Bernal Heights is often unfairly lumped in with the Mission as a whole. While it is backed up against the Mission, Bernal has its own plentiful offerings -- Indian pizza, indoor street food, and lesbian bars with three-story patios, to name a few. So, in deference to the vibrant nature of this hood, we embarked on yet another juke hunt, this time to bars posted within Bernal's district lines. There were a few hits, though also a few misses, including a box that was once of the classic variety and now turned digital, at Wild Side West.
1. 3300 Club is the best kind of dive. It's dark, comforting, and full of regulars who get smacked down a peg by the sassy bartender when they get too mouthy. The homemade artwork on the walls is as eclectic as the music on the jukebox. The club's classic juke has a delightful mix of Chet Baker, the Kinks, the Specials, and Frank Sinatra. The traditional choices are there in full force -- Johnny Cash, Tom Petty, the Rolling Stones -- along with some interesting new choices like Mumford & Sons and Duffy. There are even oddball options like Fishbone, and, of course, perfect whiskey-drinking companions like Tom Waits.
The club has a wonderful array of choices, records to fit your every mood, and just enough charm to keep you seated squarely on your stool at the bar, cold drink in hand.
Juke rating: 4 drinks.
2. There are old 45s hanging from the ceiling of Nap's 3, the smallish dive in the crest of Bernal's bar central. Clearly, it's a dive that appreciates a good tune. The jukebox itself has a great selection of Motown, soul, and R&B, including The Delfonics, The Platters, Aretha Franklin, Al Green, and James Brown. There's also some Latin flavor (Javier Solís) and blue-eyed soul (The Righteous Brothers, The Isley Brothers). While there are a few '90s R&B albums from the likes of Aliyah and Toni Braxton, I don't believe I saw a record in there made after that decade.
The vintage soul and funk is phenomenal, and fits the vibe of the bar, but the box lacks newer favorites -- as well as reasons to keep coming back.
Juke rating: 3 drinks
3. El Rio is a San Francisco institution. It hosts a bevy of nightly events -- sometimes two or three on weekends -- has one of the best outdoor patios in the city. It even has table-top shuffleboard. On any given night at El Rio you could salsa dance, check out a live metal band, sing karaoke, eat free oysters, buy street food fry bread, or watch red hot burlesque.
But perhaps because there is near-constant live entertainment, the bar is not the best for jukebox traditionalists. The box itself is very good; it's what you'd expect of a hip S.F. bar -- Neil Young, Rolling Stones, Operation Ivy, Modest Mouse -- but you'll have to time your choices just right to hear them before the next act comes out.
Juke rating: 3 drinks
That rounds out the Bernal Heights jukebox offerings. While other bars in the hood may have traditional machines or feature the digital monstrosities, our selection is meant to highlight the particularly noteworthy of the bunch. Next up: we spread out across the city in search the best jukes that don't necessarily belong to one particular neighborhood.