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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Juke Hunt Finale: The Best Jukeboxes in San Francisco

Posted By on Tue, May 17, 2011 at 8:28 AM

You saw it coming...
  • You saw it coming...
Over the past few months, we've found treasures and trash in San Francisco bars: Old-school jukeboxes with surprisingly sincere music picks, and sad little boxes we  urge you to skip. It's all come to this: The juke hunt winners distilled into a single list, the best offerings in the city that invented the very concept. So where are they?

The Haight had a few:

1. Mere steps from the seedier entrance to Golden Gate Park sits Murio's Trophy Room, a joint with a juke fitted to its style. The no-fuss bar offers lean, straightforward punk records by the Cramps, MC5, the Clash, and GBH. There's also a healthy offering of second- and third-wave ska records.

Murio's juke is highly regarded by the Yelp set; its merits are listed in nearly every review. Comments range from the mild and oft-repeated "kick-ass jukebox" to the definitive "the jukebox is my hero."

The casual cool of a a room strung with lights and filled with fun song choices means Murio's can be a destination spot for a hazy evening, not just a stepping stone on the way to one.

Juke rating: Five drinks.

2. Down Haight Street, feeling a world away in body and spirit, there's the ultimate jukebox at Molotov's. Punks flock to the cement-floored spot, at least partially because of the jukebox's excellent '80s-through-present day hardcore selection. Molotov's doesn't just supply the standard (but still enjoyable) punk classics: your Sex Pistols, Clash, and Dead Kennedys. It goes further, into Battalion of Saints and Void territory, where jukeboxes rarely tread. And mixed in with the hard-edged punk, there's old school rap albums from NWA and Public Enemy. You'd be hard-pressed to find a better CD jukebox in the neighborhood.

Molotov's too has earned a following of Yelpers singing its jukebox praises. Eric Y. says "Perhaps the best jukebox in town." Agreed.

Juke rating: Five drinks.

As expected, the Mission did not disappoint:

3.The jukebox at Doc's Clock has cool-kid albums from Jay Reatard, Wavves, and King Khan & Barbecue Show, but there also are some fun old-timer tunes from the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins, along with the slightly unexpected: the Ska'd for Life compilation, Dead Milkmen, and local favorites Two Gallants.

The atmosphere at Doc's Clock is similarly eclectic. There's tabletop shuffleboard and pinball machines, while the drinks are strong and decently priced. You can sip a $5 bloody mary or $1 PBR during happy hour while enjoying jukeboxed music by the Ventures, the Modern Lovers, Pinback, or Rocket from the Crypt.

Thanks to the good tunes and comforting atmosphere, it's a place you wouldn't mind parking for the night. Plus there's bowls of party snacks, so you won't be wanting for food.

Juke rating: 5 drinks.

4. Upon entering the Phone Booth, an unassuming dive on Van Ness at 25th Street, "Teenage Kicks" by the Undertones suddenly kicked on. "This is a very good sign," said my barhopping companion. Agreed -- and that was just the start. It's another good sign when the jukebox is constantly in use, with lurched-over patrons keeping one arm on the box, eyes squinting as they choose new tracks. This was the case for the entire duration of my visit to the Phone Booth. A constant stream of coins fell into that little slot.

The juke's variety was excellent, and the mix included old favorites and brand-new artists -- meaning this bar obviously attends to its juke with care. Offerings include Pulp and Broken Bells, the Slits and Nicki Minaj, X and X-Ray Spex, Dolly Parton and Peaches. If that partial list doesn't whet your whistle, keep in mind there's also some TLC for good measure.

The jukebox at Phone Booth is almost always in use, which means you can be assured a good stay.

Juke rating: 5 drinks.

While we initially gave it a four-drink rating based purely on its lack of modern tunes, no list of best jukeboxes in San Francisco is complete without a mention of a Tosca:

5. The jukebox at Tosca is what this hunt is all about. It's a true relic, a noteworthy piece of San Francisco history. Slip in a quarter, then click a button and a slim 45 flips up to play a Sinatra tune, or perhaps Dean Martin or the Anderson Sisters. Yes, this jukebox has actual records, and plenty of them -- Glen Miller, Patsy Cline, Duke Ellington, Tommy Dorsey, and Luciano Pavarotti, with many more. While there are a few unexpected options, on our visit the box was mostly full of opera, jazz, and classic blues -- perfect music for a rainy afternoon.

With plush red booths and an imposing bar, everything feels vintage and elegant inside the Tosca, including its jukebox. One Yelper summed up Tosca perfectly: "An institution. The most beautiful bar in S.F., containing its best jukebox and a good deal of its charm as well."

The jukebox is a treasure, and worth the trip, if only to see and hear real records in a bar environment. Choose and enjoy as many tunes as you can while there, and go somewhere else for a fix of modern music.

Juke rating: 4 drinks

Undoubtedly we've missed a couple of obscure jukeboxes hiding throughout the city. Please let us know your favorites in the comments, and we'll stop by on our next bender.

Follow us on Twitter @SFAllShookDown, follow Emily Savage @TofuandWhiskey, and like us at

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