Bestie Bars & Clubs
Best Of The Gays
by Michael Flanagan
Readers voted on their favorite bars and nightclubs, with consistent results, proving that venues that welcome their patrons keep them happy.
Best Bar/Nightclub To Meet Transgender People, Best Cabaret Venue, Best Dance Floor, Best SoMa Bar/Nightclub: Oasis
In the second year of its reign of wonderment, Oasis continues to be the favorite bar of much of the community. Is it any wonder why? With a lovely renovated space and events blending from live cabaret shows to dance parties, they have captured the hearts and shaken the booties of our readers.
Cabaret? Where to begin? In the last year Oasis has featured An Evening With Connie Champagne, Veronica Klaus' A Peggy Lee Songbook (both Bestie winners this year), Maureen McVerry's Love Will Kick Your Ass, D'Arcy Drollinger's Champagne White and the Temple of Poon and Lady Bunny's Pig In A Wig among many, many more shows. Heklina, Drollinger and crew can be rightfully proud as they have provided a venue for shows which might otherwise have no other place to go. Well done!
Best place to meet transgender people? Well, yes, but don't get in their way if they are a performer headed to the stage. Perhaps a casual drink after the show, however?
In so many ways Oasis has shared joy and we are happy to announce they were voted Best SoMa Bar/Nightclub as well. Much like the beloved show housed there, this bar is a "Monster" which cannot be tamed!
Oasis, 298 11th St. at
Folsom. 795-3180. www.sfoasis.com
Best Bar/Nightclub to meet Transgender People: Diva's and Aunt Charlie's Lounge
Best Cabaret Venue: Martuni's
Best Dance Floor: Beatbox
Best SoMa Bar/Nightclub: SF Eagle
Best Bar/Nightclub to Meet Men: SF Eagle
The SF Eagle bills itself as San Francisco's gay heart, and that is no lie. For men in town, that heart may lie beneath a furry bear's chest or perhaps a cub. All varieties will be found here, whether it's on Sunday at a beer bust or at one of the many performances there on Thursday Night Live, the grub-filled Vittles, the sexy Pound Puppy, or with DJs like Bus Station John and Rotten Robbie turning the leather bar into a dance club. The sheer variety of events including comedy nights and gaymer events present a veritable pornucopia of delight.
SF Eagle, 398 12th St. at Harrison. www.sf-eagle.com
Runner up: 440 Castro
Best Bar/Nightclub to Meet Women: Qbar
Qbar has a long history of women's nights, including 13 Licks and Switch. Clearly the women readers like what they have found there, including the central location in the heart of the Castro, a mixed women-friendly environment and amazing drinks. With one of the liveliest crowds, drink specials and best DJs in town, who could possibly disagree?
Qbar, 456 Castro St. 864-2877. www.qbarsf.com/qbarhome.php
Runner up: Wild Side West
photo: Steven Underhil
Best Beer Selection: Pilsner Inn
If you should die and go to beer heaven, it will probably look a lot like The Pilsner. With thirty drafts on tap, including eight IPAs, if you don't find something you like, you're not trying very hard.
All of your favorites are there: Chimay, Newcastle, Moose Drool and a Young's Double Chocolate Stout. I asked Bryan, one of the owners, if he had any particular noteworthy brews. He mentioned the Duchesse De Bourgogne, a sour Belgian beer that's rarely found on tap. Other patron favorites include Magic Hat #9, Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin and beers from Escondido's Stone brewing.
While you're enjoying your brew, notice the 30-year-old bowling alley lanes (numbers 21 and 22) which make up the bar's surface. And you'll probably meet some of the members of the six softball teams (The Hawks, Phyre, Penguins, Sweet Spot, The Phoenix and The Knockouts) and pool league players that the bar sponsors.
The Pilsner remains a wonderful neighborhood bar with an expansive plant-filled patio. The beer collection, which has only grown over the years, is the delicious icing on the cake.
Pilsner Inn, 225 Church St. 621-7058. www.pilsnerinn.com
Best Castro Bar/Nightclub: 440 Castro
440 Castro brings the happy to the Castro. With its happy hour two-for-one (or two fur one as they are fond of saying) cocktails, and $2 beer days, it's no wonder it's so popular, sometimes so crowded that frequent gogo guy Eric Osborn dubbed its packed nights as "Bear Tetris."
The good drinks, good music and good company draw in the crowds. Gogo boys at the Popular Slut Club and events like the Easter Bonnet Sale keep the crowds there. And who doesn't love the Daddytenders and Beartenders? If you want a fun, friendly crowd in the Castro (and really, who doesn't?) this is the place for you. Our readers have exquisite taste.
440 Castro St., San Francisco. 621-8732.
Runner Up: The Edge
Best East Bay Bar: White Horse Bar
The bar in the East Bay that's been packing them in since the 1950s definitely knows how to keep people happy and create a community. Even though it is a historic site as the oldest gay bar in America, it knows how to keep things fresh and draw in crowds.
Sundays are amazing here with their $5 Mimosas, a Bloody Mary Bar and a Sunday Beer Bust. If you're still in the mood to party early on in the week, you have two nights of Karaoke and performances like Rebel Kings drag king shows and DJs on Thursdays and Friday nights.
Pool tables and the fireplace give the bar the feeling of a home away from home. This bar has been building community for decades, and it's clearly doing it right. If you live in Berkeley or Oakland, you obviously know this treasure. If you're in San Francisco or another city, it's always worth a trip.
The White Horse, 6551 Telegraph Avenue, Oakland, (510) 652-3820. www.whitehorsebar.com
Runner Up: Club Bnb
Best Mixed Drink: Martuni's
Best mixed drink or most lethal – you decide! Oh my god, if those Raspberry Lemon Drops could talk, what stories they would tell on me.
It's so nice to see the good taste and bad livers of the B.A.R. readers on display here at the Besties. If you want a classic martini you can get it here. But why stop there? With combinations that come in all of the colors of the gay rainbow – cosmopolitan martini, chocolate martini and stingers, that's just for starters.
With reviewers online saying things like "I've never left here not hammered," you know this is the place for something that goes down smooth and stays around to party afterward. And since you're in the mood, why not slip through the curtain in the back and see if anyone is playing piano or singing? Martuni's knows how to do drinks right.
Martuni's, 4 Valencia St. at Market. 241-0205. www.martunis.ypguides.net
Runner Up: Blackbird
photo: Dallis Willard
Best Neighborhood Bar: El Rio
It got the name "Your Dive" for a reason. El Rio is one of those places I keep rediscovering – my most recent discovery/lovefest being the free Friday afternoon oysters. Close enough to 24th Street BART station to draw in people from all around the bay, and far enough away from the trendy spots on Valencia to keep it real, El Rio is the place on Mission for salsa, hip-hop, disco and dub, plus the frequent Bestie-winning events Mango and Hard French. Check out the DJs on the patio and keep an eye on their calendar for bands and comedy night. This place is a true treasure, and it's great that that's the B.A.R. readers recognize that.
El Rio, 3158 Mission St. 282-3325. www.elriosf.com
Runner Up: Twin Peaks
Best Sports Bar: Hi Tops
Tank tops and gym shoes and running shorts, oh my! For the third year running, our readers have chosen Hi Tops as the best place to sit down, watch a game, have some drinks and maybe something to eat, while musing about how long it has been since you've been to the gym.
With fun events like Thursday night's gym class and Tuesday's trivia night, Hi Tops packs in all of the guys you wish had been in your high school gym class for nights of fun. Women enjoy it as well, with a straight-gay mix, too.
And what to eat to pack on those calories before your next run? You have your choice: buffalo wings, pulled pork sandwiches and a pork chop on a stick (and really, don't you want meat on a stick when you go to a gay sports bar?).
Wildly popular since it opened in 2012, Hi Tops is an example of how to run a gay bar in a changing San Francisco and still draw a crowd. Our readers are impressed and you will be too.
Hi Tops, 2247 Market St. 551-2500. www.hitopssf.com
Runner Up: Lookout
Best Stray (Straight/Gay) Bar: Blackbird
Who doesn't like to pick up a stray now and then? For our readers, the perfect spot for a stray is BlackBird. Like flocking fowl, their drink menu changes with the seasons. The winter drinks, which are about to change shortly (so hurry in) include the Strong Island (a bourbon and rye drink), The Shining (Fords Gin and Aylesbury Duck Vodka) and The Big Picture (Fig-infused calvados, Barolo chinato, lemon and toasted pumpkin seed). As an investigative journalist, I tried the Big Picture. I'm happy to report it was delicious.
Part of the charm of Blackbird is the friendly bartenders who will be happy to explain the drinks. They fit right in to the ambience of the bar, with its pool table and rotating art display (Andria Lo currently has a photography exhibit up through the end of April).
The bar can get progressively louder and more crowded as the evening goes on, so earlier in the night is better if you want to have an in-depth conversation about cocktails. Blackbird has never disappointed me, and obviously our readers are of the same mind.
Blackbird, 2124 Market St. www.blackbirdbar.com
Runner Up: The EndUp
Best Wine Bar: Blush
For the times when you want to have a relaxing casual conversation and unwind without a loud bar atmosphere there is nothing better than a wine bar. Whether you want bubbly, whites, reds or dessert wines, our readers say Blush is the place to go. And if you want more than a drink, it's a wonderful place for a salad and a sandwich as well.
There are a variety of seating options, so if you just feel like stopping by for a glass of white while reading a book, or want to bring a group to share a bottle, you'll feel right at home. And if you're looking for entertainment, there is live music three nights a week and theater once a month.
Blush! Wine Bar, 476 Castro St. 558-0893. www.blushwinebar.com
Runner Up: Swirl