Food & Drink

An insider's guide to the Castro

Published On 05/14/2014 Published On 05/14/2014
Joe Starkey
Joe Starkey
Joe Starkey
Joe Starkey
Joe Starkey
Joe Starkey
Joe Starkey
Joe Starkey
Joe Starkey
Aubrie Pick
Anchor Oyster Bar
Joe Starkey
flickr/Matt Zimmerman
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1. Hi Tops 2247 Market St., San Francisco, CA 94114 (The Castro)

Finally, a place to drink and relax where your sexuality isn't reduced to a stereotype. Hi Tops is a gay sports bar in The Castro that's decked out in benches made from bleachers, flat-screen televisions (16 of them, so they're always playing the game you came to watch), and Top Chef-level nachos, wings, and corn dogs. The speciality cocktails are a huge draw too, like the house Haterade that's served in a plastic water bottle.

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2. Moby Dick 4049 18th St., San Francisco, CA 94114 (The Castro)

Four pinball machines and a pool table round out this bi-level neighborhood bar. If you look close enough into the fish tank, past the nativity scene, you'll find coral with a shape harkening back to this locale's name.

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3. The Mix 4086 18th St., San Francisco, CA 94114 (The Castro)

Bottoms up at this neighborhood bar whether frozen margs, bourbon shots or beers are your choice. Our advice? Hit one of the happy hour specials and take your drink out to the open-air back patio for maximum effect.

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4. Toad Hall 4146 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94114 (The Castro)

With a sunny outdoor patio that doubles as a place to cool off after dancing to DJs all night, Toad Hall is a great spot to relax with a drink, show off some dance moves, or even get down on some karaoke.

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5. Badlands 4121 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94114 (The Castro)

One of the best spots in the Castro for a weekend dance party, Badlands offers a huge dance floor, a great mix of pop music from the last 30 years, and 2-for-1 drink specials all week, 3-8pm, except on Sundays.

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6. Midnight Sun 4067 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94114 (The Castro)

This Castro drinkery pegs itself as the "premier video bar" in the neighborhood with a number of large screens constantly playing, and their drink deals (especially happy hour) are tough to beat.

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7. The Edge 4149 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94114 (The Castro)

This landmark bar has resided in the Castro for more than 20 years and for good reason. It has a friendly staff, lively ambiance, and well-priced drinks.

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8. Twin Peaks Tavern 401 Castro St, San Francisco, CA 94114 (The Castro)

Predominately known throughout the city as SF's first-ever gay bar, Twin Peaks is adorned with beautiful, front-facing windows (for those who were comfortable enough back then to show the world their sexual orientation). Beyond the historical value, the drinks are strong, the company is amazing, and the music is a constant throwback to simpler (or, not-so-simpler) times.

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9. The Café 2369 Market St, San Francisco, CA 94114 (The Castro)

This bar and dance club mainly caters to different nightly events. They have two bars and an outdoor area, along with a photo booth and a pool table, so if you don't feel like getting sweaty on the dance floor, there's plenty of other things to do here.

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10. QBar 456 Castro St, San Francisco, CA 94114 (The Castro)

This esteemed gay bar in the Castro holds true to its rep -- there's outstanding dance music, a rambunctious and spacious dance floor, overzealous patrons, and super cheap drinks.

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11. Beaux 2344 Market St, San Francisco, CA 94114 (The Castro)

This Market St bar doubles as a dance club and lounge and also plays host to pop-up Bespoke Doughnuts on Sundays.

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12. Eureka Restaurant 4063 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94114 (The Castro)

Ask for a window seat to with your slightly Southern by way of New Orleans, inspired dishes. Pot roast and mac-and-cheese with bacon come highly recommended as well as the mushroom ravioli. If you and your date -- whom you should definitely bring here -- decide to bring some special wine to go with dinner, make sure to note the corkage fee. If there's no date, you might want to belly up to the bar.

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13. Anchor Oyster Bar 579 Castro St, San Francisco, CA 94114 (The Castro)

When you come to this tiny pearl of an oyster bar in the Castro, the line will likely be long, but the nautical nook's fresh seafood dishes like a fan-favorite clam chowder, crab cakes with house-made tartar, and cracked Dungeness crab are more than worth the wait. Once you're settled with a draft beer or white wine, the real move is to order the cioppino, which isn't always listed on the menu (fear not -- it's available) and is quite literally overflowing with flavor from the shellfish, tomato sauce, and red chili flakes that turn the heat up. One spoonful and you'll be Anchor's loyal follower.

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14. Frances 3870 17th St, San Francisco, CA 94114 (The Castro)

Located on a quiet residential block in the Castro, Frances is a tiny Michelin-starred restaurant helmed by the superbly talented chef Melissa Perello. The seasonal, market-driven menu changes often but you can always expect an appearance from Perello's smoked bacon beignets, a house signature featuring delicately fried balls of dough studded with bacon and served with a creamy maple creme fraiche dipping sauce.

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15. Starbelly 3583 16th St, San Francisco, CA 94114 (The Castro)

The undisputed cocktail masters behind Beretta also coined Starbelly, a 100-seat California comfort foodery, and this time have chosen to complement the grub with a crazy grip of beer n' wine cocktails shored up with a brewlist that's off the charts.

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16. Castro Theatre 429 Castro St, San Francisco, CA 94114 (The Castro)

Sit in one of 1407 seats at this historic landmark -- no, really since 1976, it really is -- to take in the latest films. If you've got the inclination, head out for one of their sing-along events or arrive early to see the Wurlitzer organ being played. Make sure you bring cash though; butter on your popcorn sounds nice but you won't be able to taste it if you've only got a card.

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17. 440 Castro 440 Castro St, San Francisco, CA 94114 (The Castro)

This rowdy gay bar boasts "booze, music, and fun" and shakes things up with weekly theme nights, like uh, Underwear Night. Which is probably exactly what you think it is.

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18. Lookout 3600 16th St, San Francisco, CA 94114 (The Castro)

This huge spot on 16th St houses one of SF's best-known gay bars. With great outdoor space (they're rocking a killer outdoor, wrap-around balcony), you should definitely be on the Lookout for their crazy parties year-round.

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