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The Noise Pop Music Festival rolls into San Francisco this week, and I've put together my own list of places to check out if you are visiting the city for the festivities. …And if you want to get drunk. Sure, ride a cable car. Go ahead, walk across the Golden Gate Bridge. Sail away and cruise to Alcatraz. But when you are ready to rock, remember that nothing will get you singing along to your favorite song in crowd of strangers like a couple hours of solid drinking beforehand. That's why I've listed some of my favorite haunts near each venue of the festival to get you started in the wrong direction.
Great American Music Hall
The Great American Music Hall is a beautiful theater that has been around for a century, going through a variety of functions and facelifts before winding up in its present incarnation packing in hundreds of fans to see moderately popular indie bands. Admire the history and craftsmanship in every nook as you find your way back to the makeshift bar that serves up Miller High Life in a plastic cup. Make sure not to spill your drink as you squeeze in shoulder to shoulder on the ground floor when the house lights begin to dim. If you start to feel a little too compressed, head upstairs where the balcony is only slightly less crowded. The guy who works the lights once told me that at a metal show someone dove from the balcony to the floor below. Awesome.
One thing to remember about TGAM is that drinks are not cheap. Fortunately it is located in one of the more dilapidated neighborhoods of the city, offering a multitude of alleys within short walking distance to drink in beforehand. The best part is that if you stick to drinking beer and taking the occasional piss next to a car, you will probably be the most law-abiding person in the vicinity. With cop cars whizzing by, crackheads and junkies just a few feet away, and prostitutes out parading their wares, you couldn't ask for a more exciting public drinking environment. Just make sure you head back to the show before you've had too much to drink because those "women" on the corner that are starting to look good have a bigger surprise in store for you than the ending of The Crying Game. Actually, it's the same surprise.
If the show gets out early, and you're old enough not to have to wait for Dad to come pick you up, there plenty of good bars right around the corner. Stop in for a pint and some fish and chips at one of Irvin Welsh's frequent haunts, the Edinburgh Castle. Be sure not to miss the hipster scene at the Hemlock. Or visit my personal favorite, The Ha-Ra, and see if Carl the bartender is drunker than you are. Try and guess how many times he will complain that the pool table is giving him a headache before trying to cure it with shots of tequila. Just make sure you don't leave without ordering their specialty, an eight-ounce bottle of Miller High Life.
Bottom of the Hill
This aptly named club sits at the North base of Portrero Hill. Probably my favorite place to see music in San Francisco, TBOTH consistently has fantastic shows in an intimate and lively setting. I used to live within walking distance and can't recount all of the great times I've had watching bands here and all of the mischief that would follow as I stumbled my way home.
If you must rely on public transportation, I suggest taking the 27 bus which lets you off conveniently at the Safeway on 16th St.. Forego the connection with the 22 bus, which will take you the rest of the way, and a pleasant stroll with some beer through poorly lighted streets is your reward. The perfect distance for your own tall-can or a flask split between friends to ward off the February chill, the warm up walk will have you buzzed and ready to rock. I really can't speak highly enough of this place. Even when it is super crowded, the vibe is still good and everyone just wants to have fun.
Unfortunately, TBOTH is in a sort of industrial slash residential no-man's-land, so most imbibing will need to be done there. Don't worry though, because even after you've spent most of your money on a tour only EP and a sack of buttons that will be lost before you have a chance to put them on your messenger bag shoulder strap, you should still have enough left over for a cheap pint of Pabst Blue Ribbon.
Located in-between 21st and 22nd on Mission St. Get here during the day and shop till you drop for all sorts of fake jewelry, bootleg soccer jerseys, or fake ID's. Then, if it's nice out, enjoy a wonderful view of the city from the Southwest corner of Dolores Park. Once the sun goes down though, it's party time in Williamsburg West.
12 Galaxies is named after resident SF nutcase Frank Chu. Frank is known for walking around downtown dressed in a suit and carrying a sign that is comprised of random and incomprehensible phrases. 12 Galaxies is one of his more coherent phrases and it is rumored that he frequently stops into his namesake club for free beer and food. He is also apparently not crazy and just chooses to wander around all day holding a sign full of nonsense. I don't know who made that call, but the first word that pops into my head when I see the same guy standing on the same corner everyday on my way to work is not sane. In one of the more shrewd business moves I have seen, Frank allows a local record store to advertise on the back of his sign. Ah, will the wonders of capitalism never cease.
There are plenty of establishments to bide your time in before and after a show here. Once again you are in the right neighborhood if you like to savor a spirit outside underneath the twinkling starts. Narrow streets and the odd alley provide ample public drinking spots. In one such alley I've actually had a policeman ask us to go somewhere else because of "all of the sketchy characters lurking about," before apologizing for making us pour out our fine, locally brewed, Anchor Steam beer. Just remember, if you are drinking on a foreign stoop, a resident of the house will undoubtedly come home, creating what can be a very awkward moment.
If you like your alcohol expensive and non-misdemeanor causing, I suggest Cha Cha Cha's before the show for some tapas and drinks or one of the finest dive bars the Mission has to offer, The Red Bar. Just look for the big red sign that says Bar. They really can't make it any easier. As an added bonus, they have Southernplayalisticcadillacmusic on the jukebox and I find that three dollars is a small price to pay to play the whole album for everyone's enjoyment. You will be making friends in no time.
After the show head down to 16th St. to hang out among the coolest people San Fran has to offer. On a good night you will swear you've wondered into a Yeah Yeah Yeahs video. Once you've had your fill of the scene or the bars are starting to close, your last stop should be Taqueria Cancun to get a late night vegetarian burrito. Possibly the best burrito in town, just be wary of the green salsa, it can get so hot you'll swear someone is in the back stewing up a pot of battery acid.
Thee Parkside is thee headquarters for thee Noise Pop festival. Right down thee street from Bottom of thee Hill, this often overlooked bar has been known to host some surprisingly good shows. Don't let thee small size fool you-it has an enormous outside patio. Bring some weed and you'll be more popular than that girl who got fake breast in high school.
I'm not really sure what they mean by Noise Pop headquarters, but I can only hope it involves each band sliding down a pole, jumping into some kind of souped up van, and speeding away towards the night's venue. Most likely it just means you can buy a Noise Pop t-shirt here.
A word of caution-be wary of seeing the Bodies here. The first time I tried, they kicked everyone out during the first band because someone got stabbed with a broken beer bottle. I think they were having one of those taste great, less filling arguments. The next time I saw them, the guitarist was so drunk he broke a string after the fourth song and couldn't fix it. After a few minutes of double-vision fumbling, he finally threw his guitar into the crowd and b-lined it for the bar. I think the only one who didn't mind this punk rock display was my friend who had passed out between the ATM and the pinball machine.
Café Du Nord
A former speakeasy, Café Du Nord is hands down one of the coolest places to see music in San Francisco. An awning-covered doorway precedes a stairway leading you down into the cozy confines of the club. With a stage at one end and a bar at the other, this place can feel amazingly cramped when the show is sold out. As long as you are fine with claustrophobia, the music is easily heard at the bar while you wait for three hours to get a drink.
Before the show I suggest stopping in to get a drink at the Lucky 13, right down the block. Its excellent jukebox and cheap beer will have you in the mood for live music in no time at all. I once heard Wire, Fugazi, and Jawbreaker play in succession over the speakers.
After the show, if you want to party with the boys, the Castro is just a short walk away. The gay epicenter of the world, it's worth taking a stroll through even if you are a Red Stater intent on keeping the farce of marriage straight. You might learn something about yourself when you find that after a few Purple Hooters you are inexplicably drawn to that mustachioed man at the end of the bar. Spend five minutes here and the dudes on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy will seem about as gay as the 1974 Minnesota Vikings defensive line.
After you've picked up a novelty cock sock and a few phone numbers, grab a road soda at the Church St. Safeway and take a walk down the hill to Zeitgeist. The quintessential SF punk, bike messenger, biker bar, this place is renowned for its outside beer garden. If you're hungry, there is a kitchen that cooks up excellent veggie burgers, but be sure to keep talk to a minimum and tip well as the cooks tend to be surlier than a longshoreman after he's gotten the clap for the sixth time. Once you've gotten some food, head to the bar, where the bartenders make the kitchen staff look like Walmart greeters. Order in quantity because it might be a while before anyone serves you again.
Two interesting side notes about the Zeitgeist. First, there is a chance that you might bump into former mayoral hopeful Matt Gonzalez. Yeah, he ran for the Green Party, but even I am not sure I would want to see an elected official drinking away their Saturday afternoon in a place like this. Secondly, a friend and I once, unsuccessfully, tried to steal a keg here. Our brilliant plan involved drinking for about five hours beforehand, creating a diversion at the NHL 2002 arcade game, and somehow getting a full keg over an eight-foot high wall. There is nothing like getting caught rolling a keg across the room while your friend is kicking a video game and yelling, "this fucking jukebox stole my quarter."
This is actually the only host of Noise Pop that I have never been to. From what I hear it is a pretty classy place featuring girls swimming in giant fish bowls. I have never before heard of girls swimming in giant fishbowls preceded by the word classy, but I will give them the benefit of the doubt. Located in North Beach, the area around Bimbo's is full of drinking opportunities. Dinner can be had from the almost infinite number of Italian restaurants on Columbus, followed by a drink at one of the even more numerous bars that line the street. Seriously, close your eyes, start walking, and you are bound to run into a warm plate of pasta, an alcoholic beverage, or a taxicab going about eighty down the heavily foot trafficked street. Just like Buddy the Elf said, "The yellow ones don't stop."
After Bimbo's has gotten you in the mood, I suggest stopping in at the Bow Bow Lounge on the edge of Chinatown to live out your rock star fantasies by participating in the nightly karaoke. They have a book of songs thicker than the bible to choose from, the crowd never minds if you sound worse than Ashlee Simpson on Saturday Night Live, and the old woman bartending will have a cigarette in her mouth the whole time you are there.
If the cat's got your tongue, try the other thing besides Italian food that North Beach is known for-strip clubs. Head down Broadway and the garish neon signs, iffy looking patrons, and scummy doormen will have you stuffing dollar bills into G-strings before you can say "overdraft." If the Hustler Club seems too pricey, head next door to the Lusty Lady where you can literally get more bang for your buck by dropping quarters into a peep show booth before gazing though a window at gyrating women. Just remember, you will get what you pay for.
Well there you have it, the blueprint for a week full of good music and alcohol soaked memories. While I like to pretend I know everything, San Francisco is a wonderful city for discovering some previously unknown treasure. So feel free to use this as a crib sheet, but also don't be afraid to venture out and wander into that shady looking and dimly lit establishment because you hear The Steve Miller Band emanating from the jukebox. Just remember, I take no responsibility for any run-ins with the law or large and irate bouncers. SEE ALSO: www.noisepop.com/2005
An aspiring global adventurer who cut his teeth on the sandy beaches and dirty bitches of Southern California, Kevin Alfoldy now spends his non-vacation days in Brooklyn, New York, where he occasionally finds the time to rub the crust out of his eyes long enough to contribute reviews and feature articles for LAS. A longtime staff member, Kevin also captains the tattered, often half-sunk raft of EPmd, our irregular column of EP reviews.
See other articles by Kevin Alfoldy.
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