Greater S.F. Bay Area bars, clubs, restaurants, auditoriums and cafes
that book the musicians on the Hicks with Sticks Bands page.
(From 19 to F) 19 Broadway, 23 Club, 50 Mason Social House, Amnesia, Amoeba, Apple Jacks, Armando’s, Ashkenaz, Atlas Café, Blank Club, Blondie’s Bar and No Grill, Brick and Mortar, Café DuNord, Champa Thai, The Chapel, Don Quixote’s, El Rio, Freight and Salvage
(From G to O) Great American Music Hall, Hopmonk Tavern, Hotel Utah, Knockout, Lagunitas Tap Room, The Lost Church, Lucky Horseshoe, Makeout Room, Moe’s Alley, Mojo Lounge, Murphy’s, Mystic Theater, Old Western Saloon
(From P to others) Parkside, Peri’s Silver Dollar, Pier 23, Plough and Stars, Presidio Yacht Club, Rancho Nicasio, Riptide, Rite-Spot, Russian River Brewing Company, Saint Cyprian’s, The Saloon, Slim’s, Smiley’s, Speisekammer, Starry Plough, Sweetwater, Tupelo, The Uptown, and other SFBA venues underserved by Americana.
19 Broadway in Fairfax is divided into four comfortable spaces: the main bar, the smoking patio just off the main bar, and a sizable music area with a dance floor. A fourth room, not often used, is just off the listening area and handy for experiencing the music indirectly while still holding a conversation. The club hosts bands including Lonestar Retrobates and Marin homeboys Chrome Johnson. Touring bands, particularly veterans like The Comets and Wanda Jackson, have also found their way to 19 Broadway’s stage.
The historic 23 Club in Brisbane is the last surviving honky-tonk from the little town south of SF’s country heyday. It’s changed hands several times since 1997 but lately the club has settled back in to being something of its old self. The GoldDiggers and B-Stars have played there, and independent producers like Wild Records, the Road Zombies Car Club and The Bombshells, have presented touring bands including Marti Brom and The Go-Getters.
50 Mason Social House is a beer, wine and snacks bar in the mid-Market area of San Francisco that hosts a variety of musicians. The Golden West Trio with Miss Kay Marie and the West Coast Ramblers are among those who have played this relaxed venue.
Amnesia at 853 Valencia in S.F., is the city’s most twang-friendly bar. It features bluegrass/country every Monday night, including an open jam beforehand. During the month, two to four other nights will be devoted to Americana, usually touring bands and locals. This Mission neighborhood bar has a large selection of beer, some wine, more beer, a comfortable vibe, and even more beer. The Misisipi Mike and the Midnight Gamblers, Royal Deuces, and many others from the Hicks with Sticks Bands page have played Amnesia.
Amoeba at 1855 Haight Street in SF is known for showcasing touring bands, and also supports locals like Joe Goldmark and the Seducers when they release new CDs. Admission is always free, and this large store beckons for your rent money with tempting mountains of vinyl, CDs and DVDs. It is the world’s largest independent music and video store.
It takes a little luck to know that Apple Jacks even exists, but it’s worth a day-trip to La Honda, deep in San Mateo County’s mountains; especially when you’re riding your Harley. The Country Casanovas managed to find it, once. To give you an idea of how off the grid this place is, Apple Jacks put up a website in 2008, never updated it and never renewed the URL. A mountain creek runs just outside the back door of this down-home, raw wood, dogs-in-the-bar joint where a biker or a dog might look you over, but mean no harm by it. Buy either or both a beer and you’re likely to make a friend for life.
Armando’s at 707 Marina Vista Ave in downtown Martinez, about 35 minutes northeast of S.F., features live music including C/W, blues, jazz, bluegrass and folk or, as their home page states, “…everything except over-played typical bar rock and roll.” They also have a “Do Not Play” list at the top of which is “Mustang Sally.” Nice. For food, Armando’s has teamed with nearby Haute Stuff; mentioning the “special” from 5-6, Wednesday-Saturday, earns a free appetizer and 50% off admission to Armando’s. Red Meat and Kit and the Branded Men are among the bands that have played Armando’s.
The Ashkenaz at 1317 San Pablo Avenue in Berkeley sometimes books western swing for dance shows, but the general absence of twanging roots bookings is unusual given the club’s friendliness toward Cajun/zydeco, swing, blues and other Americana music styles. Our best guess is that nobody from the twang community has contacted them. It is a little more Berkeley than thou, which can put people off, but a friendly staff, light food, beer and wine, a good sound system and nice dance floor make up for the political posters from 30 years ago that still adorn the edges of the stage.
The Atlas Cafe at 3049 20th Street in S.F. usually books bluegrass for its regular Thursday 8-10 shows, but bands with an acoustic country side, like The Saddle Cats, Country Casanovas and Shut-Ins have found their way to the Atlas, some on a regular basis. Jimbo Trout of Fishpeople fame does the booking and also organizes the monthly jam centered around the Atlas house band, one of the longest lasting ensembles in the Bay Area.
The Blank Club ay 44 South Almaden Avenue is almost single handedly keeping club life alive in deadsville San Jose. It is spacious and comfortable with a full bar and a solid sound system. Locals like the Chop Tops and Pendletons, and touring bands like Big Sandy and Wayne Hancock have played there, often as part of a Friday-Saturday combined booking with the Blank Club’s sister club the Uptown in Oakland. Be sure to plan a route out of town that avoids the main streets Santa Clara Avenue and Almaden Avenue (which runs parallel to South Almaden Avenue where the club is located), because the SJPD over-polices the area.
Blondie’s Bar and No Grill‘s return to live music is fairly recent. This Mission bar at 540 Valencia in S.F., is famous for its selection of martini’s and offers live music every Thursday, some live shows on Wednesdays, and DJed events on weekends. The jump blues/R&B Cosmo Alley Cats play on second and fourth Thursdays; the Rockabilly/honky-tonk Royal Deuces play on first Thursdays; and third and fifth Thursdays are open booking as far as we know. B-Stars, Better Haves and Kit and the Branded Men are among the bands that have played Blondie’s, which, curiously, has no website as of this writing, though it does have a FB page.
Brick and Mortar at 1710 Mission in S.F. has been dipping into honky-tonk by featuring travelling bands like Lucky Tubb (Ernest’s nephew) and Gal Holliday from New Orleans. Their interest in local Americana is growing slowly as they have booked the Pine Box Boys for a Halloween show. Located in a former auto repair garage, the venue is a little short on warmth, but this is barely noticeable once the party gets started. B&M twang Americana shows my be rare but it is ahead of its sister club, the New Parish in Oakland, which doesn’t book Americana.
Cafe du Nord, located at 2170 Market Street in S.F., is a mid-sized club with food, a full bar and music seven nights a week. The club will hold 300 comfortably and as hosted Red Meat, the Pine Box Boys, the Good Luck Thrift Store Outfit and even the Supersuckers doing their twang thing. Independent producer Shelby Ash puts on about 6 shows per year at DuNord. The club serves food, has a pool table, and offers some cozy nooks for kicking back from the band room or the bar.
Thai restaurants El Sobrante in strip malls are not typical places to look for western swing bands like the Polka Cowboys, who do indeed play Champa Thai at 3550 San Pablo Dam Road every fourth Wednesday. There is a stage and a nice dance floor in this restaurant, so why not? They’ve got good food at reasonable prices as well.
The Chapel at 777 Valencia in SF is large facility with a restaurant, full bar and two music stages. The smaller of the two is in the bar area, while the larger is in a spacious former chapel that dates from a time long past when the building housed a funeral home. As for the living, the chapel room has hosted the Brothers Comatose, Good Luck Thrift Store Outfit and The Swinging Doors, and touring bands like Chuck Mead (BR549) and Rhett Miller (Old ’97s).
Comstock Saloon at 155 Columbus Avenue in S.F.’s North Beach district has changed hands over the decades, yet maintained its old school SF charm by being, among other things, being an old, old school establishment with a belt-driven air circulation system (pictured). The spittoons are gone though. It isn’t licensed for live music, but it does have a full bar and restaurant, and features DJ Blaze Orange spinning rare country vinyl every Sunday from 7 to midnight.
Don Quixote’s at 6275 Highway 9 in Felton, north of Santa Cruz, is similar to Berkeley’s Freight and Salvage in its varied booking policies: supporting touring and local bands, and keeping the mainstream music industry at arm’s length. Red Meat, Gayle Lynn and the Hired Hands, and one-off events, like the Bobby Black/Joe Goldmark/David Phillips steel guitar summit, are some of the local bands that have played Quixote’s. Big Sandy and former Commander Cody guitar gunner Bill Kirchen are among the touring bands that have found their way there.
El Rio, “Your Dive” at 3158 Mission Street in S.F., is best know for it’s sign-up Americana jam with Los Trainwreck every second Tuesday. Their annual Memorial Day and Labor Day shows are 5-band, patio parties that open and close the summer. Meanwhile, bands like The Patsychords, Rumble Strippers, Jesse Jay Harris and Moonshine Maybelline find their way to one of El Rio’s three stages which are: one in the bar where Los Trainwreck’s weekly show and weeknight bands usually play, two on the patio stage weather and daylight permitting, and three in the El Rio’s large adjacent room which is usually reserved for Friday and Saturday nights.
The Freight & Salvage at 2020 Addison Street in Berkeley presents a variety of quality music, typically by touring performers. Iris Dement, the Austin Lounge Lizards and Robbie Fulks have played there, as have locals, from the Lost Weekend western swing band and rotating members of the annual ”Steel Guitar Summit.” The Freight has been around for decades, occupying a warehouse-like space before moving to its current downtown, BART-friendly, location. It’s a great place to see a show (HWS Review). Refreshments include coffee, teas and snacks.
Christine Lavin once remarked that the rococo Great American Music Hall at 859 O’Farrell in S.F. reminded her of a cigar box that a kid glued macaroni to then spray painted gold. This mid-sized venue books touring twang occasionally with some local supporting acts. Red Meat, the Tiny Television and the Shut-Ins have played there as have Dave Alvin and Jim Lauderdale. There’s a full bar, food service, great sound and stage lighting, and a wrap-around balcony with extra seating. The club reserves tables for those who come for dinner and a show.
The Hopmonk Tavern has three locations, one at 691 Broadway in Sonoma, another at 230 Petaluma Avenue in Sebastapol, and a third at 224 Vintage Way in Novato. All three offer entertainment and clicking on the town links in the previous sentence links to each location’s respective calendar. Buck Nichols and Loose Change are among the locals who play Hopmonk. Travelers like Robert Earl Keen and Ray Wylie Hubbard appear at Hopmonk’s annual Earlefest as well as at the taverns throughout the year.
The Hotel Utah, at 500 4th Street where it intersects Folsom, dates back to SF’s Barbary Coast days and the walls still aren’t talking. Now it is known for its old-school full bar, home cookin’ and forward-thinking booking policy. The club is always ready to give new performers a chance and some big names, like Whoopi Goldberg and Robin Williams, have taken that opportunity. Locals like Hang Jones and Porkchop Express have played the Utah, as have touring bands like Eilen Jewell. They’ve also have old school pinball where to ball just rolls noiselessly into one of several holes which then light up a bingo-like backboard.
The Knockout at 3223 Mission Street in S.F. is just about everything a Mission neighborhood dive bar should be. It’s one of the Bay Area’s best supporters of live twanging music, yet its all-around eclectic events, including Thursdays’ beer-soaked bingo and mixmaster dX the Funky Grandpa, are what keep the customers coming back. The Royal Deuces, Hi-Rhythm Players, Los High Tops many others, local or on tour, have found their way to The Knockout. Along with the music, there are incredibly strange videos, $2 tall Tecates, and a photo booth for your pleasure.
Lagunitas Tap Room is part of the Lagunitas Brewery in Petaluma, leaving little doubt about which beer they serve. Jinx Jones and the Kingtones, Danny Montana & the Bar Association and the Royal Deuces have all played there, sampled of their wares, tasted of their food, and perhaps come away with a souvenir like a Lagunitas t-shirt or belt buckle.
The Lost Church is a cozy auditorium-like venue well hidden at 65 Capp Street, close to the 16th Street BART station in S.F. It’s exterior of corrugated steel belies the relaxed atmosphere and interesting architecture within. Music and theater make up most of their program, but film and spoken word find their way to Lost Church’s stage as well. It is a breeding ground for the arts and very San Francisco. They lean toward to acoustic side of music representing several styles. Alt-bluegrassers Front Country and Jeanie & Chuck, as a duo, are among the Americana bands that have played there.
The Lucky Horseshoe, a full-service neighborhood bar on the south side of S.F.’s Bernal Hill, has taken a giant leap forward from its former incarnation as Skip’s Tavern. The hard-core drunks have been run off and its aura of gloom has bee. thoroughly disbursed. People who know music now manage this venue which attracts a wide array of talent including, from the Americana side, The Patsychords, Shut-Ins and Country Casanovas.
The Make-Out Room is a fine dive in the Mission tradition. The club features live and DJed music, a full bar, pool table, booths, and minimal political correctness. A bear hide hangs on one wall and on another is a deer head that’s almost invisible under the mound of bras that customers have flung on its antlers. The Patsychords, Rumble Strippers and the Bootcuts have played there; DJ Teets spins country vinyl every 3rd Monday from 10:00 pm to 1:00 am.
Moe’s Alley in Santa Cruz is particularly strong on booking touring twang like Lucky Tubb (Ernest’s nephew), Dave Alvin and Marti Brom, though Santa Cruz’s homeboy, Jay Lingo, plays his share of shows, opening and headlining. Moe’s has a full bar and plenty of parking, and a west coast vibe that appeals to an easy-going, beer-drinking, music-loving crowd. The days when it identified as a “blues” club are now far behind it.
The Mojo Lounge is a happening bar in Freemont that books a lot of blues, but doesn’t shy away from rockabilly. They look for bands that can keep things moving on the Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays when they have live music. The RevTones, Dave Crimmen Band, and Los High Tops have played the Mojo, as have some of the Bay Area’s top bluesmen like Ron Thompson and Steve Freund.
The Brothers Comatose have found Murphy’s which is party headquarters in quaint downtown Sonoma with a lively crowd of locals and music from Thursdays through Sundays. Thursdays are usually folk, Fridays and Saturdays bluegrass and Sundays Irish, but the schedule is not that firm so they can slip in a blues or country band every now and again. We see few Hicks with Sticks-type bands there because most do not know the club exists, which is a shame because where else can you get an award-winning cucumber martini.
The Mystic Theater, a former movie house, books mainly touring bands. The interior has been reworked to include tables and a dance floor. Big Sandy and the Fly-Rite Boys, Wayne Hancock and Bill Kirchen have played there, but when the venue does book locally, it tends toward cover and tribute bands. Local twang bands usually support touring bands, though Red Meat has headlined. The Mystic is managed by McNear’s Bar and Restaurant which is a full service restaurant next to the showplace.
West Marin is a different state of mind from east Marin, and 30 miles up winding Highway 1, where the Old Western Saloon in Point Reyes Station can be found, seems so far into the country that it’s hard to believe San Francisco is as close as it is. The Billy Boys, B-Stars and Miss Lonely Hearts are among the bands that have played this twang-friendly venue. There’s a full bar and pool tables in the back room.
Thee Parkside is a punk rock dive that features twang every Sunday from 4:00 to 7:00. Many listed on the HWS Bands page have played there, but in 2013 the club parted ways with Boom, their twang booker, who has since moved “Twang Sundays” to Tupelo in North Beach. Meanwhile, the club continues to book Sunday shows on its own, though a clear sign of what they consider Americana has yet to emerge. Plenty of parking, food service, a large patio and improved sound are among the club’s strengths.
There’s nothing fancy about Peri’s Silver Dollar, not that there needs to be. Located in the heart of Fairfax, the club features a full bar and music all week long. Rusty Evans and Ring of Fire, Slim Jenkins, Danny Montana & the Montara Mountain Boys and Whiskey Pills Fiasco play there as do many other north county twangers. It has a large open patio for smoking or just taking a break from the music.
Pier 23 sits on SF’s Embarcadero waterfront three-quarters of a mile north of the Ferry Building It has a full bar, food service and a historic reputation as a waterfront dive, live music venue and hangout for fan dancer, madam and late SF icon Sally Rand. It’s in a tourist-intensive part of SF, yet its clientele is mainly locals who can enjoy tourist-worthy views of the Bay at a down-to-earth venue. Whiskey Pills Fiasco, Jinx Jones and the KingTones and the Californios (Sacramento) are among the bands that have played Pier 23.
The Plough and Stars in SF, not to be confused with the Starry Plough in Berkeley, was remodeled in 2005 which gave the place a nice lift. It has a full-service bar and pool table and it, along with Ireland’s 32, are the top Irish cowboy bars on this page. The club is friendly to start-up bands too. The Shut-Ins and Whiskey Richards have played there and every first Saturday Shelby Ash Presents 2-3 bands on “Americana Jukebox.”
The phrase “yacht club” can call to mind stiffed shirts in blazers smoking meerschaum pipes, but the Presidio Yacht Club, ain’t nothin’ like that. Finding the PYC is half the fun. It’s not in the Presidio or SF or Sausalito though its official address is Sommerville Rd., Bldg. T679, Ft. Baker, Sausalito. It is in Fort Baker, now part of the Golden Gate National Recreational Area, hidden on the far side of a cove just east of the Marin end of the Golden Gate Bridge. The view is spectacular, the drinks are cheap and blue collar yachting c’est le mode du jour. The Lonestar Retrobates and Emily Bonn and the Vivants have found it and so should you.
Rancho Nicasio is 11 miles off Highway 101’s Lucas Valley Road exit. This former roadhouse is a great place to enjoy dinner and a band. ’70s bands including the Amazing Rhythm Aces, Asleep at the Wheel and New Riders of the Purple Sage have played there, as have more recent bands like Big Sandy and the Hacienda Brothers. Locals like Red Meat and The Jenny Kerr Band have played there as well. In summers they have BBQ’s on the lawn with outdoor concerts set in the midst of Marin’s rolling hills where hawks soar.
Head west on Taraval. If you reach the Farallon Islands you’ve gone too far, but not by much. The Riptide might be “out there,” but it’s worth the trip. The club’s heads-up booking policies bring great music to this out-of-the-way bar’s non-stage. Joe Goldmark and the Seducers play every second Sunday, while others, like the Shut-Ins or Big Smith from Missouri check in from time to time. The club itself is warm, friendly, and a block and a half from Ocean Beach.
The Rite-Spot has returned under its same music-friendly management after being closed for most of 2012. The cozy bar and restaurant still features entertainment seven nights each week. Toshio Hirano, the Emily Anne Band and Yard Sale have been on hand to welcome the Rite Spot back for its second life; and look for Yard Sale’s tasty pot-luck shows on the HWS calendar. (The picture shows the bright white moon aligned perfectly as a celestial onion in a neon gimlet glass.)
The Russian River Brewing Company is the most popular Saturday night live music venue in Santa Rosa and the place to go for bands like the Buckshot Boys and 1/4 Mile Combo. It is a brew pub with a large selection of custom micro-brewed beers that includes ales that have been aged in wine barrels. Though roomy, tables are right up to the stage so there’s no need to pack your dancing shoes.
Saint Cyprian’s church in San Francisco, though no longer in Noe Valley, is the new home of the Noe Valley Music Series which features a wide selection of (mainly) acoustic music. The music itself is not connected to either church except as venues, but the producers had named the series after the original location, and apparently had too much invested in the name to change it. The link provided goes to the NVMS site and not the church itself.
The Saloon is a classic North Beach dive that books blues. However, the rockabilly/vintage rock band The Bachelors play there (and not much of anyplace else) every Monday night. Jinx Jones and the KingTones play every second Friday afternoon, Christopher Ford is there every third Thursday afternoon, and blues bands play other slots all week long. Full bar, cheap drinks, and no cover Sunday through Thursday. It is the oldest bar in SF, and the second oldest bar west of the Rockies, dating back to the 1860s when SF’s “Barbary Coast” waterfront was a cove and North Beach was on the north side of that cove which was filled-in with rubble from the 1906 quake.
Slim’s is sizable club, and sister club to the Great American Music Hall. Like GAMH, it’s mainly interested in booking touring twang like Dave Alvin or The Gourds. Local twang gets booked usually in support of a touring act. The club has a full bar, food and reserved seating with dinner reservations.
Established in 1851, Smiley’s is the West Marin dive you’d want it to be. It can be a little tricky to find because locals keep tearing down the Caltrans sign that directs travelers off Highway 1 into well-hidden Bolinas. There’s something poetic about having to know where you’re going before you leave. The Burning Embers, Whoreshoes and Jimbo Trout and the Fishpeople have played there. The place is a hotel too and they usually put the band up for the night.
Speisekammer is a restaurant with strong support for local music. There’s an outdoor beer garden, cozy, low-lit dining areas, and regular, live entertainment in the bar. Kit and the Branded Men, the Saddle Cats, and California Honey Drops play there, often all during the same month. They serve German food with a California touch, so the meals, while satisfying and reasonably priced, are not the heavy uber-food many have come to associate with German fare.
The Starry Plough is one of the dwindling number of places in the East Bay that regularly books amplified twang music. They’ll host touring bands like Robbie Fulks or Split Lip Rayfield, and locals like Loretta Lynch, Mars Arizona and 77 el Deora. The bar serves beer and wine, and the kitchen dishes up burgers and pizza until 10:00. Both food and drinks are reasonably priced and cover charges barely exceed $5. The club has had a major upgrade to its interior, PA and booking policies, all of which will hopefully keep it going strong for its next 35 years.
In 2012, Sweetwater reopened at a new, bigger, better venue in Mill Valley, literally around the corner from it’s previous location. The Shut-Ins, Houston Jones and Country Joe MacDonald (of C.J. & the Fish) are among the Americana bands that have found their way to the still-venerable club’s stage. The new Sweetwater also has a cafe serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, and a side-counter for grab-and-go refreshments.
Tupelo, a lively addition to upper Grant Street in North Beach, provides a warm welcome to Americana with Jinx Jones and the KingTones and Whisky Pills Fiasco playing there about once a month, and Boom’s “Twang Sunday” shows wrapping up every weekend. This venue, a restaurant that specializes in Southern style cooking, gets good reviews from those who play there. One of the partners, a musician himself, understands staging music from a band’s point of view and keeps the logistics smooth and hassle-free.
The Uptown came alive in 2007 thanks to a change in ownership. This Oakland club is a sister to the Blank Club in San Jose which gives both a leg up on booking. They can, and do, book touring bands on Friday and Saturday in both clubs. Deke Dickerson, Big Sandy and Wayne Hancock are regulars. Both clubs claim a good track record for booking local bands too. Full bar, large separated band room, smoking patio.
Clubs that might book more roots Americana if bands contacted them.
Beale Street Bar & Grill, SF
Blackthorne Tavern, SF
Clayton Club Saloon, Clayton (Concord)
Iron Springs Brewery, Fairfax
The Sleeping Lady, Fairfax
St. James Gate, Belmont
7 Mile House, Brisbane
Giordano Brothers (Colombus Ave.), SF