Best Bars & Clubs: Your nightlife favorites fly their fun flags

  • by Michael Flanagan
  • Wednesday April 11, 2018
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Multi-Bestie winner, the SF Eagle's events include Disco Daddy, where the grooves get deliciously vintage. Photo: Gooch
Multi-Bestie winner, the SF Eagle's events include Disco Daddy, where the grooves get deliciously vintage. Photo: Gooch

One of the nicest things about the Besties is that it shows how vital our nightlife is in town. But don't just take the word of our readers for it. Along with the winners, check out the runners-up and run a contest of your own. Maybe your poll will come out differently. But remember to pace yourself. You have a whole year to go through the list before it comes back again.

Best Bar/Nightclub to Meet Men: SF Eagle

Runners-up: 440 Castro, Powerhouse

The Eagle is like a nesting doll. Every event that catches your fancy has much more than meets the eye at first glance. For the fourth year in a row the bar was voted the Best Bar/Nightclub to Meet Men. If it happened once or twice, we could say it was because we were so happy that they were back from the brink after their expansive renovations and new event programming. But it is clear that the reason they continue to win is because they know what they are doing.

Thursday Night Live continues to bring in stellar groups like the Ethel Merman Experience, Fat Bottom Girls and GayC/DC to rock the house. Nights like Growlr, Grrrth and Cigar Night give a feast for the eye and perhaps a little more. DJs like Bus Station John and events like the repeat-Bestie winner Pound Puppy, and Frolic (where you can let your inner animal out) leave no doubt as to why the Eagle wins year after year.

LEFT: Oasis is tops, in Besties, at least. Here, co-owners Heklina and D'Arcy Drollinger celebrate the venue at Mother. Photo: Gooch RIGHT: Beer, beer, my dear, at the Pilsner Inn. photo: Georg Lester  

Best Bar/Nightclub to Meet Transgender People: Oasis
Runners-up: Aunt Charlie's Lounge, Diva's

Best Cabaret Venue: Oasis
Runners-up: Martuni's, Feinstein's at the Nikko

Best Dance Floor: Oasis
Runners-up: 1015 Folsom, DNA Lounge

Best SoMa Bar/Nightclub: Oasis
Runners-up Best SoMa Bar/Nightclub: The Stud, SF Eagle

Oasis is a veritable cornucopia of talent in a multitude of genders, so it's no surprise that it was once again voted the Best Bar/Nightclub to Meet Transgender People. In the last year there has been another episode of Star Trek Live, drag king events Dandy and Kings Are Wild, plus stellar performances by Varla Jean Merman, Charles Busch, and Jackie Beat.
With all that and a home to watch RuPaul's Drag Race, and the amazing tribute nights of Mother, as well, it's no wonder Oasis keeps winning as the best place to meet transgender people.
With all of the lively nightlife at Oasis, it's important to remember that it has added a valued spot for musical performances in a city which seems to be losing more and more of them.
So Oasis has reason to feel rightly proud of winning best cabaret venue. The venue provides a performance spot to a wide variety of performers, from faux queen Trixie Mattel to favorites like Justin Vivian Bond, and tributes to legends like Carol Channing by Nicky Ciampoli. This recognition is well deserved.
If you're at Oasis on a performance night, be it drama or song, it may be easy to miss a feature which has caught our readers eye: it has the best dance floor in town. And that's another good reason to make a visit south of market.
Between the dance floor, the performance, the drag and just the crowd the club draws, it's no wonder that once again Oasis is our reader's choice for best SoMa bar/nightclub.

Best Beer Selection: Pilsner Inn
Runners-up: SF Eagle, 440 Castro
Does IPA make you drool? Does stout drive you crazy? You're in luck, because the Pilsner Inn has a selection of over 30 beers on tap. While you're there, play a game of pool or step out back to the popular patio that has been drawing patrons for decades. But for many it is simply the expansive collection of beers that will draw you in and keep you there. This is not the first time the Pilsner has won this category (and doubtless it is not the last). If beer is not to your liking (you heretic), then there is a full bar as well.

LEFT: Qbar is the place for women in the Castro. photo: Niko SF RIGHT: The annual Winter Onesie party, one of the Lookout's many popular event. photo: Georg Lester  

Best Bar/Nightclub to Meet Women: Qbar
Runners-up: Wild Side West, The Uptown, Oakland
Qbar bills 13 Licks as "a weekly lezzie dance maniac party," and word has obviously spread! DJ Natalie Nuxx and Guest DJs provide the musical backdrop a weekly party that has half off drinks - which just adds to the fun.
Changing weekly photo backdrops by Closet Riots provide a scene that bring the women back (check out both the bar's webpage and 13 Licks Facebook page for a sample of the fun). A poorly kept secret is that women have been partying together in the Castro for a very long time and Qbar is doing a bang up job to keep this tradition going.

Best Castro Bar/Nightclub: Lookout
Runners-up: 440 Castro, The Edge
Look! Up in the sky! It's not a bird or a plane - it's the crew at the Lookout, beating
out the competition for best Castro bar or nightclub! And it's no wonder why, with weekly events like Sunday night's Jock raising funds for local sports organizations and Saturday afternoon's Lips and Lashes drag brunch with Carne Asada. The Lookout knows how to bring the fun back to the Castro. With great drinks and a great food menu, it's no wonder the Lookout has a special place in our reader's hearts.

ABOVE: El Rio, a Mission classic, photo: Rich Stadtmiller BELOW: The White Horse Bar, voted East Bay's best.  

Best East Bay Bar: White Horse Bar
Runners-up: Port Bar, Club 21
The White Horse has been serving drinks for a very, very long time. Officially it has been open since 1933, but there are rumors about what was going on there during Prohibition. And it has been serving the LGBT community for nearly that long, with mentions of the clientele going back to at least the 1950s. And with all that history, the bar has obviously learned a thing or two along the way. Whether it's karaoke on Monday and Tuesday nights or Triple D Saturdays (with drinks, dancing and DJs), it's always a fun place to spend an evening - and a cozy place to visit and sit by the fireplace as well. With the friendly competition from Port Bar and Club 21, the East Bay gay scene continues to grow.

Best Neighborhood Bar: El Rio
Runners-up: Twin Peaks, The Cinch
There are bars that have a special place in your heart; El Rio is such a place. Whether you're there on Sunday for their Bloody Mary bar or on Friday afternoon for the free oysters on the half shell it will find a spot in your heart as well. The bar has an quaint garden and a performance room for bands and comedy shows. We are so lucky that this treasure is still in the Mission and our readers are lucky that they have such good taste.

Best Mixed Drink: Martuni's
Runners-up: Blackbird, Twin Peaks
Martuni's is a gem of a bar, serving up classic martinis, cosmopolitans and a wide variety of other drinks. Their Lemon Drops have always been my favorite. But regardless of your tastes, you'll find something to love on their drink menu. There are often cabaret events happening in the back room, and monthly literary events as well. If you're there in the evening, be sure to check out the back of the bar. This is the perfect place to have a drink or three. Congratulations to our readers on their good taste.

Best Sports Bar: Hi Tops
Runners-up: Lookout, Pilsner Inn
Hi Tops, the bar which amusingly bills itself as having "Cold Pitchers and Hot Catchers," is at the top of our reader's poll for sports bars once again. Still the (relatively) new kid on the block and still trying harder, this bar has amazing food as well as great drinks. Try the Bacon-Beef burger. Should you happen to be there on a game day, you'll see exactly why the bar continues to win this honor. With several TV screens, there isn't a bad place in the house to watch a game. And as an added bonus, the place is always packed with happy sports fans (so you may get distracted from your game).

Best Stray (Straight/Gay) Bar: Blackbird
Runners-up: EndUp, Wild Side West
Blackbird is a wonderful welcoming bar with wonderful drinks (it came in as a runner-up for the best mixed drinks category). Drinks here are seasonal, so check their website to see what is currently being served. Along with a welcoming attitude and great drinks, the bar often has art events - a stylish show from last year was "Cocktail Art" by Alyson Thomas, with drawings of citrus garnishes, among others. I have always found the bartenders there to be great conversationalists. It's the perfect bar to visit for a drink before (or after) a movie - or perhaps just to spend the evening talking with friends.

Best Wine Bar: Blush
Runners-up: Swirl, Press Club
Blush says that it is "inspired by the greatest wine bars in Europe." and they aren't lying. So whether your tastes point you toward a bubbly Proseco or a more complex Pinot Noir or Petite Sirah, this is the place for you. The wine menu is online so you can have a look in advance and make your choices. Food includes small plates, oysters, warm sandwiches, salads and desserts (and they are on the menu as well). It's a wonderful place to stop by and have a bite and a drink with friends. Our readers have such good taste!