Native San Franciscans are often down on their bar and club options, but we can attribute much of this to familiarity breeding contempt. For the tourist, few cities save New York offer such a broad range of nightlife options for gay women and men. The options change literally on a daily basis, as many bars are popular on only one or two nights a week, and most of the clubs are single-night-of-the-week affairs. The club nights all have names independent of the physical club spaces in which they happen. Check the local rags for up-to-the-minute listings.
CASTRO The Bar On Castro (456 Castro St.) has floor-to-ceiling doors looking out onto Castro Street and velvet-covered lounge chairs and sofas. In its new incarnation as a modern and open space, it attracts an upbeat and more mixed crowd. This is an extremely popular hangout on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. If you get there past 10 p.m., you may find yourself in line outside waiting to get in.
The Café (2369 Market St; 415-861-3846) was originally a lesbian hang out, attracting women from the city and the suburbs alike. It is now fairly mixed (and hosts mostly men on Sundays), although it's not as thrilling, perhaps, as it once was. SF Badlands (4121 18th St, near Castro St; 415-626-9320) has become one of the city's most consistently crowded and lively gay bars and small dance clubs in recent years. It's infused with a contemporary, high-tech feeling. A friendly, youthful, cruisy crowd awaits. This is a good spot to spend an evening or kick-start a Castro pub crawl.
Levi-and-leather joint 440 Castro (440 Castro St; 415-621-8732), formerly known as Daddy's, remains friendly to bearish, hirsute men who are chatty and down-to-earth, although it draws an eclectic crowd. Lookout Bar (3600 16th St; 415-431-0306) has a great balcony overlooking all the action at the busy intersection of 16th and Market.
Midnight Sun (4067 18th St; 415-861-4186) is a popular cruise video bar. The videography is brilliant and the crowd is clean-shaven and gelled. It's a bit attitude-y in here by the typically easy-going San Francisco standards. Nowhere else have so many said so little to so few. Twin Peaks Tavern (401 Castro St; 415-864-9470) was the first gay bar in America with street-level pane glass windows. It's still busy after all these years (day and night) and generally attracts a friendly crowd of guys 40 and older.
Mecca (2029 Market St; 415-621-7000) is an elegant bar/restaurant with a mostly dressed-up, stand-and-model crowd, busiest on Friday nights. There's a Ladies' Night, geared toward lesbians, on Thursday nights, which kicks off during the 5 p.m. happy hour. Pilsner Inn ( 225 Church St, at Market; 415-621-7058) is also hot on Friday nights, packed full of young and attractive patrons; mostly men, although there's a sizable contingent of women. Enjoy of game of pinball or darts, or sneak a smoke in the pleasantly crowded patio in back. This is where in-the-know San Franciscans booze and cruise post-dinner and pre-dancing.
Deep in the heart of the Castro, Harvey's (500 Castro St; 415-431-HARV) attracts a laid-back and casual crowd. Harvey's has a sleek, sophisticated look, with pastas, seafood dishes, and sandwiches on offer from the kitchen. Nearby is Moby Dick (4049 18th St; 415-861-1199), a nondescript but popular spot that lacks the overwhelming meat-market quality of most Castro bars.
Similarly laid-back and neighborhood-y in feel, The Edge (4149 18th St.; 415-863-4027) pulls in a mix of guys, from leather-and-Levi's types to Western-cowboy fans. Nearby, The Men's Room (3988 18th St.; 415-861-1310) is also on the sleepy side, drawing an older bunch of neighborhood locals. Since Uncle Bert's became The Mix (4086 18th St; 415-431-8616), an influx of new blood in the form of a 25-40ish crowd is stealing a bit of the Pilsner's thunder. Like the Pilsner, it has a cheery patio.