San Francisco gay bars are numerous and legendary. If you chuck a stone in San Francisco, chances are pretty good you'll hit a gay bar. While many of the city's legendary gay bars have shuttered over the past few years (especially in the once-lively Polk neighborhood), there are still tons of options to choose from. Check out our selective guide to some of the best San Francisco gay bars.
4121 18th Street (at Castro Street) (415) 626-9320
This famous Castro bar got a massive makeover a few years back, with the beloved, low-key country/western-themed interior getting replaced with a thoroughly modern dance floor, slick, silvery interiors, and too many televisions (all of which blare dance videos by the likes of Britney, Madonna, and Gwen). This is arguably the most popular place to go in the Castro on a Saturday night, for it's the only place in the hood with an actual dance floor. There always seems to be good drink specials advertised outside, and there always seems to be a lot of impossibly good-looking and physically fit men inside.
San Francisco Gay Bars: the Bar on Castro
456 Castro Street (between 17th and 18th Streets) (415) 626-7220
Wildly popular and trendy Castro nightspot looks like it just jumped out of Wallpaper magazine-the walls are coated in vinyl, much of the furniture is space age, and the back room has a kitschy swinging '60s vibe. Expect to see lots of designer labels and plucked eyebrows, big lines to get in on weekends, and everyone inside screaming at one another in attempts to converse over the throbbing dance music. As with most gay bars, the mixed drinks are very strong.
The Cinch Saloon
1723 Polk Street (at Clay Street) (415) 776-4162
One of the last gay bars standing on the once-crammed Polk Street, the Cinch is a very unpretentious and roomy neighborhood hangout that's perfect to hit after catching a movie at one of the many theatres on Van Ness Avenue. There's a bar with tables and chairs up front, two pool tables and pinball machines in the middle of the space, and a nice outdoor smoking patio out back. A very friendly, no-frills place, one that's a big hit with gay sports fans during football season (expect a lot of hah-rah on game days, as well as broadcasts on the televisions of the games).
San Francisco Gay Bars: the Eagle Tavern
398 12th Street (at Harrison Street) (415) 626-0880 Official Website: SF Eagle
Beloved SOMA gay bar appeals to tattoo enthusiasts, queer rockers, artists, bears, bikers, leather lovers and any other type of gay guy who doesn't fit the overly groomed Castro mold. A beautiful, extensive bar awaits you upon entering, and the patio space-which offers two additional bars, darts, a restroom, and elevated stage-is without a doubt one of the biggest backyards of any bar in town. The bartenders are easy to become friends with, and the crowd can be alternately mellow or rowdy, but never leeringly cruisy. There's DJ-spun rock every night, and you're guaranteed to hear stuff you've never heard played before in any gay bar. Every Sunday the Eagle hosts a beer bust from 3pm to 6pm-drink all the Miller draft you can for only 10 dollars. Thursday nights in live music night, with live rock and roll beginning at 9:30 and going till around 1am.
246 Kearny Street (between Sutter and Bush Streets) (415) 989-0282
The only gay bar in the financial district, Ginger's Trois is the place to hit after you loosened your necktie and exited the office for the day. It's a tiny little place decorated with lots of Fred and Ginger memorabilia and twinkling white Christmas lights, and even though it's small, it never seems to get overly crowded. The bartenders are super-nice and love to crack flirty, saucy jokes with their customers, most of whom are regulars. The jukebox has lots of gay standards-Dolly, Tina, Cher-and the overall vibe of the place is extremely friendly and relaxed, most likely because everyone's just gotten off work. Note that Ginger's Trois is not open on weekends, and closes each weeknight between 10 and 10:30pm.
3464 19th Street (between Mission and Valencia Streets) (415) 863-2052
The Lexington Club, or the Lex, which is what it's referred to as by its many loyal customers-is one of two gay bars in the entire city just for the ladies. It is unquestionably the social apex and mecca for hipster dykes and their girlfriends. An unfussy, unstylish bar (thankfully so) that's also quite cozy and comfortable, the Lex has table and chair seating, as well as bar seating, and an amazing jukebox containing tunes by such ladies as Neko Case, PJ Harvey, Le Tigre, and Sleater-Kinney. A friend has told me that the Lex is very cliquish, and that if you're a girl who's new to town, good luck rubbing elbows with the clientele. But every time I've ever been in for a drink (yes, boys are allowed) I've gotten nothing but smiles.
488 Hayes Street (at Octavia Street) (415) 864-6672
Hayes Valley watering hole is almost always pretty quiet, making it one of the few gay bars in town that's quite easy to have a conversation in. The walls are lined with paintings of past SF emperors and empresses, there's a pool table in the back, and a tiny smoking patio to the right of the entrance. On every other Saturday night there's an old-school drag show where you're bound to hear the likes of Judy and Barbra being lip-synched. There's no happy hour, but drinks are always reasonably priced. This is a good place to have a Bloody Mary in on weekend mornings while you're waiting for a table for brunch or lunch next door at Flipper's.
Wild Side West
424 Cortland Avenue (at Andover Street) (415) 647-3099
This awesome, unofficially lesbian (but pretty much all-girl) Bernal Heights bar really, truly does have the look and feel of a saloon out of the Western past. You'll find lots of heavy wood, an ornate, dusty chandelier, old-timey artwork and photographs, and perhaps what makes the bar such a big draw-a beautiful backyard and sculpture garden with lots of little tucked-away spots for hanging out. There's also a pool table for billiards enthusiasts, and the televisions get turned on for big sporting events. While the Wild Side West can be a bit of a pain in the butt to get to if you don't live in the neighborhood, it's always well worth the trip.