The Hard Times Handbook

Pub date January 13, 2009

We all have high hopes for the new administration. We’d all like to believe that the recession will end soon, that jobs will be plentiful, health care available to all, and affordable housing built in abundance.

But the grim reality is that hard times are probably around for a while longer, and it may get worse before it gets better.

Don’t despair: the city is full of fun things to do on the cheap. There are ways to save money and enjoy life at the same time. If you’re in trouble — out of work, out of food, facing eviction — there are resources around to help you. What follows is a collection of tips, techniques, and ideas for surviving the ongoing depression that’s the last bitter legacy of George W. Bush.

BELOW YOU’LL FIND OUR TIPS ON SCORING FREE, CHEAP, AND LOW-COST WONDERS. (Click here for the full page version with jumps, if you can’t see it.)

















For a little extra routine effort, I’ve managed to make San Francisco’s library system my Netflix/GreenCine, rotating CD turntable, and bookstore, all rolled into one. And it’s all free.

If you’re a books-music-film whore like me, you find your home maxed out with piles of the stuff … and not enough extra cash to feed your habits. So I’ve decided to only buy my favorites and to borrow the rest. We San Franciscans have quite a library system at our fingertips. You just have to learn how to use it.

Almost everyone thinks of a library as a place for books. And that’s not wrong: you can read the latest fiction and nonfiction bestsellers, and I’ve checked out a slew of great mixology/cocktail recipe books when I want to try new drinks at home. I’ve hit up bios on my favorite musicians, or brought home stacks of travel books before a trip (they usually have the current year’s edition of at least one travel series for a given place, whether it be Fodor’s, Lonely Planet, or Frommer’s).

But there’s much more. For DVDs, I regularly check Rotten Tomatoes’ New Releases page ( for new DVD releases. Anything I want to see, I keep on a list and search for those titles every week. About 90 percent of my list eventually comes to the library, and most within a few weeks of the release date.

And such a range! I recently checked out the Oscar-nominated animated foreign film, Persepolis, the entire first season of Mad Men, tons of documentaries, classics (like a Cyd Charisse musical or Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy’s catalog), even Baby Mama (sure, it sucked, but I can’t resist Tina Fey).

A music fanatic can find virtually every style, and even dig into the history of a genre. I’ve found CDs of jazz and blues greats, including Jelly Roll Morton, John Lee Hooker, Bessie Smith, Muddy Waters, kitschy lounge like Martin Denny and singer Julie London, and have satiated rap cravings with the latest Talib Kwali, Lyrics Born, Missy Elliott, T.I. or Kanye (I won’t tell if you won’t).

Warning: there can be a long "holds" list for popular new releases (e.g., Iron Man just came out and has about 175). When this happens, Just get in the queue — you can request as many as 15 items simultaneously online (you do have a library card, right?) You’ll get an e-mail when your item comes in and you can check the status of your list any time you log in. Keep DVDs a full seven days (three weeks for books and CDs) and return ’em to any branch you like.

I’ve deepened my music knowledge, read a broader range of books, and canceled GreenCine. Instead, I enjoy a steady flow of free shit coming my way each week. And if I get bored or the novelty of Baby Mama wears off, I return it and free up space in my mind (and on my shelf) for more. (Virginia Miller)



Shhh. The first rule about thrifting, to paraphrase mobsters and hardcore thrift-store shoppers, is don’t talk about thrifting — and that means the sites of your finest thrift scores. Diehard thrifters guard their favorite shops with jealous zeal: they know exactly what it’s like to wade through scores of stained T-shirts, dress-for-success suits, and plastic purses and come up with zilcherooni. They also know what it’s like to ascend to thrifter nirvana, an increasingly rarified plane where vintage Chanel party shoes and cool dead-stock Western wear are sold for a song.

Friendships have been trashed and shopping carts upended in the revelation of these much-cherished thrift stores, where the quest for that ’50s lamb’s fur jacket or ’80s acid-washed zipper jeans — whatever floats your low-budg boat — has come to a rapturous conclusion. It’s a war zone, shopping on the cheap, out there — and though word has it that the thrifting is excellent in Vallejo and Fresno, our battle begins at home. When the sample sales, designer runoff outlets, resale dives, and consignment boutiques dry up, here’s where you’ll find just what you weren’t looking for — but love, love, love all the same.

Community Thrift, 623 Valencia, SF. (415) 861-4910, Come for the writer’s own giveaways (you can bequeath the funds raised to any number of local nonprofits), and leave with the rattan couches, deco bureaus, records, books and magazines, and an eccentric assortment of clothing and housewares. I’m still amazed at the array of intriguing junk that zips through this spot, but act fast or you’ll miss snagging that Victorian armoire.

Goodwill As-Is Store, 86 11th St., SF. (415) 575-2197, This is the archetype and endgamer of grab-and-tumble thrifting. We’re talking bins, people — bins of dirt cheap and often downright dirty garb that the massive Goodwill around the corner has designated unsuitable, for whatever reason. Dive into said bins, rolled out by your, ahem, gracious Goodwill hosts throughout the day, along with your competition: professional pickers for vintage shops, grabby vintage people, and ironclad bargain hunters. They may not sell items by the pound anymore — now its $2.25 for a piece of adult clothing, 50 cents to $1 for babies’ and children’s garb, $4 for leather jackets, etc. — but the sense of triumph you’ll feel when you discover a tattered 1930s Atonement-style poison-ivy green gown, or a Dr. Pimp-enstein rabbit-fur patchwork coat, or cheery 1950s tablecloths with negligible stainage, is indescribable.

Goodwill Industries, 3801 Third St., SF. (415) 641-4470, Alas, not all Goodwills are created equal: some eke out nothing but stale mom jeans and stretched-out polo shirts. But others, like this Hunter’s Point Goodwill, abound with on-trend goodies. At least until all of you thrift-hungry hordes grab my junk first. Tucked into the corner of a little strip mall, this Goodwill has all those extremely fashionable hipster goods that have been leached from more populated thrift pastures or plucked by your favorite street-savvy designer to "repurpose" as their latest collection: buffalo check shirts, wolf-embellished T-shirts, Gunne Sax fairy-princess gowns, basketball jerseys, and ’80s-era, multicolored zany-print tops that Paper Rad would give their beards for.

Salvation Army, 1500 Valencia, SF. (415) 643-8040, The OG of Mission District thrifting, this Salv has been the site of many an awesome discovery. Find out when the Army puts out the new goods. The Salvation soldiers may have cordoned off the "vintage" — read: higher priced — items in the store within the store, but there are still plenty of old books, men’s clothing, and at times hep housewares and Formica kitchen tables to be had: I adore the rainbow Mork and Mindy parka vest I scored in the boys’ department, as well as my mid-century-mod mustard-colored rocker.

Savers, 875 Main, Redwood City. (650) 364-5545, When the ladies of Hillsborough, Burlingame, and the surrounding ‘burbs shed their oldest, most elegant offerings, the pickings can’t be beat at this Savers. You’ll find everything from I. Magnin cashmere toppers, vintage Gucci tweed, and high-camp ’80s feather-and-leather sweaters to collectible dishware, antique ribbons, and kitsch-cute Holly Hobbie plaques. Strangest, oddly covetable missed-score: a psychiatrist’s couch.

Thrift Town, 2101 Mission, SF. (415) 861-1132, When all else fails, fall back on this department store-sized megalith. Back in the day, thrift-oldsters tell me, they’d dig out collectible paintings and ’50s-era bikes. Now you’ll have to grind deeply to land those finds, though they’re here: cute, mismatched, mid-century chairs; the occasional designer handbag; and ’60s knit suits. Hint: venture into less picked-over departments like bedding. (Kimberly Chun)



San Francisco will not let you starve. Even if you’re completely out of money, there are plenty of places and ways to fill your belly. Many soup kitchens operate out of churches and community centers, and lists can be downloaded and printed from and (which is also a great clearinghouse of information on social services in San Francisco.)Here’s a list of some of our favorites.

Free hot meals

Curry without Worry Healthy, soul pleasing Nepalese food to hungry people in San Francisco. Every Tues. 5:45–7 p.m. on the square at Hyde and Market streets.

Glide, 330 Ellis. Breakfast 8-9 a.m., lunch noon-1:30 p.m. everyday. Dinner 4-5:30 p.m., M-F.

St. Anthony Dining Room, 45 Jones, Lunch everyday 11:30 a.m.–1:30 p.m.

St Martin de Porres Hospitality House, 225 Potrero Ave. Best bowl of oatmeal in the city. Tues.-Sat. breakfast from 6:30-7:30 a.m., lunch from noon-2 pm.. Sun. brunch 9-10:30 a.m. Often vegetarian options.


Food not Bombs Vegetarian soup and bread, but bring your own bowl. At the UN Plaza, Mon., 6 p.m.; Wed., 5:30 p.m. Also at 16th and Mission streets. Thurs. at 7:30 p.m.

Mother’s Kitchen, 7 Octavia, Fri., 2:30-3:30. Vegan options.

Iglesia Latina Americana de Las Adventistas Seventh Dia, 3024 24th St. Breakfast 9:30-11 a.m., third Sun. of the month.

Grab and go sandwiches

Glide, bag meals to go after breakfast ends at 9 a.m.

St. Peter and Paul Catholic Church, 666 Filbert. 4-5 p.m. every day.


Curry Senior Center, 333 Turk. For the 60+ set. Breakfast 8-9 a.m., lunch 11:30 to noon every day.

Kimochi, 1840 Sutter St. Japanese-style hot lunch served 11:45 am (M-F). $1.50 donation per meal is requested. 60+ only with no one to assist with meals. Home deliveries available. 415-931-2287

St. Anthony Dining Room, 10:30-11:30 a.m., 59+, families, and people who can’t carry a tray.

Free groceries

San Francisco Food Bank A wealth of resources, from pantries with emergency food boxes to supplemental food programs. 415-282-1900.

211 Dial this magic number and United Way will connect you with free food resources in your neighborhood — 24/7.

Low-cost groceries

Maybe you don’t qualify for food assistance programs or you just want to be a little thriftier — in which case the old adage that the early bird gets the metaphorical worm is apropos. When it comes to good food deals, timing can be everything. Here are a couple of handy tips for those of us who like to eat local, organic, and cheap. Go to Rainbow Grocery early and hit the farmers markets late. Rainbow has cheap and half-price bins in the bread and produce sections — but you wouldn’t know it if you’re a late-riser. Get there shortly after doors open at 9 a.m. for the best deals.

By the end of the day, many vendors at farmers markets are looking to unload produce rather than pack it up, so it’s possible to score great deals if you’re wandering around during the last half hour of the market. CAFF has a comprehensive list of Bay Area markets that you can download:

Then there’s the Grocery Outlet (2001 Fourth St., Berkeley and 2900 Broadway, Oakland,, which puts Wal-Mart to shame. This is truly the home of low-cost living. Grocery Outlet began in 1946 in San Francisco when Jim Read purchased surplus government goods and started selling them. Now Grocery Outlets are the West Coast’s version of those dented-can stores that sell discounted food that wasn’t ready for prime-time, or perhaps spent a little too long in the limelight.

Be prepared to eat what you find — options range from name brands with trashed labels to foodstuffs you’ve never seen before — but there are often good deals on local breads and cheeses, and their wine section will deeply expand you Two-Buck Chuck cellar. Don’t be afraid of an occasional corked bottle that you can turn into salad dressing, and be sure to check the dates on anything perishable. The Grocery Outlet Web site (which has the pimpest intro music ever) lists locations and ways to sign up for coupons and download a brochure on how to feed your family for $3 a day. (Amanda Witherell)



Music should be free. Everyone who has downloaded music they haven’t been given or paid for obviously believes this, though we haven’t quite made it to that ideal world where all professional musicians are subsidized — and given health care — by the government or other entities. But live, Clive? Where do can you catch fresh, live sounds during a hard-hitting, heavy-hanging economic downturn? Intrepid, impecunious sonic seekers know that with a sharp eye and zero dough, great sounds can be found in the oddest crannies of the city. You just need to know where to look, then lend an ear. Here are a few reliables — occasional BART station busks and impromptu Ocean Beach shows aside.

Some of the best deals — read: free — on world-class performers happen seasonally: in addition to freebie fests like Hardly Strictly Bluegrass every October and the street fairs that accompanying in fair weather, there’s each summer’s Stern Grove Festival. Beat back the Sunset fog with a picnic of bread, cheese, and cheap vino, though you gotta move fast to claim primo viewing turf to eyeball acts like Bettye Lavette, Seun Kuti and Egypt 80, and Allen Toussaint. Look for the 2009 schedule to be posted at May 1.

Another great spot to catch particularly local luminaries is the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival, which runs from May to October. Rupa and the April Fishes, Brass Menazeri, Marcus Shelby Trio, Bayonics, and Omar Sosa’s Afreecanos Quintet all took their turn in the sun during the Thursday lunchtime concerts. Find out who’s slated for ’09 in early spring at

All year around, shopkeeps support sounds further off the beaten path — music fans already know about the free, albeit usually shorter, shows, DJ sets, and acoustic performances at aural emporiums like Amoeba Music ( and Aquarius Records ( Many a mind has been blown by a free blast of new sonics from MIA or Boris amid the stacks at Amoeba, the big daddy in this field, while Aquarius in-stores define coziness: witness last year’s intimate acoustic hootenanny by Deerhoof’s Satomi and Tenniscoats’ Saya as Oneone. Less regular but still an excellent time if you happen upon one: Adobe Books Backroom Gallery art openings (, where you can get a nice, low-key dose of the Mission District’s art and music scenes converging. Recent exhibition unveilings have been topped off by performances by the Oh Sees, Boner Ha-chachacha, and the Quails.

Still further afield, check into the free-for-all, quality curatorial efforts at the Rite Spot (, where most shows at this dimly lit, atmospheric slice of old-school cabaret bohemia are as free as the breeze and as fun as the collection of napkin art in back: Axton Kincaid, Brandy Shearer, Kitten on the Keys, Toshio Hirano, and Yard Sale have popped up in the past. Also worth a looky-loo are Thee Parkside‘s ( free Twang Sunday and Happy Hour Shows: a rad time to check out bands you’ve never heard of but nonetheless pique your curiosity: Hukaholix, hell’s yeah! And don’t forget: every cover effort sounds better with a pint — all the better to check into the cover bands at Johnny Foley’s (, groove artists at Beckett’s Irish Pub in Berkeley (, and piano man Rod Dibble and his rousing sing-alongs at the Alley in Oakland (510-444-8505). All free of charge. Charge! (Kimberly Chun}



Our complex world often defies simple solutions. But there is one easy way to save money, get healthy, become more self-sufficient, free up public resources, and reduce your contribution to air pollution and global warming: get around town on a bicycle.

It’s no coincidence that the number of cyclists on San Francisco streets has increased dramatically over the last few years, a period of volatile gasoline prices, heightened awareness of climate change, poor Muni performance, and economic stagnation.

On Bike to Work Day last year, traffic counts during the morning commute tallied more bicycles than cars on Market Street for the first time. Surveys commissioned by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition show that the number of regular bike commuters has more than doubled in recent years. And that increase came even as a court injunction barred new bike projects in the city (see "Stationary biking," 5/16/07), a ban that likely will be lifted later this year, triggering key improvements in the city’s bicycle network that will greatly improve safety.

Still not convinced? Then do the math.

Drive a car and you’ll probably spend a few hundred dollars every month on insurance, gas, tolls, parking, and fines, and that’s even if you already own your car outright. If you ride the bus, you’ll pay $45 per month for a Fast Pass while government will pay millions more to subsidize the difference. Riding a bike is basically free.

Free? Surely there are costs associated with bicycling, right? Yeah, sure, occasionally. But in a bike-friendly city like San Francisco, there are all kinds of opportunities to keep those costs very low, certainly lower than any other transportation alternative except walking (which is also a fine option for short trips).

There are lots of inexpensive used bicycles out there. I bought three of my four bicycles at the Bike Hut at Pier 40 ( for an average of $100 each and they’ve worked great for several years (my fourth bike, a suspension mountain bike, I also bought used for a few hundred bucks).

Local shops that sell used bikes include Fresh Air Bicycles, (1943 Divisidero, Refried Cycles (3804 17th St., www.refriedcycles,com/bicycles.htm), Karim Cycle (2800 Telegraph., Berkeley, and Re-Cycles Bicycles (3120 Sacramento, Berkeley, Blazing Saddles (1095 Columbus, sells used rental bikes for reasonable prices. Craigslist always has listings for dozens of used bikes of all styles and prices. And these days, you can even buy a new bike for a few hundred bucks. Sure, they’re often made in China with cheap parts, but they’ll work just fine.

Bikes are simple yet effective machines with a limited number of moving parts, so it’s easy to learn to fix them yourself and cut out even the minimal maintenance costs associated with cycling. I spent $100 for two four-hour classes at Freewheel Bike Shop (1920 Hayes and 914 Valencia, that taught me everything I need to know about bike maintenance and includes a six-month membership that lets me use its facilities, tools, and the expertise of its mechanics. My bikes are all running smoother than ever on new ball bearings that cost me two bucks per wheel, but they were plenty functional even before.

There are also ways to get bike skills for free. Sports Basement ( offers free bicycle maintenance classes at both its San Francisco locations the first Tuesday of every month from 6:30-7:30 p.m. Or you can turn to the Internet, where YouTube has a variety of bike repair videos and Web sites such as can lead you through repairs.

The nonprofit The Bike Kitchen (1256 Mission, on Mission Street offers great deals to people who spend $40 per year for a membership. Volunteer your time through the Earn-a-Bike program and they’ll give you the frame, parts, and skills to build your own bike for free.

But even in these hard economic times, there is one purchase I wouldn’t skimp on: spend the $30 — $45 for a good U-lock, preferably with a cable for securing the wheels. Then you’re all set, ready to sell your car, ditch the bus, and learn how easy, cheap, fast, efficient, and fun it is to bicycle in this 49-square-mile city. (Steven T. Jones)



When money’s tight, healthcare tends to be one of the first costs we cut. But that can be a bad idea, because skimping on preventive care and treatment for minor issues can lead to much more expensive and serious (and painful) health issues later. Here is our guide to Bay Area institutions, programs, and clinics that serve the under- and uninsured.

One of our favorite places is the Women’s Community Clinic (2166 Hayes, 415-379-7800,, a women-operated provider open to anyone female, female-identified, or female-bodied transgender. This awesome 10-year-old clinic offers sexual and reproductive health services — from Pap smears and PMS treatment to menopause and infertility support — to any SF, San Mateo, Alameda, or Marin County resident, and all on a generous sliding scale based on income and insurance (or lack thereof). Call for an appointment, or drop in on Friday mornings (but show up at 9:30 a.m. because spots fill up fast).

A broader option (in terms of both gender and service) is Mission Neighborhood Center (main clinic at 240 Shotwell. 415-552-3870,, see Web site for specialty clinics). This one-stop health shop provides primary, HIV/AIDS, preventive, podiatry, women’s, children’s, and homeless care to all, though its primary focus is on the Latino/Hispanic Spanish-speaking community. Insurance and patient payment is accepted, including a sliding scale for the uninsured (no one is denied based on inability to pay). This clinic is also a designated Medical Home (or primary care facility) for those involved in the Healthy San Francisco program.

Contrary to popular belief, Healthy San Francisco ( is not insurance. Rather, it’s a network of hospitals and clinics that provide free or nearly free healthcare to uninsured SF residents who earn at or below 300 percent of the federal poverty level (which, at about $2,600 per month, includes many of us). Participants choose a Medical Home, which serves as a first point-of-contact. The good news? HSF is blind to immigration status, employment status, and preexisting medical conditions. The catch? The program’s so new and there are so many eligible residents that the application process is backlogged — you may have a long wait before you reap the rewards. Plus, HSF only applies within San Francisco.

Some might consider mental health less important than that of the corporeal body, but anyone who’s suffered from depression, addiction, or PTSD knows otherwise. Problem is, psychotherapy tends to be expensive — and therefore considered superfluous. Not so at Golden Gate Integral Counseling Center (507 Polk. 415-561-0230,, where individuals, couples, families, and groups can get long- and short-term counseling for issues from stress and relationships to gender identity, all billed on a sliding scale.

Other good options

American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine (450 Connecticut, 415-282-9603, This well-regarded school provides a range of treatments, including acupuncture, cupping, tui ma/shiatsu massage, and herbal therapy, at its on-site clinics — all priced according to a sliding scale and with discounts for students and seniors. The college also sends interns to specialty clinics around the Bay, including the Women’s Community Clinic, Haight Ashbury Free Medical Clinic, and St. James Infirmary.

St. James Infirmary (1372 Mission. 415-554-8494, Created for sex-workers and their partners, this Mission District clinic offers a range of services from primary care to massage and self-defense classes, for free. Bad ass.

Free Print Shop ( This fantabulous Webs site has charts showing access to free healthcare across the city, as well as free food, shelter, and help with neighborhood problems. If we haven’t listed ’em, Free Print Shop has. Tell a friend.

Native American Health Center (160 Capp, 415-621-8051, Though geared towards Native Americans, this multifaceted clinic (dental! an Oakland locale, and an Alameda satellite!) turns no one away. Services are offered to the under-insured on a sliding scale as well as to those with insurance.

SF Free Clinic (4900 California, 415-750-9894, Those without any health insurance can get vaccinations, diabetes care, family planning assistance, STD diagnosis and treatment, well child care, and monitoring of acute and chronic medical problems.

Haight Ashbury Free Clinics (558 Clayton. 415-746-1950, Though available to all, these clinics are geared towards the uninsured, underinsured "working poor," the homeless, youth, and those with substance abuse and/or mental health issues. We love this organization not only for its day-to-day service, but for its low-income residential substance abuse recovery programs and its creation of RockMed, which provides free medical care at concerts and events. (Molly Freedenberg)



There’s no reason to be ashamed to stay in the city’s homeless shelters — but proceed with awareness. Although most shelters take safety precautions and men and women sleep in separate areas, they’re high-traffic places that house a true cross-section of the city’s population.

The city shelters won’t take you if you just show up — you have to make a reservation. In any case, a reservation center should be your first stop anyway because they’ll likely have other services available for you. If you’re a first-timer, they’ll want to enter you into the system and take your photograph. (You can turn down the photo-op.) Reservations can be made for up to seven days, after which you’ll need to connect with a case manager to reserve a more permanent 30- or 60-day bed.

The best time to show up is first thing in the morning when beds are opening up, or late at night when beds have opened up because of no-show reservations. First thing in the morning means break of dawn — people often start lining up between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m. for the few open beds. Many people are turned away throughout the day, although your chances are better if you’re a woman.

You can reserve a bed at one of several reservation stations: 150 Otis, Mission Neighborhood Resource Center (165 Capp St.), Tenderloin Resource Center (187 Golden Gate), Glide (330 Ellis), United Council (2111 Jennings), and the shelters at MSC South (525 Fifth St.) and Hospitality House (146 Leavenworth). If it’s late at night, they may have a van available to give you a ride to the shelter. Otherwise, bus tokens are sometimes available if you ask for one — especially if you’re staying at Providence shelter in the Bayview-Hunters Point District.

They’ll ask if you have a shelter preference — they’re all a little different and come with good and bad recommendations depending on whom you talk to. By all accounts, Hospitality House is one of the best — it’s small, clean, and well run. But it’s for men only, as are the Dolores Street Community Services shelters (1050 S. Van Ness and 1200 Florida), which primarily cater to Spanish-speaking clients.

Women can try Oshun (211 13th St.) and A Woman’s Place (1049 Howard) if they want a men-free space. If kids are in tow, Compass Family Services will set you up with shelter and put you on a waiting list for housing. (A recent crush of families means a waiting list for shelters also exists.) People between 18 and 24 can go to Lark Inn (869 Ellis). The Asian Woman’s Shelter specializes in services for Asian-speaking women and domestic violence victims (call the crisis line 877-751-0880). (Amanda Witherell)



Nothing fancy about these places — but the food is good, and the price is right, and they’re perfect for depression dining.

Betty’s Cafeteria Probably the easiest place in town to eat for under five bucks, breakfast or lunch, American or Chinese. 167 11th St., SF. (415) 431-2525

Susie’s Café You can get four pancakes or a bacon burger for under $5 at this truly grungy and divine dive, right next to Ed’s Auto — and you get the sense the grease intermingles. , 603 Seventh St., SF (415) 431-2177

Lawrence Bakery Café Burger and fries, $3.75, and a slice of pie for a buck. 2290 Mission., SF. (415) 864-3119

Wo’s Restaurant Plenty of under-$5 Cantonese and Vietnamese dishes, and, though the place itself is cold and unatmospheric, the food is actually great. 4005 Judah, SF. (415) 681-2433

Glenn’s Hot Dogs A cozy, friendly, cheap, delicious hole-in-the-wall and probably my favorite counter to sit at in the whole Bay Area. 3506 MacArthur Blvd., Oakl. (510) 530-5175 (L.E. Leone)



When it comes to free drinks I’m a liar, a whore, and a cheat, duh.

I’m a liar because of course I find your designer replica stink-cloud irresistible and your popped collar oh so intriguing — and no, you sexy lug, I’ve never tried one of those delicious-looking orange-juice-and-vodka concoctions you’re holding. Perhaps you could order me one so I could try it out while we spend some time?

I’m a whore because I’ll still do you anyway — after the fifth round, natch. That’s why they call me the liquor quicker picker-upper.

And I’m a cheat because here I am supposed to give you the scoop on where to score some highball on the lowdown, when in fact there’s a couple of awesome Web sites just aching to help you slurp down the freebies. Research gives me wrinkles, darling. So before I get into some of my fave inexpensive inebriation stations, take a designated-driver test drive of and

FuncheapSF’s run by the loquacious Johnny Funcheap, and has the dirty deets on a fab array of free and cheap city events — with gallery openings, wine and spirits tastings, and excellent shindigs for the nightlife-inclined included. is a national operation that’s geared toward the hard stuff, and its local branch offers way too much clarity about happy hours, concerts, drink specials, and service nights. Both have led me into inglorious perdition, with dignity, when my chips were down.

Beyond all that, and if you have a couple bucks in your shucks, here’s a few get-happies of note:

Godzuki Sushi Happy Hour at the Knockout. Super-yummy affordable fish rolls and $2 Kirin on tap in a rockin’ atmosphere. Wednesdays, 6–9:30 p.m. 3223 Mission, SF. (415) 550-6994,

All-Night Happy Hour at The Attic. Drown your recession tears — and the start of your work week — in $3 cosmos and martinis at this hipster hideaway. Sundays and Mondays, 5 p.m.–2 a.m. 3336 24th St., (415) 722-7986

The Stork Club. Enough live punk to bleed your earworm out and $2 Pabsts every night to boot? Fly me there toute suite. 2330 Telegraph, Oakl. (510) 444-6174,

House of Shields. Dive into $2 PBR on tap and great music every night except Sundays at the beautiful winner of our 2008 Best of the Bay "Best Monumental Urinal" award. (We meant in the men’s room, not the place as a whole!) 39 New Montgomery, SF. (415) 975-8651,

The Bitter End. $3 drafts Monday through Friday are just the beginning at this Richmond pub: the Thursday night Jager shot plus Pabst for five bucks (plus an ’80s dance party) is worth a look-see. 441 Clement, SF. (415) 221-9538

Thee Parkside Fast becoming the edge-seekers bar of choice, this Potrero Hill joint has some awesome live nights with cheap brews going for it, but the those in the know misplace their Saturday afternoons with $3 well drinks from 3 to 8 p.m.1600 17th St., SF. (415) 252-1330,

Infatuation. One of the best free club nights in the city brings in stellar electro-oriented talent and also offers two-for-one well drinks, so what the hey. Wednesdays, 9 p.m.–2 a.m. Vessel, 85 Campton Place, SF. (415) 433-8585,

Honey Sundays. Another free club night, this one on the gay tip, that offers more great local and international DJ names and some truly fetching specials at Paradise Lounge’s swank upstairs bar. Sundays, 8 p.m.–2 a.m. Paradise Lounge, 1501 Folsom, SF. (415) 252-5018, (Marke B.)



You’ve got a date this weekend, which you’re feeling pretty good about, but only $50 to spend, which feels … not so good. Where should you go?

You’ll appear in-the-know at the underrated Sheba Piano Lounge (1419 Fillmore, on lower Fillmore Street, right in the middle of the burgeoning jazz revival district. Sheba was around long before Yoshi’s, offering live jazz (usually piano, sometimes a vocalist) and some of the best Ethiopian food in the city in a refined, relaxed lounge setting. Sure, they’ve got Americanized dishes, but skip those for the traditional Ethiopian menu. Sample multiple items by ordering the vegetarian platter ($13) or ask for a mixed meat platter, which is not on the menu ($16 last time I ordered it). One platter is more than enough for two, and you can still afford a couple of cocktails, glasses of wine or beer, or even some Ethiopian honey wine (all well under $10). Like any authentic Ethiopian place I’ve eaten in, the staff operates on Africa time, so be prepared to linger and relax.

It’s a little hipster-ish with slick light fixtures, a narrow dining room/bar, and the increasingly common "communal table" up front, but the Mission District’s Bar Bambino (2931 16th St., offers an Italian enoteca experience that says "I’ve got some sophistication, but I like to keep it casual." Reserve ahead for tables because there aren’t many, or come early and sit at the bar or in the enclosed back patio and enjoy an impressive selection of Italian wines by the glass ($8–$12.50). For added savings with a touch of glam, don’t forget their free sparkling water on tap. It’s another small plates/antipasti-style menu, so share a pasta ($10.50–$15.50), panini ($11.50–$12.50), and some of their great house-cured salumi or artisan cheese. Bar Bambino was just named one of the best wine bars in the country by Bon Apetit, but don’t let that deter you from one of the city’s real gems.

Nothing says romance (of the first date kind) like a classic French bistro, especially one with a charming (heated) back patio. Bistro Aix (3340 Steiner, is one of those rare places in the Marina District where you can skip the pretension and go for old school French comfort food (think duck confit, top sirloin steak and frites, and a goat cheese salad — although the menu does stray a little outside the French zone with some pasta and "cracker crust pizza." Bistro Aix has been around for years, offering one of the cheapest (and latest — most end by 6 or 7 p.m.) French prix fixe menus in town (Sunday through Thursday, 6–8 p.m.) at $18 for two courses. This pushes it to $40 for two, but still makes it possible to add a glass of wine, which is reasonably priced on the lower end of their Euro-focused wine list ($6.25–$15 a glass).

Who knew seduction could be so surprisingly affordable? (Virginia Miller)



You may be broke, but you can still stay limber. San Francisco is home to scores of studios and karmically-blessed souls looking to do a good turn by making yoga affordable for everyone.

One of the more prolific teachers and donation-based yoga enthusiasts is Tony Eason, who trained in the Iyengar tradition. His classes, as well as links to other donation-based teachers, can be found at Another great teacher in the Anusara tradition is Skeeter Barker, who teaches classes for all levels Mondays and Wednesdays from 7:45 to 9:15 p.m. at Yoga Kula, 3030a 16th St. (recommended $8–$10 donation).

Sports Basement also hosts free classes every Sunday at three stores: Bryant Street from 1 to 2 p.m., the Presidio from 11a.m. to noon, and Walnut Creek 11 a.m. to noon. Bring your own mat.

But remember: even yoga teachers need to make a living — so be fair and give what you can. (Amanda Witherell)



So the building you live in was foreclosed. Or you missed a few rent payments. Suddenly there’s a three-day eviction notice in your mailbox. What now?

Don’t panic. That’s the advice from Ted Gullicksen, executive director of the San Francisco Tenants Union. Tenants have rights, and evictions can take a long time. And while you may have to deal with some complications and legal issues, you don’t need to pack your bags yet.

Instead, pick up the phone and call the Tenants Union (282-6622, or get some professional advice from a lawyer.

The three-day notice doesn’t mean you have to be out in three days. "But it does mean you will have to respond to and communicate with the landlord/lady within that time," Gullicksen told us.

It’s also important to keep paying your rent, Gullicksen warned, unless you can’t pay the full amount and have little hope of doing so any time soon.

"Nonpayment of rent is the easiest way for a landlord to evict a tenant," Gullicksen explained. "Don’t make life easier for the landlady who was perhaps trying to use the fact that your relatives have been staying with you for a month as grounds to evict you so she can convert your apartment into a pricey condominium."

There are, however, caveats to Gullicksen’s "always pay the rent" rule: if you don’t have the money or you don’t have all the money.

"Say you owe $1,000 but only have $750 when you get the eviction notice," Gullicksen explained. "In that case, you may want to not pay your landlord $750, in case he sits on it but still continues on with the eviction. Instead, you might want to put the money to finding another place or hiring an attorney."

A good lawyer can often delay an eviction — even if it’s over nonpayment or rent — and give you time to work out a deal. Many landlords, when faced with the prospect of a long legal fight, will come to the table. Gullicksen noted that the vast majority of eviction cases end in a settlement. "We encourage all tenants to fight evictions," he said. The Tenants Union can refer you to qualified tenant lawyers.

These days some tenants who live in buildings that have been foreclosed on are getting eviction notices. But in San Francisco, city officials are quick to point out, foreclosure is not a legal ground for eviction.

Another useful tip: if your landlord is cutting back on the services you get — whether it’s a loss of laundry facilities, parking, or storage space, or the owner has failed to do repairs or is preventing you from preventing you from "the quiet enjoyment of your apartment" — you may be able to get a rent reduction. With the passage of Proposition M in November 2008 tenants who have been subjected to harassment by their landlords are also eligible for rent reductions. That involves a petition to the San Francisco Rent Stabilization and Arbitration Board (

Gullicksen also recommends that people who have lost their jobs check out the Eviction Defense Collaborative (

"They are mostly limited to helping people who have temporary shortfalls," Gullicksen cautioned. But if you’ve lost your job and are about to start a new one and are a month short, they can help. (Sarah Phelan)



How do you get your unemployment check?

"Just apply for it."

That’s the advice of California’s Employment Development Department spokesperson Patrick Joyce.

You may think you aren’t eligible because you may have been fired or were only working part-time, but it’s still worth a try. "Sometimes people are ineligible, but sometimes they’re not," Joyce said, explaining that a lot of factors come into play, including your work history and how much you were making during the year before you became unemployed.

"So, simply apply for it — if you don’t qualify we’ll tell you," he said. "And if you think you are eligible and we don’t, you can appeal to the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board."

Don’t wait, either. "No one gets unemployment benefits insurance payments for the first week they are unemployed," Joyce explained, referring to the one-week waiting period the EDD imposes before qualified applicants can start collecting. "So you should apply immediately."

Folks can apply by filling out the unemployment insurance benefits form online or over the phone. But the phone number is frequently busy, so online is the best bet.

Even if you apply by phone, visit beforehand to view the EDD’s extensive unemployment insurance instructions and explanations. To file an online claim, visit For a phone number for your local office, visit

(Sarah Phelan)

We’ll be doing regular updates and running tips for hard times in future issues. Send your ideas to