Get SF Weekly Newsletters

Juke Hunt

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.

Continue reading »

  • Pin It

Tags: , , , , ,

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A Hunt for Good Jukeboxes in the Dogpatch, Nob Hill, and the Marina

Posted By on Tue, May 3, 2011 at 7:34 AM

Some jukeboxes in this town -- and by extension, the bars that house them -- don't fit neatly into a neighborhood bar scene flush with musical options. Maybe there isn't a clump of musty bars sporting the machines along one particular street, or perhaps these watering holes don't represent the hood as a whole. But we'd be remiss if we simply left those out of our Juke Hunt. Do they not offer beer-drinking atmosphere? Do they not accept quarters and spit out musical memories? Below, we review a few jukes that stand alone in their vicinity.

Jerry lives at the Dogpatch Saloon
  • Jerry lives at the Dogpatch Saloon

1. The Dogpatch Saloon is the type of bar every neighborhood craves: Full selection of libations, killer bloody marys, ample seating, and plenty of casual entertainment -- live jazz and home-cooked chili on Sundays, and of course, the everyday comfort of a jukebox. The machine in this wide-open bar along Third Street is packed with soulful and bluesy singers. There are discs by Nina Simone, Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, Sarah Vaughan, Tom Waits, and Louis Armstrong. Any of these, chosen wisely, would enhance the already enjoyable atmosphere.

To suit a slightly harder-rocking crowd, the saloon also has discs by the Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin and Grateful Dead. The Dead, in fact, has a special presence in the small area surrounding the jukebox. There's a picture of Jerry Garcia hovering nearby (alongside framed black and whites of other musicians), a few Dead records, and someone even slapped a "Jerry Lives" sticker on the box itself.

The music fits the speed of the bar, and there's plenty of variety, though not a whole lot of modern music besides Norah Jones. And who wants to be the one spinning Norah Jones in a saloon?

Juke rating: 4 drinks.

Continue reading »

  • Pin It

Tags: , , , ,

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

On the Hunt for the Best Jukebox in Bernal Heights

Posted By on Tue, Apr 19, 2011 at 11:19 AM

The Juke at Nap's 3
  • The Juke at Nap's 3

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.

Continue reading »

  • Pin It

Tags: , , , , , ,

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

On the Hunt for the Best Jukebox in S.F.'s Richmond District

Posted By on Tue, Apr 5, 2011 at 8:13 AM

The jukebox at the Bitter End.
  • The jukebox at the Bitter End.
The heyday of authentic jukeboxes is long over. With many bars installing those nasty touchscreen digital Internet boxes, the old school record-flipping kind of jukebox is a dying breed. And this is in the town that originated the concept of jukeboxes back in 1889. So what denotes a quality juke these days? It's subjective, but there are some key signifiers: diversity of the records and mood-setting capabilities. In this column we seek out and celebrate the remaining machines. We also measure their success with a one to five drinks scale, based on how long you'll want to linger and listen.

Thanks partly to the diversity of its residents, the Richmond District has a lot of great bars and restaurants. The neighborhood is a confluence of Russian bakeries, Chinese markets, and Irish pubs, and the songs available on the few scattered classic jukeboxes reflect this diverse blend.

1. O'Keeffe's Bar is an Irish bar that offers plenty of Irish music in its back-wall jukebox. The sweet Irish owner/bartender will serve you pear cider over ice as the Pogues come cranking out of the box. There are also CD comps like St. Patrick's Day Compilation and Kiss Me, I'm Irish. Stuffed in between those are sleeves of albums by the Wolfe Tones and a few festive Celtic records.

But it isn't all Irish music. The jukebox plays equal opportunity with good-for-the-bar 1990s bands like British duo Everything But the Girl, grunge rockers Alice in Chains and, happily, L.A. alterna-rockers Mazzy Star.


Continue reading »

  • Pin It

Tags: , , , , ,

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Which Bar Has North Beach's Best Jukebox?

Posted By on Tue, Mar 22, 2011 at 8:18 AM

The juke at Tosca
  • The juke at Tosca
The heyday of authentic jukeboxes is long over. With many bars installing those nasty touchscreen digital Internet boxes, the old school record-flipping kind of jukebox is a dying breed. And this is in the town that originated the concept of jukeboxes back in 1889. So what denotes a quality juke these days? It's subjective, but there are some key signifiers: diversity of the records and mood-setting capabilities. In this column we seek out and celebrate the remaining machines. We also measure their success with a one to five drinks scale, based on how long you'll want to linger and listen.


There's something so classic and romantic about San Francisco's own Little Italy: North Beach. Despite the sometimes-obnoxious crowd it seems to attract, the hood itself exudes a warm, old-timey charm, with vintage architecture and jukeboxes that hold swing and blues songs written and recorded before many of today's bar hoppers were born. On dreary, rain-soaked afternoons, swarms of tourists and locals still flock to its dark, wood-paneled taverns, with fragrant plumes of Italian cooking wafting through the bustling streets.

1. Any bar that has a jukebox full of musical love letters to San Francisco has a special place in our hearts. La Rocca's Corner has the classic Tony Bennett album I Left My Heart in San Francisco, along with an enjoyable mix entitled San Francisco With Fond Memories. The vintage street signs on the walls are a complementary touch.

In addition to the local recognition, the jukebox also offers blues queens Ella Fitgerald and Billie Holiday, soul singer Sam Cooke, and even punk Irish acts such as the Pogues and Dropkick Murphys. There also are common, yet satisfying choices like Motown mixes, Elvis Presley, and Willie Nelson. The bar has a few of its own homemade mixes as well, which usually implies a certain level of respect for its own jukebox.

With ample seating, no-nonsense clientele, plenty of musical options, and a friendly bartender who seemed to favor Billie Holliday tunes on our visit, La Rocca's is worth hanging around. It's a good place to wait out a storm.

Juke rating: 5 drinks

Continue reading »

  • Pin It

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Tenderloin's Best Jukebox? We Go on the Hunt at 21 Club, Hemlock Tavern, and Geary Club

Posted By on Tue, Mar 8, 2011 at 6:00 AM

The pretty much amazing jukebox at Hemlock Tavern - DERRICK LOW
  • Derrick Low
  • The pretty much amazing jukebox at Hemlock Tavern
The heyday of authentic jukeboxes is long over. With many bars installing those nasty touchscreen digital Internet boxes, the old school record-flipping kind of jukebox is a dying breed. And this is in the town that originated the concept of jukeboxes back in 1889. So what denotes a quality juke these days? It's subjective, but there are some key signifiers: diversity of the records and mood-setting capabilities. In this column we seek out and celebrate the remaining machines. We also measure their success with a one to five drinks scale, based on how long you'll want to linger and listen.

The Tenderloin gets a bad rap. Sure, there are often people stumbling through the streets. The sidewalks aren't always terribly sanitary. But the eclectic downtown neighborhood also has many great bars, a glut of late night pizza, and colorful crowds to go with it all. Some of the better jukeboxes in the area have gone digital (Whiskey Thieves, Edinburgh Castle), but a handful of the original jukes remain, hiding out like precious relics in the dim corners of certain dives:

1. You can pretty much guarantee that any night you drop in to Hemlock Tavern, you're going to hear good music. Not only because the refurbished and spacious bar hosts superb local and touring bands every week, but also because the jukebox, which boasts both local and touring bands, perfectly reflects the clientele. On any given page flip, the juke has a healthy smattering of musicians young and old, loud and louder. The centerfold page alone features discs by local garage rockers Thee Oh Sees and the Fresh & Onlys alongside Bikini Kill's singles compilation (a personal favorite), and a disc from revered '70s/'80s punks Bad Brains.

The jukebox compliments the usual Hemlock Tavern crowd (young, hipsterish, party-inclined), there's good variety -- and here's the kicker: it's free. As long as there's not a DJ spinning, you can push-button songs on the Hemlock's excellent jukebox to your heart's content.

Juke rating: 5 drinks


Continue reading »

  • Pin It

Tags: , , , ,

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

On the Hunt for the Best Jukebox in the Castro

Posted By on Tue, Feb 22, 2011 at 9:19 AM

The jukebox at the Last Call.
  • The jukebox at the Last Call.
The heyday of authentic jukeboxes is long over. With many bars installing those nasty touchscreen digital Internet boxes, the old school record-flipping kind of jukebox is a dying breed. And this is in the town that originated the concept of jukeboxes back in 1889. So what denotes a quality juke these days? It's subjective, but there are some key signifiers: diversity of the records and mood-setting capabilities. In this column we seek out and celebrate the remaining machines. We also measure their success with a one to five drinks scale, based on how long you'll want to linger and listen.

With rainbow flags flying high, the Castro is a go-to destination for tourists and locals. It's old movie houses and wine bars, Hot Cookie and Lady Gaga, street fairs and protests. The bars in this neighborhood are packed to the brim every night of the week. But while there are a few noteworthy classic jukeboxes within them, sadly, most bars have opted for the digital breed. 




1. Tucked away on an offshoot of Castro Street proper, sits unassuming and relatively diminutive watering hole, Last Call Bar. While other bars in the area are flashier, louder, perhaps even more crowded, Last Call has something on them all -- a jukebox jam-packed with female pop. Sure, the box has male-fronted acts as well (A Flock of Seagulls was playing when I walked in), but its lady contributions are plentiful. In the mood for old soul? Push the button for Nina Simone. Rather dance to modern pop? Choose from a healthy smattering of Madonna, Gaga, or Pink. There also are musical offerings from the likes of Dusty Springfield, Dionne Warwick, Dolly Parton, and Loretta Lynn. 

The bar's excellent vodka gimlet pairs nicely with those albums sounds, too. A little bit of vintage elegance, smooth dark wood surfaces, cocktails in an actual martini glass, and music spanning decades, genres. I could've basked in the glow of strong female voices all night -- if it wasn't for those pesky techno remixes patrons kept choosing.

Juke rating: 4 drinks

Continue reading »

  • Pin It

Tags: , , , , ,

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Which Mission Bar Has the Best Jukebox? We Go on the Hunt for Good Tunes

Posted By on Tue, Feb 8, 2011 at 8:12 AM

Spotted at the Phone Booth: A real, old-fashioned jukebox.
  • Spotted at the Phone Booth: A real, old-fashioned jukebox.

The heyday of authentic jukeboxes is long over. With many bars installing those nasty touchscreen digital Internet boxes, the old school record-flipping kind of jukebox is a dying breed. And this is in the town that originated the concept of jukeboxes back in 1889. So what denotes a quality juke these days? It's subjective, but there are some key signifiers: diversity of the records and mood-setting capabilities. In this column we seek out and celebrate the remaining machines. We also measure their success with a one to five drinks scale, based on how long you'll want to linger and listen.


The divide among Mission dwellers is strong. There are the older families that have lived in the area for generations, then the hip twenty- and thirty-somethings who moved in more recently.

The latter half are the ones who can often be found crawling from bar to bar, dance party to live show. And in the haunts of this colorful crowd comes a variety of music choices -- though not one quite as diverse as one might assume. There are definitely standards on all the old music boxes of Mission bars, but each has its own musical twist. Let's explore this large and mythic San Francisco neighborhood:

1. Delirium is a dive bar that also seems to divide people -- either you love it, or you think it's the most hipster-swarmed joint in the neighborhood. I've heard both views from many people, and am still on the fence. Whatever your take on the crowd and décor (attractive, dirty) the jukebox is definitely in tune (ha) with the bar. It's hip, real hip: Black Lips, Turbonegro, the Bronx. Along with the newer noisy rock bands, there are also a few standby forever-hip records -- Faith No More, Bauhaus -- along with some regrettable, no longer cool CDs -- The Hives, Hot Hot Heat. There's definitely enough interesting music to keep a drinker entertained for part of the night, but not enough variety of sounds to make it your last stop.

Juke rating: Three drinks.

Continue reading »

  • Pin It

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Thursday, January 27, 2011

On the Hunt for the Best Jukebox in the Haight

Posted By on Thu, Jan 27, 2011 at 10:30 AM

The juke at Aub Zam Zam
  • The juke at Aub Zam Zam
The heyday of authentic jukeboxes is long over. With many bars installing those nasty touchscreen digital Internet boxes, the old school record-flipping kind of jukebox is a dying breed. And this is in the town that originated the concept of jukeboxes back in 1889. So what denotes a quality juke these days? It's subjective, but there are some key signifiers: diversity of the records and mood-setting capabilities. In this column we seek out and celebrate the remaining machines. We also measure their success with a one to five drinks scale, based on how long you'll want to linger and listen.

The Haight might be the best place to start a serious jukebox search. With its strong ties to the musical past, the rich history of impromptu park concerts, and easy Amoeba Music scores (plus hippies and crust punks!) it has more classic jukeboxes than most neighborhoods in San Francisco. Here are some highlights from the Upper and Lower Haight.

1. On a brisk Wednesday evening at retro Upper Haight bar Aub Zam Zam, Frank Sinatra came crooning through the classic jukebox. It could have been a whole lot worse. In the many options on any given jukebox, Sinatra ranks pretty high; he's not the Offspring or some other crappy '90s throwaway.

One thing Aub Zam Zam has going for it: the juke absolutely fits the tone of the location it sits within. A dark and moody spot, with a rounded plush red vinyl bar and whiskey bottles stacked high, the Zam Zam has a decidedly nostalgic vibe. And its jukebox fluidly continues this theme with a mix of classic 1930s jazz, blues, and swing peppered with '60-era pop. The pages flip to albums by Bessie Smith, Robert Johnson, Otis Rush, and assorted girl groups. But while the album choices are good, Aub Zam Zam lacks much variety outside of retro classics -- it'll be tough keep a listener hanging on all night.

Juke rating: Two drinks.

Continue reading »

  • Pin It

Tags: , , ,

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed

Like us on Facebook

Slideshows

  • clipping at Brava Theater Sept. 11
    Sub Pop recording artists 'clipping.' brought their brand of noise-driven experimental hip hop to the closing night of 2016's San Francisco Electronic Music Fest this past Sunday. The packed Brava Theater hosted an initially seated crowd that ended the night jumping and dancing against the front of the stage. The trio performed a set focused on their recently released Sci-Fi Horror concept album, 'Splendor & Misery', then delved into their dancier and more aggressive back catalogue, and recent single 'Wriggle'. Opening performances included local experimental electronic duo 'Tujurikkuja' and computer music artist 'Madalyn Merkey.'"