Start (and Finish) Your Night Early at These San Francisco Spots

Photo courtesy of used in book.
By Tom Molanphy, San Francisco Local Expert

It's easy to find entertainment at the beginning and end of the day in San Francisco.

For those late night owls who love to party late and sleep in, San Francisco has a host of big-name night clubs and dance halls that get hot well after sundown.

For those who love the morning, the entire Bay Area is full of year-round outdoor activities for people who like to be out and about when the day starts.

But not many cities know how to cater to those in-between times, like the late afternoon hours after a big hike and well before the late night haunts even open.

That's the crowd for our "Early Entertainment" iist. We've tracked down the best activities for those early birds who want great entertainment but don't want to wait until midnight for it to start.

So whether it's a bar that has an all-day Happy Hour like the Lexington Club, or an eclectic space like the Minna Gallery with a rotating calendar of almost constant events, we'll make sure you don't have to sacrifice sleep to get world-class entertainment. Our list below will make sure the early birds find just as much fun as the night owls in San Francisco.

10. Aub Zam Zam
Photo courtesy of Aub Zam Zam

Great cocktails abound at this area bar, and young professionals pack the place in after-work flocks. Martinis are a house specialty, and sitting amid exotic furnishings and subtle lighting, you'll feel as if you're in another place or era. The bar has been around since the 1940s, and its accomplished sense of hospitality and quirkiness keeps folks returning. Plus, the jukebox maintains the period with a variety of classic crooners. Besides being a great early entertainment spot for starting out a long Haight Street romp, the bar is legendary for the crowds who flocked here simply to watch the late owner/bartender Bruno be his entertainingly grumpy self for almost fifty years.

9. First Crush

A small, intimate jewel with a contemporary setting and a notable wine bar, First Crush specializes in Californian wines. The sleek, elegant establishment offers bottles, half-bottles, and flights, depending on your intent, and it presents household standards and newcomers alike. For those looking for an early spot to kick off their late night, First Crush is a fine choice. The menu, too, is upscale and well-crafted, perfectly in synch with the wines. Appetizers and desserts are particularly favored. The location is right off of Union Square and just around the corner form the Powell BART/MUNI exit, making its easily accessible via public transportation. The downstairs dining room offers a larger and more developed menu than most wine bars do.

8. Absinthe Brasserie & Bar
Photo courtesy of SF Guardian

A nightlife hotspot in the revamped and recharged Hayes Valley neighborhood, the Absinthe is very popular for lunch and dinner. For those interested in early entertainment, the small plate specials are a great snack before dinnertime. But if you stick around until night, the city's best and brightest always step into the Absinthe, definitely one of San Francisco's favorite places "to see and be seen." And their signature "Sacred Heart" cocktail alone is worth a visit. If your idea of a fun San Francisco nightlife is cheap drinks and rowdy crowds, Absinthe Brasserie is not your place. But if you want to see how San Francisco's upper-crust lets their hair down, Absinthe Brasserie is the perfect choice.

7. Agave Bar at Lolo
Photo courtesy of Agave Bar

Part of locally beloved Lolo restaurant, this mescal inspired, craft cocktail bar has gotten more popular by the minute. Grabbing an evening cocktail at Agave Bar is a great way to start your Mission night off. Some of the cocktails sound good enough to eat - and with good reason. Bar managers Gallardo and Vasquez are always peeking over at the kitchen to see what fresh fruits and vegetables are in store for diners that night. They take their own cocktail inspiration from whatever is fresh on the menu, which creates a perfect pairing for those who want to spin off their stool after a drink and enjoy the world-class dining going on behind them. The joyous clamor of colorful art will get you in the perfect mood for the star of the show: your cocktail.

6. Bubble Lounge

This downtown establishment frequently draws business folks intent on relaxing after a day at the office, so the entertainment starts right as the work day ends. Wines and champagnes are prominent; in fact, the menu boasts more than 300 types of champagne (as the name would suggest). For versatility, some are available by the glass. A small selection of gourmet appetizers and tantalizing desserts can be found as well. Downstairs, there's a pool table and a second bar area. A festive, see-and-be-seen atmosphere, the Bubble Lounge lives up to its namesake. If you're looking for a lively night with a large crowd (instead of an intimate evening for two in a cozy booth that most other wine bars offer), head to Bubble Lounge.

5. The View Lounge
Photo courtesy of The View Facebook Page

If you've just finished a long day of shopping around Union Square, and you have several hours before your late night options start, head to the View Lounge. When all is said and done, the best late afternoon/early evening San Francisco can offer is the sight of the golden sun dropping into the misty blue of the Pacific. If that's your idea of great entertainment, then the View won't disappoint. And with all house drinks for $8 between 4 and 8 daily, you'll have good reason to sit and enjoy that sunset for a good, long time. If you get hungry, the delectable "chill plates" menu starts at 4.

4. AsiaSF
Photo courtesy of used in book.

A penchant for the dramatic colors this entire enterprise, which is simultaneously a restaurant, bar and (downstairs) dance club. An Asian theme is served by shoji screens, bamboo accents and a recurring dragon motif. And for those who like thier entertainment early, the classic tradition of the dinner show is a great choice. Perhaps, though, the most intriguing aspect of Asia SF is that servers are also female impersonators (or "gender illusionists," as they're called here). While watching them perform, take advantage of fantastic California-Asian cuisine, along with desserts, signature cocktails and an award-winning wine list. Required dinner reservations guarantee your table for an hour and 45 minutes.

3. Boom Boom Room

It's all about blues music at this Fillmore Street club, which also throws in soul, R&B, and gospel for interest and good measure. Regulars often follow-up a spin around the large dance floor with a drink at the bar, indulging in one of the club's killer cocktails. In fact, focus on music and dancing is the main draw, although you may want to check out the great photographs lining the walls. Since the place is open every day until 2am, you'll be able to take in a large share of fun for a good price. Most shows start by 8 pm, but the all-day drink specials is a great reason to come early. And if you need dinner, Japantown and all its savory offerings is right across the street.

2. 111 Minna Gallery

Looking for a happening spot to decompress after a hard day pushing papers? Head to Minna Gallery, and order a signature, happy hour cocktail. Art in a variety of media adorns the walls, and lively DJs keep tunes and atmosphere at a wide-open pace. You'll find it hard to resist the beat as you head to the dance floor for a little body movement. Great for groups or for first dates – especially if your date loves to dance! You can't beat the central spot of 11 Minna, right downtown off of Market, so late night bite options abound. This eclectic space doesn't always offer dancing, so be sure to check their website ahead of time.

1. Lexington Club

If you're looking to party from the early afternoon into the wee hours of the night, it's hard to beat Lexington's free pool and $1 PBRs all day every Monday. Self-advertised as "your friendly neighborhood dyke bar," the Lex's bartenders live up to that reputation with quick service and eager smiles. With a philosophy of "Never a cover, always a party," the Lexington is a great place to slip in during the late afternoon hours when the night hasn't quite started. If the $1 PBRs on Mondays or $3 pints on Tuesdays don't interest you, check out their excellent cocktail selection, which includes the yummy Blueberry Smash: Absolut, Blueberry Preserves and Fresh Lemon.