Do you want to listen to some great live music in San Francisco but the concerts are all sold out and, in any case, you don’t want to spend a huge amount of money? If you simply feel like going out and listening to some music the great folks here at Music in SF™ have compiled a list of options for you. For the most part, these are bars and cafes, where the “price” for the music is to buy a drink or two, and many either charge no cover or only charge a cover on certain nights of the week. Check them out and be sure to report back to us with some of your favorites!
San Francisco Bars and Cafes with Live Music
1. Revolution Cafe – There is no cover charge ever. It’s a European-style cafe right in the middle of the Mission that offers great coffee, a nice selection of beer and wine and cafe type food with a changing menu of sandwiches and salads for very reasonable prices. They also have a changing menu of music, but there’s something going on every night, including a Balkan Dance Party on Sundays.
2. The Comstock Saloon – This is your classic, old-style saloon. Just a heads up that you may need a reservation if you want dinner. The place offers a great selection of signature cocktails and if you want to try a grand American tradition, head over on Friday at lunchtime for an actual saloon free lunch. Live music is in the evenings, every night of the week with no cover.
3. Mr. Tipple’s Recording Studio – This is the place to come for jazz, jazz, and more jazz. The food menu is very short and entirely southern, but they have great cocktails and a decent selection of beer. Mostly, though, this is a place for San Francisco live music. Be aware that they charge a 20% automatic gratuity instead of normal tipping, and that they have a lot of private parties and sometimes may not be open or may open late. Please check the website before heading over.
4. Local Edition – An old style speakeasy, literally located underground. They have live music Monday through Thursday. Reservations are recommended (or you may find it is standing room only). They do not serve food but do serve cocktails and other elixirs.
5. The Royale – They’ve got a wonderful rotating beer tap, tasty creative cocktails, and yes, live music. Although do check the calendar first, they sometimes have other events (such as a spelling bee or video or book release) and are closed occasionally for parties and private events. They have been known to show opera, though, so it’s always worth taking a look.
6. Atlas Cafe – At this popular cafe, it’s Jazz every Friday, free ragtime on Saturday. Their bands are “resident,” which may make for less variety, but allows fans to come back again and again. The food menu focuses on sandwiches and pizza. They are mostly a cafe but do serve alcohol. However, they close very early – especially in the winter when they close at 10 pm on Friday – and that’s considered a late night for this San Francisco music venue. Consider combining them with a more bar-style venue for a combination night.
7. The Saloon – Believed to be the oldest bar in San Francisco. They play blues every night, with usually at least two bands. They charge a small cover on Friday and Saturday nights, but Mondays through Thursdays are free. And yes, the building survived the 1906 Big One and several fires, anecdotally because it was a brothel and thus rather popular with the firefighters. Some consider it to be one of the best blues venues there is.
8. Amnesia – They tend to charge covers for their late shows, but not for the early ones, so you can often catch a pretty decent band. Jazz Wednesdays are always free, and if you happen to have an instrument, bring one, because they do an open jam session later. They have a good (local, craft) beer list and a dark, red-lit atmosphere that appeals to many. Amnesia recently renovated but made few changes. Oh, and they have pretty good bluegrass too!
Outdoor San Francisco Live Music Venues
1. Stern Grove Festival – it’s obviously summer only, generally mid-June to mid-August, and it’s Sunday afternoon, which isn’t quite “tonight,” but it’s great for symphonies and other more cultural experiences (and if you have kids). Be aware that you may have to literally get there at 10 am to be sure of being allowed in.
2. Union Square Live – Not always music, but there are live performances in Union Square throughout the summer. The park is downtown and 2017 performances included regular swing, a Latin jazz youth ensemble, tango dancing and a variety of bands.
3. The Golden Gate Park Band – A grand San Francisco tradition every Sunday afternoon, the Golden Gate Park Band celebrated their 135th season in 2017. Some of their performances include guest performers from specific nationalities or cultures. In 2017 this included Italian-American, Polish-American, Latin, and Hungarian. The music is free, although they do ask for donations to keep it flowing.
Unusual San Francisco Live Music Venues
1. Brainwash Cafe and Laundromat. Yes, seriously. A laundromat. Put on a load of laundry (or drop one off) and then hang out in the cafe for a burger or sandwich and coffee (they do have an alcohol menu, but it is very limited). The music here is mostly open-mic, and be aware that Tuesdays and Fridays are comedy nights, not music. But it beats staring at a turning washing machine if you ask me.
As you can see, there are many places to take in free (or at least no cover) live music in San Francisco, and on any given night (or weekend afternoon) there will always be something to enjoy. Do check schedules before heading to a venue, but you will always have the chance to enjoy live music with a cocktail, beer, or meal.
Photo courtesy of Mobilus in Mobili (CC/Flickr)