Greater S.F. Bay Area bars, clubs, restaurants, auditoriums and other venues
that book the musicians on the Hicks with Sticks Bands page.
Bands looking for new places to play can also scroll to the bottom of this page for other
Bay Area music venues that do not currently, but are are likely to, book 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, SF’s most twang-friendly bar, features bluegrass/country every Monday night and, during any given month, one to three 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 Whisky Richards, Royal Deuces, and many others from the Hicks with Sticks Bands page have played Amnesia.
Amoeba in SF is known for showcasing touring bands, but it also supports locals with hot CD releases. Admission is always free, but how is one able to resist temptation when mountains of vinyl, CDs and DVDs beckon? Find Amoeba’s calendar of events on their home page home page and links to well-produced videos like this one featuring Devil Makes Three.
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 in downtown Martinez 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.
The Ashkenaz sometimes books western swing for dance shows, but the general absence of twanging roots Americana 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 is contacting them. It’s a little more Berkeley than thou, but there’s a friendly staff, light food, beer and wine, a good sound system and nice dance floor to make up for the politics it wears on its sleeve.
The Atlas Cafe usually books bluegrass for its regular Thursday 8-10 shows, but bands with an acoustic country side, like The Saddle Cats and The Shut-Ins find their way to the Atlas on a regular basis. Jimbo Trout of Fishpeople fame does the booking and also organizes the monthly jam which is built around an Atlas house band, which is one of the longest lived ensembles in the Bay Area.
The Blank Club 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 that features the Chop Tops, Pendletons and touring bands like Big Sandy and Wayne Hancock. Here’s a tip for visitors to this club: It’s handy to plan a route that avoids main streets Santa Clara Avenue and Almaden Avenue when leaving the club. Security is tight at night in downtown S.J., where the bored SJPD doesn’t need much of a reason to spot check you.
Blondie’s Bar and No Grill‘s return to live music is fairly recent. This Mission bar, famous for its selection of martini’s, 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 Thusdays; the Rockabilly/honky-tonk Royal Deuces play on first Thusdays; 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.
Brick and Mortar has been dipping into honky-tonk by featuring travelling bands like Lucky Tubb (Ernest’s nephew) and Gal Holliday from New Orleans. Their interest 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 noticable 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 seem to even co-book what plays at B&M.
Cafe du Nord, located on outer Market Street, 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 not being there while still being there (?).
Cafe Royale is a strong supporter of music, art and literature. This venue is looking for mainly acoustic music. Yard Sale, Misner & Smith, Fancy Dan Band and 77 el Deora (acoustic) have played there. Everything about Cafe Royale suggests a place that cares about what it’s doing, and it does. Works from local artists rotate through the club on a monthly basis.
Thai restaurants are not known for their dance floors or booking Western Swing/Americana bands like the Polka Cowboys, but the Polka Cowboys do indeed play Champa Thai every fourth Wednesday of the month. Nobody else thinks to contact a Thai restaurant in an El Sobrante strip-mall for a gig. Still, it is there. Every fourth Wednesday like clockwork with good food that’s reasonably priced.
Comstock Saloon in North Beach has changed hands many times over the decades, yet maintained its old school SF charm by being, among other things, the last of the SF establishments with a belt-driven air circulation system (pictured). 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, located near Santa Cruz, is similar to Berkeley’s Freight and Salvage in its varied and high quality 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 the venue. Big Sandy and former Commander Cody guitar gunner Bill Kirchen are among the touring bands featured at Don Quixote’s.
El Rio, “Your Dive,” is a strong supporter of roots Americana music. The annual Memorial Day and Labor Day 5-band, patio parties are perhaps the best known El Rio twang shows, but every second Tuesday Los Trainwreck provides an all-pro back-up band for those who want to sing or play. The Patsychords, Rumble Strippers and 77 el Deora of Fire have played El Rio.
The Freight & Salvage specializes in quality music 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 to 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.
Complaining neighbors ran Peter Bernato out of McGrath’s, but they didn’t stop him from opening the Frog and Fiddle in a more club-friendly part of Alameda. Same owner, different name, and still the strongest supporter of Americana music in the East Bay. Bluegrass Cajun and country bands like the Saddlecats or Kitchen Fire are welcomed at the Frog where Tuesdays and Thursdays are reserved for popular open mics and a bluegrass jam. In addition, the club does serve food.
Christine Lavin once remarked that the rococo Great American Music Hall 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 Whoreshoes 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 nice dance floor when it isn’t too crowded. The club reserves tables for those who come for dinner and a show.
Find the Hopmonk Tavern that features live music in the Sonoma County town of Sebastopol, not to be confused with the tavern of the same name in the City of Sonoma itself, which doesn’t stage bands. Both are full-service bars and restaurants with outdoor seating. Hopmonk’s music is staged in an enclave they call “The Abbey,” and this page has all that information for bands looking to play there.
The Hotel Utah dates back to SF’s Barbary Coast days and the walls still are not talking. These days 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 to the Hotel Utah’s stage. Locals like Hang Jones and Porkchop Express have played the Utah, as have touring bands like Eilen Jewell. They’vr got old school pinball too.
Jupiter is a pub/restaurant with music that favors jazz and some funk, but during Summer, they also book acoustic-flavored twang like Jeanie and Chuck’s Country Round-Up. Two floors make it a roomy place, and they have a full menu and good selection of beer and wines. Their beer selections include a dozen of their own brews. Music at Jupiter, as is the case with many restaurants, is more background than entertainment. There’s no stage, bands bring their own PA, and the sight lines for viewing a band there are not the greatest. Still, it is a welcoming place for those with food, drink and music on their minds.
The Knockout 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 Hustlers, Kit and the Branded Men many others, local or on tour, have found their way to The Knockout. Along with the music, a pool table, incredibly strange videos, $2 tall Tecates, and a photo booth await your pleasure.
Lagunitas TapRoom 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 souvenier. This being a working, and popular, brewery means that there is well-supplied Lagunitas merch table with everything from t-shirts to belt buckles.
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 Emily Bonn and the Vivants.
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 day’s when it identified as a “blues” club are now far behind it.
The Mojo Lounge is a happening little bar in Freemont that books a lot of blues, but doesn’t shy away from rockabilly. They’re looking for bands that can keep things moving on the Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays that they book 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 who also runs one the Tuesday night blues jams.
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 Big B and his Snakeoil Saviors 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, and probably won’t until 2014. Plenty of parking, food service, a large patio and improved sound are among the club’s strengths which, with a little more love could make this into a thriving club once again.
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 Matt Lax and the Nearly Beloved or Big Smith from Missouri check in from time to time. The club itself is warm, friendly, and only a block 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. 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 and the Guilty Women or The Gourds. Both are good-sized venues and though we’d like to see them book more roots Americana, they’ve got to pay their bills. If local twang gets booked at Slim’s, it’s 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 all the West Marin dive you’d want it to be. It can be a little tricky to find because peace-loving locals keep tearing down the Caltrans sign that directs travelers off Highway 1 to 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 someone would just contact them.
Beale Street Bar & Grill, SF
Blackthorne Tavern, SF
Clayton Club Saloon, Clayton (Concord)
Iron Springs Brewery, Fairfax
Maggie McGarry’s, SF
The Sleeping Lady, Fairfax
St. James Gate, Belmont
7 Mile House, Brisbane
Giordano Brothers (Colombus Ave.), SF
Ireland’s 32, SF
Last Day Saloon, Santa Rosa
The Lost Church, SF