1100 Polk (at Post), 771-2022
You can't get any closer to the Polk Street rough trade than in this small, checkered corner bar, and it's not because of the ceiling-high picture windows. Hookers, transvestites, transsexuals, chicken hawks, and local swillers like to pass the time watching foot traffic and reruns of Melrose Place or Ally McBeal on "Melodrama Mondays" and South Park on "Comedic Wednesdays." Everyone is colorful and friendly as hell. DJ Domino (from the Stud) spins soul and funk on Thursdays. On a very tiny stage, Wenda Watch presents drag shows every Friday and Miss Carriage does the same on the second and fourth Saturdays of each month. The very long happy hour lasts until 9 p.m.
Aunt Charlie's Lounge
133 Turk (at Taylor), 441-2922
This small bar, tucked away in the very heart of the Tenderloin, is a perfect place to go if you want to avoid someone. Of course, during "Girl's Night Out" -- held two Saturdays a month -- the very queen you're avoiding is likely to be performing on a wee platform surrounded by gold and silver curtains. The sound system is horrendous, but the setting is oddly appealing -- a long, narrow, rose-colored burrow, accented with mirrors and twinkle lights. The owner -- a married, cross-dressing horse-ranch owner -- hopes the anonymity of the location will help encourage hetero trannies to come out, come out, wherever you are. The rest of the time, Aunt Charlie's reverts to a seedy neighborhood hangout that opens daily at 6 a.m.
4058 18th St. (at Hartford), 552-6120
For sober social butterflies this bright, airy Victorian clubhouse offers a sunny front parlor; a coffee bar with Java House lattes, sodas, snack cakes, and biscotti; a reading room where folks can play cards or Scrabble; and a viewing lounge with couches, overstuffed chairs, and a 27-inch screen that displays current films every Sunday at 2 p.m. (Anyone can bring a vid.) During the summer month of October, men who can take off their shirts do for sunning in the back yard and queens lounge on the front steps giving a blow-by-blow analysis of the flesh parade below. (There's nothing more dangerous than a rancorous queen with all her wits about her.)
398 12th St. (at Harrison), 626-0880
Recently the owners of the Hole in the Wall rescued this waning landmark and turned it into what it always professed to be: a real-deal biker bar. Hard rock has kicked tepid disco in the teeth, multicolored plasma lights flicker with the crushing beat, spare motorcycle parts and engines hang from the ceiling, the front end of a shiny chopper sprouts out of the central bar, and the bar manager sports waist-length hair and sleeveless T-shirts. The massive outdoor patio, which doubles as an arena during mud wrestling competitions, may be the best in the city: There's rain cover, several heat lamps, a bar hut, a good-sized stage, and a brick barbecue pit that supplies heat when it's not being used to roast meat during the Sunday "Beer Social" ("Beer Bust" draws negative police attention, apparently). Every night is biker night; if you show the bartender your helmet, you drink at happy hour prices. (We suggest you just leave your bike parked overnight under the bar's video surveillance.)
500 Castro (at 18th Street), 431-HARV
This spacious, comely bar with large street-level windows looking out at the heart of the Castro is a favorite among tourists, but it hasn't lost its neighborhood clientele. There is a full menu available and over 20 beers on tap. Tasteful memorabilia from Liza Minnelli, Harvey Milk, Ru Paul, Liberace, and their ilk adorn the Southwestern-toned walls. Monday's trivia contest is a favorite with locals for the third-prize bar tab. On Tuesdays a classical guitar duo is present, and on Wednesdays the lovely Fellatio presents a raunchy drag show with a vaudevillian tang. During the rest of the week expect classy strains of recorded bebop.
Hole in the Wall
289 Eighth St. (at Howard), 431-HOWL
As its motto proudly states, this is a "nasty little biker bar." In its close quarters, you'll find a younger crowd than normally gathers at the Eagle and hear everything from Social Distortion to Television to Motsrhead. As with any really good gay bar, the farther inside you go the raunchier it gets. Blatant displays of piercings, endowment, and talent are encouraged, appreciated, and often reciprocated with a free drink. Helmets allow you to jump the line in front and get you happy hour prices. Two-for-one specials include Tuesday "Leather Night," "Wednesday "Beard Night," and Thursday "Tattoo Night."
3464 19th St. (at Valencia), 863-2052
This is the city's only full-time lesbian bar and as such it would be nice if the well-meaning boys would stay at arm's length, since they have so many other options. Of course, everyone is welcome and treated wonderfully. Deep red walls, a sweeping cherry-hued bar, double doors, an ornately carved and mirrored liquor wall, and wrought-iron bars on the high windows make the space feel like a waiting room in an opulent bordello. By 10:30 the place is packed with very good-looking, very hip ladies of every shape and shade. On the first Thursday of the month, a lot of gals into S/M swill booze and socialize during "Leather Thursdays."
1525 Mission (at 11th Street), 864-1525
This is the destination for hard-core leather boys and S/M and B/D fans. The dungeonlike atmosphere is supplemented with cages and a winch with which boys are often lowered from the ceiling tied and gagged. A mirrored wall, red twinkle lights, and a pool table do not in any way diminish the utilitarian essence of the place. There is an enforced dress code on weekends, and frequent uniform and bondage parties. Drink specials are given on certain nights to men in boots, men in rubber and latex, and men with piercings. There is a Mr. S Leather retail store on the premises.