Whether you’re looking for drag that slays, somewhere to watch “the game,” or just a nice dive to let your hair down among San Franciscans of the homosexual persuasion, here are the best gay bars to visit in the gayest little city in the world (written by a very biased gay dude in San Francisco).
The Castro’s classics
Twin Peaks Tavern (401 Castro St.)
Back in the 70s, gay bars in town blacked out their windows so that pedestrians couldn’t see in and gay patrons could drink in privacy. In 1972, Twin Peaks Tavern, next-door to the famous Castro theater, bucked that trend and catered to the out and proud. It’s an iconic spot (with an iconic sign) that attracts gay guys of all ages.
Toad Hall (4146 18th St.)
So you want to meet a one-night acquaintance and dance to Britney Spears at 1 a.m.? Order your Uber to Toad Hall in the heart of the Castro—regular drag events, karaoke nights, and dance competitions make this bar the place to be when you need to let loose.
Hi Tops Sports Bar (2247 Market St.)
This might be the most likely place to meet guys in San Francisco who have “Masc4Masc” in their dating app profile. If you don’t know what that means, consider Hi Tops Sports Bar a good place to get familiarized.
A must-visit in the Mission District
El Rio (3158 Mission St.)
Over in the Mission District, El Rio has created a safe space for folks of any ID—gay men, lesbians, radical punks, and just about everyone else. Their backyard is one of the best outdoors spaces to drink in town and home to many of the most frequented gay parties in San Francisco, including Mango for the ladies and Hard French for the guys.
SoMa (South of Market St.) spots
The Stud (1535 Folsom St.)
While the clean-cut crowd stays in the Castro, the rest of San Francisco’s queer scene congregates in SoMa, where you’ll find The Stud and a mix of hairy chests, jean jackets, off-duty drag queens, and working drag queens. This bar has been home to creative outsiders since the late 60s when folks like John Waters frequented it. Go Tuesday nights for the Sing Your Life karaoke party. You’ll see local queens cover everything from Robyn and Whitney Houston to Bjork and Marilyn Manson.
Oasis (298 11th St.)
In the event it’s Saturday and you’re craving drag, try Oasis. Housed in a former bathhouse, this SoMa nightclub features weekly cabaret shows and live DJ dance parties. What it lacks in gritty charm, Oasis makes up for in space and a sparkly stage.
The Eagle (398 12th St.)
The Eagle is a go-to for the LBGTQ crowd that attends San Francisco’s Folsom Street Fair (the biggest fetish convention on the planet). On Sundays, they throw a backyard BBQ—show up in the early afternoon for all-you-can-drink specials.
Lone Star Saloon (1354 Harrison St.)
Another highlight of SoMa, the Lone Star Saloon is equal parts hipsters and bears—the sort of low-key spot where you’ll probably make friends with both the bartenders and the folks sitting by your side.
Hole In the Wall Saloon (1369 Folsom St.)
Chains and motorcycle hardware decorate this SoMa pub, run by gay bikers. Hole In the Wall Saloon is great when you want a quiet dive—go on Thursdays, take off your shirt, get a deal on your drink.
Powerhouse (1347 Folsom St.)
Leather, mohawks, chains, and chaps: With event names like “Junk” and “Pulled Out of the Closet,” let’s just say this spot is NOT for prudes.
The Tenderloin’s top tavern
Aunt Charlie’s Lounge (133 Turk St.)
Smack dab in the middle of the Tenderloin sits a piece of Old-School San Francisco and a digital detox: Aunt Charlie’s Lounge does not allow cell phones. The walls of the long, narrow space are plastered with NSFW reading material from the 70s. Go Thursday night after 1o p.m. for the disco dance party.
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