American union. It hosts radical and experimental art shows—from punk mosh pits to 24mm film showings to kinetic sound and video laboratories. Mission School Murals cover the hallways and there's weird sand soap from the 80s in the bathrooms that makes washing your hands another trippy experience.
The Beauty Bar
If you want some fresh old and new school hip-hop, this is your spot. Plus, you can get your nails done at the salon. Obviously there's a photo booth. No ego bullshit on the dancefloor, but there is an old beauty chair. Go with friends and plan to get drunk fast. Check your bag and dance free. Friends 4Ever hold it down Monday nights.
This underground rock spot is the place to listen to all the local indie bands making their way through the city. The jukebox is free, and there's a smoking room where the neighborhood tamale lady will sell you the best tamales of your life. The spot offers great people watching, as a eclectic cast of Polk Street characters pass by while you watch from the island bar. Those same characters may yell at you outside for leaning on their car, but maybe buy a huge bag of peanuts they sell inside for a dollar as a peace offering.
The Elbo Room opened in 1935 during Prohibition, and that wild spirit lives on, hard. Perfect if you're broke, it has the longest happy hour in the city and serves $2 pints from 5 to 9 PM. It's also home to crazy good dance parties like Saturday Night Soul Party and Sunday Night Dub Mission, the kind you sweat out last night's booze as fog filters in under the door.
An awesome new event venue in the Tenderloin that hosts everything you want to spend money on, Piano Fight features live jazz at the bar, a sit-down restaurant, and a cabaret stage and theater. It has monthly talk shows like Live Sex and Sunday Brunch Red Hots Burleque. It's a really good place to bring a hot date, and the owners have opened the shop up graciously to shows from local producers.
Little Baobab is a Senegalese and West African restaurant that turns into an amazing late night dance party after 10 PM that features live bongos and Caribbean R&B. If that weren't flavorful enough: The place also has food to live for and unparalleled honey wine. A warm, welcoming staff gives the restaurant the feel of a community center. It hosts an eclectic array of weekly and monthly events, everything from DJ parties to live music, dance performance to World Cup parties, film screenings, art exhibitions, and spoken word. Go during the week if you don't like crowds.
Adobe Books & Arts Cooperative
Adobe is a community hotspot for San Francisco literature, art, and experimental music since the 90s and has since been turned into a co-op to keep it alive amid rent inflation. The new location feels like a home library out of the Hobbit curated by a hipster, and it hosts literary readings, movie and book clubs, birthday parties, and experimental music and comedy shows. There's a backroom art gallery that's pretty sweet too.
Punchline Comedy Club
San Francisco's longest-running comedy club nestled inside San Francisco's Financial District, the Punchline nurtured stars like Robin Williams, Chris Rock, and Drew Carey when they were starting out. It has a two drink minimum, but they're strong, and the comedy's better if you're feeling a little buzzed. It's super intimate and cozy, so there's a very good chance the comedians will make some jokes at your expense at some point during the evening. Food is meh.
Zam Zam Bar
A historic Assyrian bar holding down the same vibes since 1941, Zam Zam's Moorish arches and beautiful mural inside will make you feel real again. You'll need refuge from the Haight Street commodity culture, and Zam Zam has tons of nooks and crannies to get cozy in. It's known for its dry martini, and its jukebox that plays blues and old R&B. Bring your dog in if you have one. Cash only. It's a neighborhood crowd, so don't expect the bartender to stop the conversation he's having to fetch something for you.
Huge club that caters to a wide variety of shows, from hosting experimental soundscape artists like Pamela Z to deep-house DJs like Miguel Migs. It's got a cocktail bar, occasional aerialist performances, and a free photo booth for us selfie sluts. Tuba chandeliers complete the steampunk ambiance. Downstairs it's all warehouse grime, a great dance floor space, and a $500,000 sound system. On Tuesdays, it hosts a rad eclectic bass music night and serves tacos upstairs. Order one of their cocktails like the Darkness to feel like a badass version of yourself.
The Knockout is long on obnoxious hipster vibes, but it won't stop you from having a good time here. There's a dance floor that'll help you forget all your problems, and a smoke machine that'll blast away your regrets. The place has stellar bingo nights, great live bands, a photo booth, and an aces photo hunt machine.
The Public Works
Electronic music's premier venue, the Public Works features a Bansky mural out front, but don't let that stop you from coming inside. Inside there's plenty of room to wander around, and a smaller place inside called the Loft, so chances are you won't get bored. Wear a costume, and you won't be the only one.
Travis Marina Bar
For those seeking a cougar or an older man, a classic California coast experience, or simply the best goddamn view of the Golden Gate Bridge, we implore you to go to the Travis Marina Bar, also known as the Presidio Yacht Club. This bar has the ambience of Twin Peaks, and it is stocked with grouchy old men. It makes basic but beautiful burgers (Bob's Special has grilled onions and green peppers), and live bands Friday and Saturday night cover rock 'n' roll from decades long past. If you're younger than 40 and tear up this dance floor, you will never feel more attractive in your life.