The ineffable lounge. Like pornography, we can't define it but we know it when we see it. There have to be drinks, music is a must, and I better be able to lounge on something comfortable like a couch. Beyond that, lounges are a mix of venues all trapped somewhere on the recreation spectrum between dive bar and full-fledged nightclub. Here are a few of San Francisco lounges.
A Bonafide Place of Hydration
2801 Leavenworth St., San Francisco CA 94133
Chic and sexy with early 1900s style and a wealth of modern perks, The Parlor is a stylish new San Francisco bar that treats nightlife enthusiasts well. Private booths feature private hi-def TVs, the dark walnut-stained bar is stocked with everything from house infusions to rare premium liquors for specialty cocktails, DJs and live bands provide top-notch entertainment, and several different areas allow for dancing and schmoozing or simply relaxing with a cosmopolitan drink.
124 Ellis St., San Francisco CA 94102; Tel. +1 415.421.8700
With its Asian-inspired interior décor, Infusion Lounge is home to a variety of San Francisco club-goers. Located near Union Square, the lounge has more than 6,000-square-feet of space, with a private VIP room, dance floor, and stage for go-go dancers.
500 Divisadero St., San Francisco CA 94117; Tel. +1 415.241.0202
One part indie art gallery, two parts neighborhood hangout, Madrone caters to the late evening avant-garde looking for visual stimulation and eclectic entertainment. This lounge is dark, relying on small spotlights to draw the eye towards paintings, photographs, and mixed media exhibited by local artists. Short films play in the back on a projection screen when there's not live music or DJs spinning everything from "thug jazz" to electronica depending on the occasion.
On slower nights, young professionals and students lounge in plush chairs gathered around antique mahogany tables and play board games and listen to the jukebox. But art openings and music events will leave SRO (standing room only) and pack the dance floor. There are drink specials galore featuring infused vodka concoctions, well spirits and Bud tallboys to suit both the sophisticated and the happily unrefined. Locals can show their Panhandle pride on Mondays dedicated to "Tenancy In Common," encouraging BYO Food from the many eateries around the 'hood and offering additional drink discounts for residents of the 94117 zip code.
1539 Folsom St., San Francisco CA 94103; Tel. +1 415.431.1661
Ever wonder what happened to the rave scene? Well, at least some of those party people grew up and are hanging out at places like Wish. They dress a little nicer and drink fancier cocktails but they still love to dance to great house music. See for yourself here at the hub of SOMA nightlife. The location and naked concrete ambiance give the place an industrial mood, but velvet curtains, wine-colored walls and huge mirrors make it more of a pimped loft than the underground basement parties of yesteryear. At primetime, the place is packed with an unpretentiously hip crowd of good-looking twenty- and thirty-somethings. On more subdued nights, there's lots of space at leather booths to munch free popcorn while sipping whiskey and groovin' to the universally talented DJs.
500 Florida St., San Francisco CA 94110; Tel. +1 415.553.8560
In the forgotten warehouse district between the Mission and Potrero, you'll find a Zen-minded portal where water cascades down a black stone slab wall behind Circolo's neon sign. Inside this huge, ultra-chic space is a mélange of eccentricities. The main draw is the strangely delicious hybrid cuisine ("Nuevo Latino food with Asian influence") prepared by the former executive chef of downtown's Aqua Restaurant. But there's also a stylish lounge that will inspire those usually lamenting the City's seedy underbelly. Pulsing pastel lights glow through bottles of top-shelf booze while the bar itself is tiled like Mondrian would have done (had he forsaken his primaries for earth tones). Drinks are fruity and expensive, but then again, high fashion isn't for the tight-fisted. If money is no object, rent the shrine room for a private party and show your peeps that NYC and LA ain't got nothin' on SF!
714 Montgomery St., San Francisco CA 94111; Tel. +1 415.434.4204
Don't let the suits deter you from this fine after-work destination beneath the TransAmerica building. While the clientele might be stuffy, the floor plan is immaculate with a private back room and cavernous basement cellar perfect for a night of high rolling. The young, attractive wait staff is plenty friendly and ready to top off your champagne glass from a bottle chilling in a silver tub in your own little VIP section. But it's not just pretense, the Bubble Lounge is working hard to promote its late night clubby scene and features a number of events with music including "Social Fridays" and Tuesday night jazz. So, pop some bubbly and get swallowed by a gigantic loveseat, then stick around for live DJ sets as the night heats up. If you're not impressed, there's always the alternative "Champagne Room" up the street at Larry Flynt's joint.
15 Romolo (in the Basque Hotel)
15 Romolo Pl., San Francisco CA 94113; Tel. +1 415.398.1359
When you've seen enough booty-shakin' and pole dancing at the nudey bars along Broadway, escape down this side alley for classier indulgence. The lounge on the first floor of the extended stay Basque Hotel is simple and unassuming, lacking the in-your-face entertainment style teeming from establishments just around the corner. Soothing ambient electronica puts you at ease while reclining on high-backed bright blue polyester booths that line the North wall. I'll plead the fifth on the service, however, since I'm hoping the night I chose to visit was an anomaly and the bartender isn't usually out of Guinness and pouring Hefeweizen when he should be pouring Stella and delivering red wine in a dirty glass. Rumor has it the bar can get pretty hoppin' when the hotel's full during tourist season and plenty of drunken striptease enthusiasts are out carousing, but my visit featured just a few Financial District cronies unwinding. Who knows, maybe they were shedding inhibitions and pocketing singles before cheering on Tiffani and Celeste over at Centerfold's.
Harry Denton's Starlight Room
450 Powell St., San Francisco CA 94102; Tel. +1 415.395.8595
Walking into the Starlight Room on the 21st floor of Sir Francis Drake Hotel is a bit like stepping into a time machine. The hostess wears a black cocktail dress, the bartenders don white tuxedos and Sinatra's voice soars from above. Black and white photos of celebrity patrons (ostensibly, Harry's friends) harken back to a simpler era when drinking scotch with a cigar clenched in your teeth and looking out over the twinkling city lights was enough to fulfill a man's dreams. Unfortunately, in the globally-conscious, anti-chauvinist 2000s, this lounge is just a tad gimmicky and ridiculous. By all means, dress to the nines some night and relive the Golden Days of American prosperity, but pay homage to how far San Francisco has progressed in the past 50 years. Hopefully your heart will flutter if a long-legged transvestite should happen to step off the elevator to diva a night of showtunes beside the piano. Otherwise, the Starlight Room is just another old boys' club with a spectacular view.