Best San Francisco gay bars
Queer artistic expression thrives at Oasis, a club and cabaret theater in SoMa. Opened in a former gay bathhouse in 2015 by San Francisco drag legends Heklina and D’Arcy Drollinger, the 8,000 foot space comes alive each weekend for a myriad of amazing performances, including ever-popular interpretations of classic TV shows like Sex and the City, The Golden Girls and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. For drag purists, it’s Oasis’ weekly Saturday revue, Mother, that really kills. The comic, electric show is different each time, with the Queens taking on everything from Disney princesses to pop stars. Grab an exotic cocktail at the Moroccan themed Fez Room then settle in for a mindblowing show of epic proportions.
One of San Francisco’s most illustrious nightlife venues, the Stud has, over the years, drawn a number of queer celebrities to its stage and dance floor. Occupying the corner of 9th and Harrison in SoMa for over 50 years, this worker-owned cooperative (the first worker-owned nightclub in the U.S.) is also the birthplace of the legendary drag show Trannyshack. Every Tuesday night is free “Sing For Your Life” karaoke and every Friday night at 6:30pm, the drag and variety show Drag Alive! takes the stage. When 2am rolls around and you find you just aren’t ready for the party to end, never fear! Thanks to a special late-night license, The Stud’s doors stay open until 3am on Thursdays and Fridays.
Just a few months back, Jolene's opened its loving arms to the lesbian and queer community in the former Darger Bar/Dear Mom space on 16th Street. The self-styled "safe space" is stylish and modern, with a large front room with booths, a pool table and plenty of bar seating, and additional tables in an alcove at the back. The dance floor, brightly lit and papered in tasteful black-and-white breasts, thumps to the beat of DJs on Friday and Saturday nights. Thursday and Friday nights Jolene's kitchen serves satisfying comfort fare with plenty of veggie options. Weekends brunch fare like fried egg sandwiches and chicken and waffles pair perfectly with bottomless mimosas.
The Mix has a more laid back approach to LGBTQ revelry than some of its competitors. A true neighborhood bar in every sense of the word, at The Mix the drinks are strong, the patrons are friendly and the back patio is generous. Regular all-day drink specials—$2 domestic pints on Mondays, $5.50 Hangar 1 Vodka cocktails and $3 beers on Wednesdays and $2.50 Tecates/$5 Tito’s Vodka cocktails on Thursdays—offer just one more reason to drop in, whether it's 7am or 11pm.
One of the few San Francisco gay bars outside of the Castro or SoMa neighborhoods, the Cinch is equal parts dive bar and dance club. Dark even in the middle of the day, this cowboy-themed spot with a pool table and patio is hung with erotic art and, although it’s a little rough around the edges, the Cinch is as friendly as they come.
Once upon a time El Rio was a Brazilian Leather Bar. Today, this brightly colored space caters more to the lesbian crowd, but with plenty of indie bands and nights dedicated to worthwhile causes to draw those from diverse corners of the city. While there are a handful of great queer patios in SF, El Rio's large, light-strung, plant-laden backyard is one of the best with outdoor ping pong competition and free al fresco oysters on Friday evenings at 5:30p.
This friendly neighborhood bar is one of the most low-key options in the Castro. With a blazing fireplace to warm you on foggy days and a jukebox chock full of 80s favorites, this cozy pub will keep you in your seat until last call rolls around. Happy Hour ain't no slouch, either. Find $3 well drinks and bottled beer and $2 Pabst from 12pm to 7pm daily.
The place to see and be seen for everyone from leather-clad bears to tiny twinks to party-hardy lesbians. This legendary biker bar is especially known for its Sunday afternoon beer busts, when dozens of revelers pack cheek-to-jowl on the massive outdoor patio to get shitfaced on $15 all-you-can-drink beer. Live music on Thursday nights are a nice counterpoint to the often wild and unexpected Friday and Saturday night parties that feature everything from lube wrestling to gaymer nights.
Born from the ashes of Ginger’s Trois, one of the Financial District’s classic queer spaces, Ginger’s pays homage to the gay bars of yesteryear. This moodily-lit, brick-walled cocktail lounge has a pool table and a small stage for regular drag shows and karaoke nights. Old-school cocktails like the Lexington Manhattan and Deco Lounge Sidecar are named in honor San Francisco’s early queer spaces.
Big, meaty men gravitate to this self-styled Bear Bar in SoMa. Inside it can be slow on weekdays but wend your way to the rear, past the pool table, past the DJ booths and bathrooms, down the hallway lined with decades of gay memorabilia, to find the crowd chomping cigars and sharing cigarettes on the outdoor patio. On Sunday afternoons, the Lone Star is the default second-choice destination for those in search of an afternoon beer bust.
Club 21 is one of the few gay clubs in the Bay Area that caters to the Latinx community. More than that, the dance floor is massive, the drinks are cheap and there’s free nachos for all. Friday and Saturday nights are for Latin Explosion and La Bota Loca (Latinx cowboy) parties where Go Go dancers shake to latin/house/hip hop or banda music and drag performers strut their stuff.
What Aunt Charlie’s Lounge lacks in location (it’s tucked away in the Tenderloin) it makes up for in character. This postage-stamp sized, pink-lit cocktail lounge and piano bar features the Hot Boxxx Girls, a long-standing drag show, on Friday and Saturday nights (reservations advised). Be sure to bring singles and plan to tip every girl. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, DJs spin power-pop, glamrock, and retro “homo bar” classics.
For forty years, Wild Side West has welcomed queer women and those that love them to their authentic tavern and lush outdoor patio. Wednesday nights are for Miss Kitty's triva, half comedy show, half competition. The rest of the week, the Wild Side is a great spot for a laid back evening beer.
First opened more than 40 years ago, Midnight Sun rejoined the A-list following a 2014 makeover. These days, a mixed crowd of bears and sexy guys in tight tees can’t get enough of this black-box video bar, cueing up nightly for happy hour two-for-one drinks until 9pm. After dark, regular events including 1 Up gaming night on Tuesdays, Wednesday night karaoke and bar-dancing-go-go-boys on Friday and Saturday nights keep the crowd in excellent spirits.
Blackbird draws San Franciscans of all genders, ages and sexual orientations with artisan cocktails served up in vintage-inspired style. The bar offers plenty of intimate spots for conversation along a tufted red-vinyl banquette softly lit with Edison bulbs hanging from a ceiling of salvaged wood—though you may find yourself shouting to be heard above the din at peak times. The back of the bar is dominated by a pool table and photo booth. This place can get crowded at happy hour and on weekends so get there early if you prefer to sit.
Just beyond the shadow of the giant rainbow flag and a few doors down from the famed Castro Theater is San Francisco's first gay bar, Twin Peak's Tavern. This low-key bar tends to be frequented by the neighborhood's older residents which, in combination with the windows lining its walls, has earned this spot the nickname “the Glass Coffin.” Regardless, most everyone will roll into this classic tavern at some point, drawn like martini-chasing moths to its rainbow-colored lights.
This neighborhood spot, with walls of windows that open wide to the street on sunny days, hasn’t changed much since first opening in the 1980s. Nightly drink specials make it a local favorite but not as a cruise bar—Moby Dick is where you go to have a couple drinks with your crew in a no-pressure environment. Behind the bar, a giant fish tank offers a little something to focus on during lulls in conversation and, up the steps at the rear, a pool table and pinball machines allow for a little friendly competition.
Self-styled as “San Francisco’s cruise bar,” the Powerhouse is the place to be if you’re looking to pick-up. The Powerhouse is known for its back patio, where poppers and cigarettes get equal attention, and its crowd, which would prefer to shmooze than dance (despite the DJ spinning house most nights). Thursday nights are Junk Nights, where skivvies-weaqring men compete to win lube, drinks and cash. Leave your girl friends at home; this spot is where the boys go to play.
Late night, this cocktail lounge with laser-cut wood screens, distressed leather sofas and polished brass decor at Beaux transforms into the Castro’s best dance club. Themed parties take place almost nightly, including Wednesday’s Latinx Pan Dulce and Cockshot Tuesdays, where drink specials are available only to those stripped down to their skivvies. On the weekends, events like Manimal Fridays feature platform dancing go-go beasts and $2 well drinks and no cover before 10pm. For the best views of the sweaty crowd, head upstairs to snag a seat on one of the cozy sofas.
This fun-loving biker bar welcomes loudmouth punks and freaky down-to-earth patrons of all types. The Hole in the Wall does its name proud: dark and divey with walls plastered with band posters and news clippings, light-bright installations and motorcycle ephemera. Join one of the bar’s two pool teams or just belly up to the bar for a drink, literally: shirtless men get $2 off all drinks every Thursday night after 10pm.
The White Horse, which opened in the 1930s at a time when it was dangerous for the LGBTQ community to congregate in a space of their own, is the oldest continuously operated gay bar in the United States. And while public opinion has changed drastically over the years, the White Horse Bar remains a friendly space for a drink, no matter what your sexual orientation. With any luck, regular dance parties and drink specials, as well as epic karaoke not once but twice each week (Mondays & Tuesdays), will keep this unassuming dive bar stocked with classic video games, a pool table and a lax smoking policy thriving for the next 90 years.