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20 Essential Gay Bars in San Francisco

Where to go dancing and drinking around the Bay area

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It is unfortunate but true that gay nightlife is on a downswing nationwide as more LGBTQ people turn to smartphone apps to find mates and hookups. But while longtime queer-friendly spaces may be disappearing in San Francisco and other cities, queer people in most of America, including here, understand that actual, physical social spaces are still vital to the culture.

Two neighborhoods where gay nightlife thrived in the 1970s, the Castro and SoMa, are still home to the majority of SF’s gay bars, and Oakland is home to what is likely the longest continuously operating gay bar in the country, The White Horse, which officially opened in 1933 at the end of Prohibition. Meanwhile, Polk Street, where an explosion of gay bars began in the mid-1960s and continued through the 1990s, has only one sole survivor from that era, The Cinch.

When it comes to dancing, you can find some at a couple of SF spots (and the “White Ho”) on a regular basis, but big dance clubs are now a thing of the past. For SF gays, it’s all about monthly themed parties, often held at locations that are straight most other nights.

Below, a selection of the most essential spots for LGBTQ boozing around the Bay, listed geographically from West to East.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. The Edge

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4149 18th St
San Francisco, CA 94114

Named because it sits at the actual western edge of the Castro neighborhood, The Edge is a mostly locals-only bar that draws a diverse SF crowd, in terms of both age and race. It’s a cozy, narrow spot that still manages to host Thursday drag shows and occasional DJs and fundraisers. Mondays, Wednesdays, and sometimes Sundays are reserved for musical theater starting around 7 p.m., with videos of musicals on film and stage playing all night (Mondays include Disney, Wednesdays do not). There are two-for-one drinks on Mondays and Wednesdays all night, and at Happy Hour, and drink specials all week long, because the Castro likes to get people very drunk.

2. 440 Castro St

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440 Castro St
San Francisco, CA 94114

Once upon a time this place was called Daddy’s, and that name still defines the crowd here, where beards and bellies are most welcome. Mid-week DJs cater to more mature tastes, with a well curated selection of videos from the 70s to the 90s, and you’ll find go-go boys dancing for dollars on certain nights. The space is kept dark and extends back to a mezzanine with a second bar and coat-check closet that they put to good use on Underwear Night (Mondays). There are also drink specials galore, as there are in most of the Castro, including $2 beers all night on Tuesdays, and two-for-one drinks on Wednesdays and at happy hour most days.

3. QBar

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456 Castro St
San Francisco, CA 94114

One of the something-for-everyone mainstays of the Castro strip, QBar keeps it fresh with a weekly lesbian party (Vice Tuesdays), a Sunday Latin party and hip-hop night (Gigante), and plenty more rotating events. Like most bars in the ‘hood, Q Bar competes for the happy hour crowd with strong two-for-one drinks. The DJ booth, tiny dance floor, and video screens make for bumping parties when you catch this place at the right time. It’s also a reliable place to watch Drag Race, there’s a pop-focused drag party called Poppers on Thursdays, and weekends often feature hip-hop, as well as a new Saturday throwback party for mixed crowds called Cake.

The bar at QBar
QBar/Facebook

4. Twin Peaks Tavern

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401 Castro St
San Francisco, CA 94114
(415) 864-9470
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Nicknamed “The Glass Coffin” many years ago because of its big windows and perennial popularity with neighborhood seniors, Twin Peaks is a warm and welcoming little bar with carpet and Tiffany lamps, geared toward quiet conversation. It’s plenty popular with younger people these days, especially after 10 p.m., and famously, the two tiny bathrooms here always smell like cookies, thanks to the exhaust vents from Hot Cookie next door wafting in through the windows. Historical trivia: This was one of the first gay bars in the country — and definitely the first in the Bay Area — to feature big-paned windows facing the street, meaning that people who came here weren’t trying to hide who they were to passersby. For that reason, it’s now a city landmark. Also, it’s the perfect spot to grab a hot toddy or Irish Coffee on a chilly night.

Twin Peaks Tavern
Google/Rahul Bajaj

5. The Mix

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4086 18th St
San Francisco, CA 94114
(415) 431-8616
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Probably the most diverse bar in the Castro, The Mix is a favorite of famed LGBT rights activist Cleve Jones, among other longtime denizens of the ‘hood. The pool table up front tends to attract some serious sharks, while the patio in back is big with smokers. Drinks are stiffer than stiff here, generally, and it is not uncommon to find gaggles of new friends shout-talking in circles over a smoke on the patio after their third or fourth round. Also, The Mix opens early (6 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday, 7 a.m. every other day), for all those late nights that become mornings where you’re on your third wind.

A crowded patio at SF gay bar The Mix
The Mix San Francisco
Facebook/The Mix

6. Midnight Sun

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4067 18th St
San Francisco, CA 94114
(415) 861-4186
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One of the oldest bars in the Castro, Midnight Sun is what they used to call a “video bar,” and it is still known as a comfortable place where music videos and occasional SNL clips are played on the multiple screens circling the room. The place is big with the bear community, who descend in droves for Friday happy hour, and happy hour is generally pretty busy here with two-for-one drinks served until 9 p.m., and go-go boys on the bar on weekends. Mondays are for drag, with a party hosted by Mercedes Munro. Tuesdays you can find people here playing board games and video games, and Wednesdays are all about karaoke, with a $100 cash prize.

7. Beaux

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Beaux, 2344 Market Street
San Francisco, CA 94114

For those who live in town, want to dance, and are too embarrassed to be seen at Badlands or Toad Hall, there’s Beaux. It’s a little of West Hollywood mixed with a bit of Millennial San Francisco, and it’s the first stop of all the Rupaul’s Drag Race stars whenever they pass through town. Wednesdays are Latin nights, Thursdays draw the biggest local crowd and are focused on ’90s and 2000s top-forty remixes, while weekends tend to bring in LGBT kids (and their friends) from all over the Bay for crowded, boozy dance parties that always go ‘til 2 a.m. Sundays and occasional weekday nights feature drag performances from local queens and Drag Race celebs alike. The sound system is good, the drinks are stiff, and there’s a small upstairs for whenever you need a minute to breathe.

A post shared by BEAUX (@beauxincastro) on

8. Last Call Bar

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3988 18th St
San Francisco, CA 94114
(415) 861-1310
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This petite spot on 18th Street in the Castro is no-nonsense little watering hole that is also a great spot for a first date or a quiet drink with a friend after dinner. It has the air of a ski chalet thanks to the wood-paneled barrel ceiling and the vintage orange fireplace in the back corner. There’s only a handful of spots at the bar, but the place generally isn’t at capacity, and there’s usually an old movie playing silently on the TV above. Also, the jukebox here is pretty awesome, and it’s a draw for those in the know who feel like they need to DJ for an hour.

9. Hi Tops

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2247 Market St
San Francisco, CA 94114
(415) 551-2500
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The only gay sports bar in town, Hi Tops is known for crowded, mixed, raucous scenes on big game days, as well as a less sports-centric crowd on weekend nights and Thursday nights, which is the only “party” night here, with go-go and shot boys and a locals-only scene. There’s a cocktail menu and a food menu with an above-average burger and a great fried chicken sandwich, and trivia night (Tuesday) is pretty popular as well. Hi Tops was featured in Sports Illustrated back when it opened five years ago via a now famous photo of two male 49ers fans, in jerseys, kissing after a touchdown. Because yes, there are gay sports fans. This is 2019. Get with the program.

10. Cinch Saloon

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1723 Polk St
San Francisco, CA 94109
(415) 776-4162
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It’s the last remaining gay bar in what was once the gayest neighborhood in town, the Polk, and The Cinch is still going strong after 45 years, drawing a mostly neighborhood — and sometimes very mixed — crowd. It’s vaguely Western themed and covered in art, with pool tables in back and an intact smoking porch. They watch Drag Race here on Thursdays when it’s in season, and Sundays are for beer busts, often benefiting a local gay sports team. Otherwise, it’s a come-as-you-are, welcoming sort of spot that’s a last holdout among SF’s neighborhood queer bars.

11. Wild Side West

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424 Cortland Ave
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 647-3099
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This charming dive out in the wilds of Bernal Heights is still lesbian-owned, and if it’s not exactly a lesbian bar, it’s still an essential place. Named for an obscure early 1960s film that featured Barbara Stanwyck as a lesbian madame, the bar began life in the East Bay before relocating first to North Beach in 1968 (Janis Joplin used to hang out there, as did some of the women who danced topless in nearby clubs), and ultimately to this space in Bernal in 1977, where original owners Pat Ramseyer and Nancy White lived conveniently upstairs. Over the years the place has taken on an easy-going, neighborhood character, and the quirky patio with its toilet bowl planters has a story, too. Two broken toilets were among several objects that crashed through the bar’s windows in the early years, as working class Bernal denizens didn’t take too kindly to a gay bar in their midst in the 1970s. And while lesbians still make their way here regularly due to the significant lesbian population that took root in this neighborhood, the crowd tends to be fairly mixed and LGBT-friendly these days, with a younger generation of straight folks who call Bernal Heights home hanging out here too.

Wild Side West

12. OASIS

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298 11th St
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 795-3180
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This large SoMa club co-owned by drag queens Heklina and D’Arcy Drollinger has been a bright spot for LGBT nightlife, providing a venue for dozens of regular dance parties, drag shows, and cabaret stars passing through town like Justin Vivian Bond and Our Lady J. The front bar sometimes plays host to its own smaller events, like Drag Race viewing parties, and in addition to the large dancefloor area and back bar, there’s a sizable roof deck that gets used more in the warmer months — and usually features a pop-up taco stand. It’s the biggest club on this list and very community-focused, and was a welcome addition to the otherwise dwindling nightlife landscape when it opened three years ago. And, in addition, this is the venue for one of the biggest lesbian parties in town, U-Haul, every second Friday of the month.

OASIS
Twitter/OASIS

13. Jolene’s Bar and Restaurant

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2700 16th St
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 913-7948
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San Francisco, which basically lacked a lesbian bar since the closure of the Lexington Club, has one again thanks to a trio of queer owners — Jolene Linsangan, Ashleigh Wilson, and Shannon Amitin, who opened Jolene’s in December 2018. It’s a home for popular parties like UHAUL SF, although quality cocktails and a full menu— Amitin previously ran the Tenderloin restaurant Farm : Table — make Jolene’s as much a place to eat and socialize as to dance. — Caleb Pershan

14. The Eagle Tavern

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398 12th St
San Francisco, CA 94103

Revived after near extinction a couple years back, the SF Eagle is the stomping ground of SF’s leather community, as well as home to the biggest outdoor patio of any place on this list. Sunday beer busts have traditionally been some of the busiest times to come here, with things typically winding down after sundown, but monthly parties like Bearracuda and Pound Puppy bring in good DJs and draw a younger crowd — including some puppy play fetishists (go ahead, look it up). It’s a big place that needs a lot of people to make it feel full, which it definitely does on theme nights and on Folsom Street Fair weekend.

15. Powerhouse

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1347 Folsom St
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 552-8689
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Easily SF’s raunchiest gay bar, and one the keeps the tradition of SoMa cruising alive, Powerhouse is both a leather-friendly gay dive and host of many nightly themed parties that lean toward kink — there are wet underwear contests as well as smelly armpit contests, and much, much more. Weekends feature DJs and dancing on the back dancefloor, and this place has a smoking porch behind the dancefloor where just about anything goes. Famously, this place has a highly sexual mural frieze painted along a beam that runs down the center of the bar, which dates back to this place’s early days a leather bar, and it’s still probably one of the least comfortable places to bring along female friends. Drinks are fairly cheap here, especially compared to nearby spots like Oasis and the other 11th Street clubs, and these days the crowd tends to be a mix of young hip kids, fetish fans, drag queens (particularly at the monthly parties Powerblouse and Beat Pig, every first and third Saturday), and the old guard.

Grant S./Yelp

16. Aunt Charlie's Lounge

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133 Turk St
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 441-2922
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The grandaddy (great aunt?) of queer bars in the Tenderloin, Aunt Charlie’s plays host to a rotating cast of hip kids and neighborhood alcoholics, as well as tourists from all over who catch wind of the rag-tag and very old-school weekend drag show, The Hot Boxxx Girls. Thursday nights are for disco, specifically the vintage DJ stylings of Bus Station John at his 14-year-old party Tubesteak Connection, which still draws a young and cruisy crowd. It’s a well-worn place that feels authentically San Francisco, and like a window into the gay dive bars that used to dot every neighborhood in the city but are now mostly gone. And the drinks here, given the pedigree and likely cheap rent, are some of the cheapest in town.

17. Lone Star Saloon

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1354 Harrison St
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 863-9999
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Bears love the Lone Star, and over the years this has become their clubhouse. The expansive back patio (with its own bar) gets crowded during beer busts and occasional weekend parties like Cubcake, but generally this place has room for moving around, and space to play pool in the main bar. It’s also a fun place for day parties, like the throwback Saturday disco party Love Hangover, where disco blasts inside and on the patio. Along with The Stud, the Lone Star applied for and was granted Legacy Business status, meaning it will hopefully be saved from development pressures as the years go on.

18. The Stud

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399 9th St
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 863-6623
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The oldest bar on this list besides the White Horse in Oakland is the venerable (and currently very vulnerable) Stud. Originally opened in a different location in 1965, the business was bought by a collective of LGBTQ folks who have been running it as a co-op the last two years, and the kooky array of rotating events in the space includes furry parties, burlesque, karaoke, drag shows, and dance parties just about every weekend. The drinks are stiff, there’s one bathroom that’s been broken for years, and anyone who’s been here knows the vibe is special, and the space feels lived-in and historic. In addition to hosting plenty of famous people over the decades including Charo and Bjork, this was the original home of Heklina’s infamous Trannyshack party, which is now called Mother and happens weekly at Oasis. Unfortunately, due to development pressures that have impacted all of the SoMa neighborhood, The Stud will likely have to close and relocate in the next year or two, but details on that remain TBA, and you should experience the original while you still can.

19. The Port Bar

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2023 Broadway
Oakland, CA 94612
(510) 823-2099
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This smallish bar on Broadway in Oakland’s downtown is one of just two full-time LGBT bars in the East Bay, along with the White Horse. After opening a couple of years back, it’s become a well loved watering hole for Oakland’s diverse gay community, as well as the official after-party spot for Oakland Pride. The crowd is very mixed (men and women) but weekend nights tend to cater to gay dudes. They do a “big gay trivia” game here on Tuesdays, and Friday and Saturday nights feature go-go boys, occasional underwear parties, and a rotating cast of local drag queens and DJs, some from across the pond in SF. Sunday nights are hosted by Carne Asada and feature both comedy and musical performances.

The Port Bar
Vincent L./Yelp

20. The White Horse

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6551 Telegraph Ave
Oakland, CA 94609

Though it looks nothing like it did back then, and barely like it did a few years ago thanks to a recent remodel, The White Horse is very possibly the oldest continually operating gay bar in the country. As the story goes, when Prohibition ended, the owners had the bar building moved across the city line from Berkeley to Oakland, because in 1933 Berkeley briefly became a dry city. This means the bar’s official opening date was in 1933, but it seems highly likely that it was operating as a gay speakeasy catering to the liberal university crowd, right at the outskirts of town, during the 1920s. Longtime White Horse regulars still remember going there in the 1950s and ’60s, during a time when gay and lesbian bars in San Francisco were constantly getting raided and shut down by the police, and for reasons now unknown, the White Horse was always left alone. These days the big dance floor in back provides a regular weekend escape for LGBT kids from Cal, and the front bar is a regular weeknight hangout for East Bay lesbians, gays, and their friends. Note that the pool table up front, which now adjoins a front smoking porch, can get very smoky and is walled off from the rest of the bar.

1. The Edge

4149 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94114

Named because it sits at the actual western edge of the Castro neighborhood, The Edge is a mostly locals-only bar that draws a diverse SF crowd, in terms of both age and race. It’s a cozy, narrow spot that still manages to host Thursday drag shows and occasional DJs and fundraisers. Mondays, Wednesdays, and sometimes Sundays are reserved for musical theater starting around 7 p.m., with videos of musicals on film and stage playing all night (Mondays include Disney, Wednesdays do not). There are two-for-one drinks on Mondays and Wednesdays all night, and at Happy Hour, and drink specials all week long, because the Castro likes to get people very drunk.

4149 18th St
San Francisco, CA 94114

2. 440 Castro St

440 Castro St, San Francisco, CA 94114

Once upon a time this place was called Daddy’s, and that name still defines the crowd here, where beards and bellies are most welcome. Mid-week DJs cater to more mature tastes, with a well curated selection of videos from the 70s to the 90s, and you’ll find go-go boys dancing for dollars on certain nights. The space is kept dark and extends back to a mezzanine with a second bar and coat-check closet that they put to good use on Underwear Night (Mondays). There are also drink specials galore, as there are in most of the Castro, including $2 beers all night on Tuesdays, and two-for-one drinks on Wednesdays and at happy hour most days.

440 Castro St
San Francisco, CA 94114

3. QBar

456 Castro St, San Francisco, CA 94114
The bar at QBar
QBar/Facebook

One of the something-for-everyone mainstays of the Castro strip, QBar keeps it fresh with a weekly lesbian party (Vice Tuesdays), a Sunday Latin party and hip-hop night (Gigante), and plenty more rotating events. Like most bars in the ‘hood, Q Bar competes for the happy hour crowd with strong two-for-one drinks. The DJ booth, tiny dance floor, and video screens make for bumping parties when you catch this place at the right time. It’s also a reliable place to watch Drag Race, there’s a pop-focused drag party called Poppers on Thursdays, and weekends often feature hip-hop, as well as a new Saturday throwback party for mixed crowds called Cake.

456 Castro St
San Francisco, CA 94114

4. Twin Peaks Tavern

401 Castro St, San Francisco, CA 94114
Twin Peaks Tavern
Google/Rahul Bajaj

Nicknamed “The Glass Coffin” many years ago because of its big windows and perennial popularity with neighborhood seniors, Twin Peaks is a warm and welcoming little bar with carpet and Tiffany lamps, geared toward quiet conversation. It’s plenty popular with younger people these days, especially after 10 p.m., and famously, the two tiny bathrooms here always smell like cookies, thanks to the exhaust vents from Hot Cookie next door wafting in through the windows. Historical trivia: This was one of the first gay bars in the country — and definitely the first in the Bay Area — to feature big-paned windows facing the street, meaning that people who came here weren’t trying to hide who they were to passersby. For that reason, it’s now a city landmark. Also, it’s the perfect spot to grab a hot toddy or Irish Coffee on a chilly night.

401 Castro St
San Francisco, CA 94114

5. The Mix

4086 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94114
A crowded patio at SF gay bar The Mix
The Mix San Francisco
Facebook/The Mix

Probably the most diverse bar in the Castro, The Mix is a favorite of famed LGBT rights activist Cleve Jones, among other longtime denizens of the ‘hood. The pool table up front tends to attract some serious sharks, while the patio in back is big with smokers. Drinks are stiffer than stiff here, generally, and it is not uncommon to find gaggles of new friends shout-talking in circles over a smoke on the patio after their third or fourth round. Also, The Mix opens early (6 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday, 7 a.m. every other day), for all those late nights that become mornings where you’re on your third wind.

4086 18th St
San Francisco, CA 94114

6. Midnight Sun

4067 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94114

One of the oldest bars in the Castro, Midnight Sun is what they used to call a “video bar,” and it is still known as a comfortable place where music videos and occasional SNL clips are played on the multiple screens circling the room. The place is big with the bear community, who descend in droves for Friday happy hour, and happy hour is generally pretty busy here with two-for-one drinks served until 9 p.m., and go-go boys on the bar on weekends. Mondays are for drag, with a party hosted by Mercedes Munro. Tuesdays you can find people here playing board games and video games, and Wednesdays are all about karaoke, with a $100 cash prize.

4067 18th St
San Francisco, CA 94114

7. Beaux

Beaux, 2344 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94114

For those who live in town, want to dance, and are too embarrassed to be seen at Badlands or Toad Hall, there’s Beaux. It’s a little of West Hollywood mixed with a bit of Millennial San Francisco, and it’s the first stop of all the Rupaul’s Drag Race stars whenever they pass through town. Wednesdays are Latin nights, Thursdays draw the biggest local crowd and are focused on ’90s and 2000s top-forty remixes, while weekends tend to bring in LGBT kids (and their friends) from all over the Bay for crowded, boozy dance parties that always go ‘til 2 a.m. Sundays and occasional weekday nights feature drag performances from local queens and Drag Race celebs alike. The sound system is good, the drinks are stiff, and there’s a small upstairs for whenever you need a minute to breathe.

Beaux, 2344 Market Street
San Francisco, CA 94114

8. Last Call Bar

3988 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94114

This petite spot on 18th Street in the Castro is no-nonsense little watering hole that is also a great spot for a first date or a quiet drink with a friend after dinner. It has the air of a ski chalet thanks to the wood-paneled barrel ceiling and the vintage orange fireplace in the back corner. There’s only a handful of spots at the bar, but the place generally isn’t at capacity, and there’s usually an old movie playing silently on the TV above. Also, the jukebox here is pretty awesome, and it’s a draw for those in the know who feel like they need to DJ for an hour.

3988 18th St
San Francisco, CA 94114

9. Hi Tops

2247 Market St, San Francisco, CA 94114

The only gay sports bar in town, Hi Tops is known for crowded, mixed, raucous scenes on big game days, as well as a less sports-centric crowd on weekend nights and Thursday nights, which is the only “party” night here, with go-go and shot boys and a locals-only scene. There’s a cocktail menu and a food menu with an above-average burger and a great fried chicken sandwich, and trivia night (Tuesday) is pretty popular as well. Hi Tops was featured in Sports Illustrated back when it opened five years ago via a now famous photo of two male 49ers fans, in jerseys, kissing after a touchdown. Because yes, there are gay sports fans. This is 2019. Get with the program.

2247 Market St
San Francisco, CA 94114

10. Cinch Saloon

1723 Polk St, San Francisco, CA 94109

It’s the last remaining gay bar in what was once the gayest neighborhood in town, the Polk, and The Cinch is still going strong after 45 years, drawing a mostly neighborhood — and sometimes very mixed — crowd. It’s vaguely Western themed and covered in art, with pool tables in back and an intact smoking porch. They watch Drag Race here on Thursdays when it’s in season, and Sundays are for beer busts, often benefiting a local gay sports team. Otherwise, it’s a come-as-you-are, welcoming sort of spot that’s a last holdout among SF’s neighborhood queer bars.

1723 Polk St
San Francisco, CA 94109

11. Wild Side West

424 Cortland Ave, San Francisco, CA 94110
Wild Side West

This charming dive out in the wilds of Bernal Heights is still lesbian-owned, and if it’s not exactly a lesbian bar, it’s still an essential place. Named for an obscure early 1960s film that featured Barbara Stanwyck as a lesbian madame, the bar began life in the East Bay before relocating first to North Beach in 1968 (Janis Joplin used to hang out there, as did some of the women who danced topless in nearby clubs), and ultimately to this space in Bernal in 1977, where original owners Pat Ramseyer and Nancy White lived conveniently upstairs. Over the years the place has taken on an easy-going, neighborhood character, and the quirky patio with its toilet bowl planters has a story, too. Two broken toilets were among several objects that crashed through the bar’s windows in the early years, as working class Bernal denizens didn’t take too kindly to a gay bar in their midst in the 1970s. And while lesbians still make their way here regularly due to the significant lesbian population that took root in this neighborhood, the crowd tends to be fairly mixed and LGBT-friendly these days, with a younger generation of straight folks who call Bernal Heights home hanging out here too.

424 Cortland Ave
San Francisco, CA 94110

12. OASIS

298 11th St, San Francisco, CA 94103
OASIS
Twitter/OASIS

This large SoMa club co-owned by drag queens Heklina and D’Arcy Drollinger has been a bright spot for LGBT nightlife, providing a venue for dozens of regular dance parties, drag shows, and cabaret stars passing through town like Justin Vivian Bond and Our Lady J. The front bar sometimes plays host to its own smaller events, like Drag Race viewing parties, and in addition to the large dancefloor area and back bar, there’s a sizable roof deck that gets used more in the warmer months — and usually features a pop-up taco stand. It’s the biggest club on this list and very community-focused, and was a welcome addition to the otherwise dwindling nightlife landscape when it opened three years ago. And, in addition, this is the venue for one of the biggest lesbian parties in town, U-Haul, every second Friday of the month.

298 11th St
San Francisco, CA 94103

13. Jolene’s Bar and Restaurant

2700 16th St, San Francisco, CA 94103

San Francisco, which basically lacked a lesbian bar since the closure of the Lexington Club, has one again thanks to a trio of queer owners — Jolene Linsangan, Ashleigh Wilson, and Shannon Amitin, who opened Jolene’s in December 2018. It’s a home for popular parties like UHAUL SF, although quality cocktails and a full menu— Amitin previously ran the Tenderloin restaurant Farm : Table — make Jolene’s as much a place to eat and socialize as to dance. — Caleb Pershan

2700 16th St
San Francisco, CA 94103

14. The Eagle Tavern

398 12th St, San Francisco, CA 94103

Revived after near extinction a couple years back, the SF Eagle is the stomping ground of SF’s leather community, as well as home to the biggest outdoor patio of any place on this list. Sunday beer busts have traditionally been some of the busiest times to come here, with things typically winding down after sundown, but monthly parties like Bearracuda and Pound Puppy bring in good DJs and draw a younger crowd — including some puppy play fetishists (go ahead, look it up). It’s a big place that needs a lot of people to make it feel full, which it definitely does on theme nights and on Folsom Street Fair weekend.

398 12th St
San Francisco, CA 94103

15. Powerhouse

1347 Folsom St, San Francisco, CA 94103
Grant S./Yelp

Easily SF’s raunchiest gay bar, and one the keeps the tradition of SoMa cruising alive, Powerhouse is both a leather-friendly gay dive and host of many nightly themed parties that lean toward kink — there are wet underwear contests as well as smelly armpit contests, and much, much more. Weekends feature DJs and dancing on the back dancefloor, and this place has a smoking porch behind the dancefloor where just about anything goes. Famously, this place has a highly sexual mural frieze painted along a beam that runs down the center of the bar, which dates back to this place’s early days a leather bar, and it’s still probably one of the least comfortable places to bring along female friends. Drinks are fairly cheap here, especially compared to nearby spots like Oasis and the other 11th Street clubs, and these days the crowd tends to be a mix of young hip kids, fetish fans, drag queens (particularly at the monthly parties Powerblouse and Beat Pig, every first and third Saturday), and the old guard.

1347 Folsom St
San Francisco, CA 94103

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16. Aunt Charlie's Lounge

133 Turk St, San Francisco, CA 94102

The grandaddy (great aunt?) of queer bars in the Tenderloin, Aunt Charlie’s plays host to a rotating cast of hip kids and neighborhood alcoholics, as well as tourists from all over who catch wind of the rag-tag and very old-school weekend drag show, The Hot Boxxx Girls. Thursday nights are for disco, specifically the vintage DJ stylings of Bus Station John at his 14-year-old party Tubesteak Connection, which still draws a young and cruisy crowd. It’s a well-worn place that feels authentically San Francisco, and like a window into the gay dive bars that used to dot every neighborhood in the city but are now mostly gone. And the drinks here, given the pedigree and likely cheap rent, are some of the cheapest in town.

133 Turk St
San Francisco, CA 94102

17. Lone Star Saloon

1354 Harrison St, San Francisco, CA 94103

Bears love the Lone Star, and over the years this has become their clubhouse. The expansive back patio (with its own bar) gets crowded during beer busts and occasional weekend parties like Cubcake, but generally this place has room for moving around, and space to play pool in the main bar. It’s also a fun place for day parties, like the throwback Saturday disco party Love Hangover, where disco blasts inside and on the patio. Along with The Stud, the Lone Star applied for and was granted Legacy Business status, meaning it will hopefully be saved from development pressures as the years go on.

1354 Harrison St
San Francisco, CA 94103

18. The Stud

399 9th St, San Francisco, CA 94103

The oldest bar on this list besides the White Horse in Oakland is the venerable (and currently very vulnerable) Stud. Originally opened in a different location in 1965, the business was bought by a collective of LGBTQ folks who have been running it as a co-op the last two years, and the kooky array of rotating events in the space includes furry parties, burlesque, karaoke, drag shows, and dance parties just about every weekend. The drinks are stiff, there’s one bathroom that’s been broken for years, and anyone who’s been here knows the vibe is special, and the space feels lived-in and historic. In addition to hosting plenty of famous people over the decades including Charo and Bjork, this was the original home of Heklina’s infamous Trannyshack party, which is now called Mother and happens weekly at Oasis. Unfortunately, due to development pressures that have impacted all of the SoMa neighborhood, The Stud will likely have to close and relocate in the next year or two, but details on that remain TBA, and you should experience the original while you still can.

399 9th St
San Francisco, CA 94103

19. The Port Bar

2023 Broadway, Oakland, CA 94612
The Port Bar
Vincent L./Yelp

This smallish bar on Broadway in Oakland’s downtown is one of just two full-time LGBT bars in the East Bay, along with the White Horse. After opening a couple of years back, it’s become a well loved watering hole for Oakland’s diverse gay community, as well as the official after-party spot for Oakland Pride. The crowd is very mixed (men and women) but weekend nights tend to cater to gay dudes. They do a “big gay trivia” game here on Tuesdays, and Friday and Saturday nights feature go-go boys, occasional underwear parties, and a rotating cast of local drag queens and DJs, some from across the pond in SF. Sunday nights are hosted by Carne Asada and feature both comedy and musical performances.

2023 Broadway
Oakland, CA 94612

20. The White Horse

6551 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94609

Though it looks nothing like it did back then, and barely like it did a few years ago thanks to a recent remodel, The White Horse is very possibly the oldest continually operating gay bar in the country. As the story goes, when Prohibition ended, the owners had the bar building moved across the city line from Berkeley to Oakland, because in 1933 Berkeley briefly became a dry city. This means the bar’s official opening date was in 1933, but it seems highly likely that it was operating as a gay speakeasy catering to the liberal university crowd, right at the outskirts of town, during the 1920s. Longtime White Horse regulars still remember going there in the 1950s and ’60s, during a time when gay and lesbian bars in San Francisco were constantly getting raided and shut down by the police, and for reasons now unknown, the White Horse was always left alone. These days the big dance floor in back provides a regular weekend escape for LGBT kids from Cal, and the front bar is a regular weeknight hangout for East Bay lesbians, gays, and their friends. Note that the pool table up front, which now adjoins a front smoking porch, can get very smoky and is walled off from the rest of the bar.

6551 Telegraph Ave
Oakland, CA 94609

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