And the Band Played On - North Beach's Music Scene Persists

Is North Beach San Francisco's Best Music Neighborhood?

By Joe Bonadio

San Francisco’s North Beach has long been a gathering place for creative types of all kinds; naturally, music has always been a big part of that. Over the years, our little corner of SF has hosted a spate of legendary music clubs: from the jazz greats of Keystone Korner and the Jazz Workshop through to the punk mayhem of Mabuhay Gardens, North Beach has hosted more serious music venues over the years than most major cities ever enjoy.

Of course, those old places are gone now; all things wax and wane, and clubs are always coming and going in the big city. Jazz at Pearl’s took its leave years ago, their former space now occupied by Devil’s Acre; shushed by the neighbors, Savoy Tivoli no longer hosts their boisterous shows. 

But newcomers are rife, and as a result the Beach remains one of the best places to see music in San Francisco. Uniquely, within a few blocks, you can enjoy a dozen places that offer either live music or a DJ. Here are just a few.

The Saloon. Of course, when it comes to the blues, the reigning champ has got to be The Saloon. They’ve been slinging drinks here since 1861, making it the oldest bar in California. Myron Mu has owned the place for better than three decades, and has been honored by the Blues Foundation in Memphis for his outstanding work as a promoter. Mu’s devotion to the blues is admirable: he even rents most of the upstairs rooms to musicians. One of a kind, the Saloon truly wrote the book on dive bar ambience. 1232 Grant Avenue

Tupelo. When Teague Kernan took over the old Mojitos space in 2011, he had one thing in mind: music. He chose well: the 106-year-old building has been home to music venues for over 50 years. In fact, legend has it that a sign behind the bar once read “Anyone that buys Janis Joplin a drink before her set will be 86’d.” Their stage hosts a regular roster of local roots-based bands, including Teague's own band, Shantytown. You never know who might jump onstage, their Karaoke Tuesdays are notorious, and the bartenders are on their game. 1337-1339 Grant Avenue

Bimbo’s 365 Club. Opened by Agostino "Bimbo" Giuntoli in 1951, Bimbo’s has somehow maintained the look and feel of a Fifties-era nightclub, and remains one of the classiest live venues in San Francisco. They book an eclectic lineup of established rock and jazz acts–and they’ve got the coolest marquee in the neighborhood. 1025 Columbus Avenue

Grant & Green. Located at what might be the neighborhood’s epicenter, this rough and tumble spot has been keeping it real for decades. From DJ's to cover bands and local artists, they’ve always got something good playing, along with a locals-heavy crowd and a killer happy hour. 1371 Grant Avenue

Of course, there are plenty more to add here: Maggie McGarry's, Tope, Doc's Lab, Belle Cora, The Condor, the list goes on.