Charleston: The Ultimate Local's Guide
If you head here after work midweek -- or have ever mingled with co-workers in the steampunk-inspired upstairs bar -- you might find it hard to believe that there's a booming dance space downstairs, a secret private room behind an unmarked door, and acrobats hanging from the ceiling. But all those things exist each weekend, especially around midnight.
Situated above a snazzy bar spot that looks like it was pulled straight out of a billionaire’s hunting lodge, this probably-owned-by-the-same-billionaire club's got a constant rotating list of imported DJs, custom color-changing lights, and a brand-new Funktion-One sound system -- because apparently even respected audio engineers like bad puns.
This guy's home to Bootie (a quintessentially SF party), has three dance floors (some with '90s R&B, some with trance, etc.), draws people ranging from the Marina to Oakland (OK, probably further than that), and if you buy tickets ahead of time, you get to skip past all the newbies in line. Also, 3am pizza!
Veritgo's got 1) a huge international crowd, 2) a penchant for playing Top 40 that you can get weird to like you maybe do when driving alone in your car, and 3) a hot dog cart outside where, hypothetically, someone could easily steal your bacon-wrapped one and force you to chase them down, trip, and tear your jeans... hypothetically.
This bi-level spot is pretty great for the upstairs VIP area (if you’re the bottle service type), otherwise, the line can get a little dicey and the near-entrance bar can clog things up a bit... but the dance floor is always pretty packed and playing EDM.
Despite the extremely upscale décor, it’s actually one of the cheaper clubs to get into if you sign up on the online guest list ($10 instead of $20). Plus, if you follow it on Instagram, it's constantly doing promotions for free bottle service. Yes, please.
Madrone offers a reason to practice your Michael Jackson impression seven nights a week -- Motown Monday is particularly bucket list-worthy -- and the dance floor is always crowded with people gyrating as if literally no one is watching. But everyone is.
The pub-like vibe upfront conceals the fact that the black-painted back room offers one of the most underrated dance experiences maybe ever. The music is a mixture of top 40, wedding jams, and everything you grinded to at a middle-school dance, and it’s so dark and transformative anything can happen, but mostly... impromptu Dancing with the Stars reenactments.
Unlike most spots on this list, this SF institution is likely not in your usual Saturday-night-out circuit (although please introduce yourself if it is). Still you haven’t truly lived or experienced romance until you’ve twirled someone on the gorgeous Art Deco dance floor under the mirrored ceiling set 21 floors up.
The DJs’ preferences for 1990s hip-hop and funk make cramming into the graffitied dance floor lined with vintage boomboxes worth it. The music is hard to beat anywhere else, especially if you’re looking for hip-hop, so it’s unfortunate that there’s also a high likelihood you’ll get felt up while you’re just trying to “Creep” -- in the TLC way; not in the weird handsy way. Or maybe that’s a plus? Either way, if you’re looking for a modern-day Dirty Dancing scene, go here, but leave your watermelon at home -- there’s no room.
The oldest blues club west of the Mississippi delivering, well, blues, boogie, and soul six nights a week makes for a little slice of New Orleans in the heart of the Fillmore.
The rotating DJs that churn out Motown, hip-hop, glam, and punk put this spacious pub in our top five favorite bars on Geary. While you could have a quiet night here playing pool or trivia, if you hit the dance floor on Friday or Saturday night, chances are you’ll morph into a sweaty, beer-drenched version of yourself that you later have to ask your friend to remove from Facebook.
Go here and take a late-night spin on this sweaty dance floor, made up entirely of people who can’t really dance but clearly don’t care as it’s definitely a before-30 bucket list activity.
This divey bar just up the street is for people who want the East Side West dance floor but aren’t 22.
Come for the bomb Senegalese food; stay late into the night when they move the tables to dance it all off to reggae, zouk, soca, Latin, Brazilian, and the popular hip-moving, frenetic sounds of West African music, rarely heard outside of Paris or Dakar.
It’s a club but also a mid-century historical landmark so when you’re dropping it low, definitely notice the exposed brick and 1950s-era plush walls. The private Pussycat Lounge upstairs (as amazing as it sounds) is perfect for a groovy '70s-themed party. Play your own music and get weird among shag carpeting and stripper poles.
You’re going here because it’s St. Patrick’s Day and you just must stomp around to Dropkick Murphys (upstairs) or you’d like to make out with a stranger and then regret not leaving before the lights got turned on (downstairs). Either way, it’s a little taste of college in North Beach.
Theme nights ranging from '80s and karaoke to Bondage A-Go-Go give everyone a reason to dance among the exposed brick in this SF nightlife institution. A smoking alley and go-go cage bring just the right amount of edge to the space without being over the top. Two dance floors often boast distinct sounds or dueling tributes like Michael Jackson vs. Prince.
This bi-level Union Square spot has a tiny, intimate dance floor and low-key sexy vibe that's more New York than Vegas (if you had to make a comparison). You'll pay a premium on cocktails, but the '90s hip-hop and reggaeton make it worth it, especially if you're in the mood to body-roll among cozy accents like a fireplace and exposed brick. It's also a good spot for intimate, private events.
Rickshaw Stop is always a good time for an intimate live performance, but Popscene's weekly takeover of the space gets things extra dancey. Head here for indie beats, up-and-coming acts, and DJs that spin hip-hop between sets and after the shows.
This bi-level Mission standby originally opened in 1935 and has been an entertainment venue in one way or another ever since. It's been home to a country bar, a Spanish restaurant, and even an all-female nightclub. Today it offers a crowded, divey bar with games and booths (downstairs), plus a music entertainment space (upstairs) with a stage and its own bar. Expect to pay a cover to get upstairs for live shows or DJ sets, but the longest happy hour in the city (every day, 5-9pm) features $2 draft pints and $1 off other drinks to help balance things out
Bimbo's should definitely be on your San Francisco bucket list. It's one of the oldest nightclubs in the city and still retains all of its ornate Art Deco charm with cavernous spaces draped in red velvet, two big bars, and a huge stage that's hosted famous acts throughout the decades, from Rita Hayworth to Adele. It's an awesome spot for special occasions like Halloween or New Year's Eve, but it's also worth a trip for an '80s night, with tribute band Tainted Love.
Like the name suggests, this after-hours spot is for nights that simply must not -- or will not -- end. An outdoor patio right off the dance floor lets you cool off (it gets sweaty in here) while still being connected to the music and debauchery. EndUp is an SF nightlife institution that's been helping people make good bad decisions since 1973.