Superlist: Dives with karaoke

Pub date March 26, 2008
WriterVanessa Carr


Here’s why dive bar karaoke is better than what you’ll find at the established venues: (1) you’re less likely to get shamed by karaoke "professionals" who hog the mic and collude with the KJ to play nothing but show tunes and ballads; (2) wait times tend to be shorter, giving you more chances to shine; and (3) the song repertoire tends to be a bit wackier, which — if you’re lucky — means finding such rare gems as Danzig’s "Mother" or your favorite Paula Abdul B-side. Now go forth and rock that mic.

With its lush red velvet glow and fine wine and Belgian beer selection, Amnesia (853 Valencia, SF; 415-970-0012) hardly feels like a dive bar, which is what makes its free Tuesday night karaoke so special. Plus, the fact that it’s hosted by Glenny Kravitz, one of the most prolific KJs in the dive bar circuit, means there will be a huge selection of music and props — à la cowbell and toy sax.

If you want a dimly lit, dive-classy karaoke spot with a great beer selection and a hipster crowd that will actually hit the dance floor while you croon Usher, then come to the Attic (3336 24th St., SF) for its once-a-month karaoke night on second Mondays.

Not only does Annie’s Social Club (917 Folsom, SF; 415-974-1585, offer the rare opportunity to sing Iron Maiden and Judas Priest at its "punk and schlock" karaoke nights, but its also pours drinks stiff enough to make you think you can actually pull off a high-pitched heavy-metal wail. Monday nights are free with karaoke on the main stage; Fridays and Saturdays you’ll pay cover for the band but can slip into the tucked-away karaoke room that holds a mercifully small crowd. Come prepared by previewing their song list online.

There’s no better way to take a Friday after-work happy hour (6–9:30 p.m.) with your coworkers to a whole new level of embarrassment than with karaoke at the Beale Street Bar & Grill (133 Beale, SF; 415-543-1961). Running 22 years strong, this Financial District spot draws a hugely mixed crowd, ranging from suits to bike messengers and construction workers.

It’s hard to name the best thing about Bow Bow Cocktail Lounge (1155 Grant, SF; 415-421-6730) — whether it’s the bartender known for getting wasted, throwing firecrackers, and forgetting to charge you for drinks; the opportunity to sing your karaoke selection in either English or one of several East Asian languages; or some of the strangest background graphics you’ve ever seen. But once you’ve been, there’ll be no mystery why it’s heralded as one of the best karaoke spots in the city. Sing until closing on Friday and Saturday nights.

Neighborhood folks and young Mission transplant types rub elbows at Thursday-night karaoke at Jack’s Club (2545 24th St., SF; 415-641-5371). Jack’s keeps it real with cheap beer, an energetic crowd, and classic karaoke tunes including hip-hop and old-school jams.

There is no better way to mourn the beginning of another workweek than to make like an Outer Mission hipster and head to the Knockout (3223 Mission, SF; 415-550-6994) for its Monday night "Krazy for Karaoke Happy Hour" (6–9 p.m.). After a shot of karaoke-induced adrenaline and a few drinks from its quirky menu — which includes hot toddies, spiked root beers, and electric limeade — you’ll start to feel like Friday’s not looking quite so far away after all.

Lingba Restaurant & Lounge (1469 18th St., SF; 415-355-0001), a swanky Southeast Asian restaurant in Potrero Hill with an adjoining bar, hosts karaoke on Sunday nights with none other than the Karaoke Shark himself, Glenny Kravitz.

Who says the Mission is hopelessly overrun by hipsters and bridge-and-tunnelers on the weekends? The Napper Tandy (3200 24th, SF; 415-550-7510) has a warm, neighborhood-sports-bar kind of feel — the kind of place where you go to catch the game, shoot pool, eat fish and chips, and sing your favorite hits on a Saturday night.

On Friday and Saturday nights, Rick’s Restaurant and Bar (1940 Taraval, SF; 415-731-8900) draws an older crowd of Sunset regulars and neighborhood folk — and occasional San Francisco State University students — for crooners, classics, and pop.

Starting at 6 p.m. on Monday nights, El Rincon (2700 16th St., SF; 415-437-9240) serves up Cuban food and karaoke, featuring music ranging from Latin and reggae to ’80s punk, pop, and goth.