Visiting SF, where to have cocktails/appys with low-key live music?
I'm visiting SF next month and while I've been researching and reserving spots at various restaurants, I haven't thought about where to go after dinner for cocktails and relaxing and listening to live music.
We're old. In our early 40's. So we don't want a noisy, nightclub crowd. Thinking more like acoustic duos or a jazz trio or something like that.
In other words, I listen to Matt Nathanson. I like that kind of music/vibe.
Can you guys suggest anywhere? I want to have a few nice date nights with my boyfriend while we're in town. If any other evening activities are fun, if that's allowable to talk about on a food board, please let me know. Thanks!!!!
Yoshi's is a good choice. There are two yoshi's, SF and Oakland, both are very good jazz rooms with pretty good food. They have lounges out front, so you may not have to buy a full ticket. I personally greatly prefer Oakland (the original), and if you're staying in SF it's a pain to get back on BART before midnight. The food at both is passable. Oakland has above-average sushi, both have good burgers, and also above average mixed drinks. If you just want to hang in the lounge, you should call and ask if they have anyone in the lounge. Or call and get tickets for the main room, which is a sit-and-listen thing with table service for food & alcohol. Razz Room is a little touristy but old torch song jazz.
Of the usual places to hear larger shows - Fillmore, Warfield, Regency, Slim's, Independant, Great American - most don't have much in the way of food. Substandard burgers at best. Each has good food nearby. I do like the front room at the Fillmore, with all the classic posters. Of all of those, you'll like the Great American best, if there's someone you've heard of. That's every SF musician's favorite house in town (after maybe Yoshi's).
Smaller places. Du Nord and The Utah come to mind.
Some have better bars than others. The Du Nord is almost exactly in your mode, because the "old people" can hang out in the back at the bar. It's an old prohibition speakeasy bar, very divey/classy, and although they don't do full craft bartending they can be trusted with the classics and have a good selection.
I would strongly recommend the Hotel Utah. The Utah has a bar snack menu that's sometimes good (depending on who is manning the kitchen, at least you can get late night fries), and another very old bar (ask to see the bullet hole). Utah, similar to Du Nord, you can hang out in the bar area and hear just fine. The benefit of the Utah is there's always something happening from 9 to 12, where the Du Nord only opens when they have an act.
Other smaller places are the Elbo, Makeout, Amnesia, Bottom of the HIll, Mighty, Savanah, Boom Boom, Hemlock, El Rio, Rite Spot. Each of these has their flavor, some are more "clubby" than others (leaving out Ruby Skye and DNA which are very clubby, although DNA is starting to have decent food), and a lot have DJs different nights, live music only sometimes. Basically, you want to "make a plan" for the evening (in terms of knowing who has live music when), and be ready to jump from spot to spot if you don't like the vibe. All of them are on the same side of town, so it's always a $5 cab ride. Unless you've been going to these clubs for a few years, it's just random chance if you hit a spot you like on a night you like.
I happen to stop off at the Rite Spot last week, and it was _fun_ . There was a piano player doing requests from the 90's (grunge, pixies, eno) with a big crowd of friends who all knew each other. I simply joined the party, met some people, sang along, had a few drinks. But I know the Rite Spot is quiet a lot of nights, too.
The "problem" with SF is individual clubs don't even stick with their formula every night. Like I wouldn't normally recommend the Rickshaw Stop (didn't even mention it), but on the "Mustache Fest" night - that sounds fun. I don't know where Matt nathanson would play, he's probably played most of these places. I couldn't imagine his sound at Bottom of the Hill, but -- you never know.
A fun evening trip is to take the BART to Oakland's Uptown area. Sometimes Van Kleef has music, and it's a great bar, or amazing eats at Plum, and The Uptown has live music about half the time. These places are _right_ at the BART station (unlike Yoshi's).
Bruno's was the call when "Top Chef" Ryan was there, but he's gone, and it's all DJs there now. Too bad.
In terms of evening things to do, going to a touristy view bar and having a beer and splitting an (out of season) crab is just plain fun - have low expectations and come to laugh. Like The Franciscan or Harry Denton's. I always liked the jazz at Jardinere on the late side, but don't know if they're still doing that. A very romantic spot is Twin Peaks (hike over to the "other peak") with a bottle of local wine on a clear night - but have a phone number for a cab when you want to go home, it's a long walk down. Number one stealth, cheap romantic activity is take the ferry across the bay, and back again. Some of the bartenders are really good, some just pour wine and shrug, but the view is always gorgeous.
club deluxe (excellent neapolitan pizza, usually swing/jazz)
rassela's (good ethiopian, often more funk/upbeat-oriented)
slim's and great american music hall obviously have a food program solely so they can allow people under 21, but the food isn't terrible, and they're both great (but fdifferent) unique venues
Yoshi's, Great American Music Hall, Cafe Du Nord, and Slim's are nightclubs / concert venues, often sold out, with sometimes pretty steep ticket prices, not places you drop in for a cocktail and some casual live music. The food at Yoshi's is better than at any other nightclub around here but I'd eat elsewhere, and the original post is asking about after-dinner drinks anyway.
I'd call them first to confirm that there'll be music on whatever night you'd be going, but the Comstock Saloon on Columbus Ave. has serious cocktails, tasty apps, and interesting music performed from a loft above the bar that fits nicely on the imaginary "jazz trio to Matt Nathanson" spectrum (everything from a literal jazz trio to a pretty troubadour belting out solo Radiohead covers on their house upright). It gets busy apres-office hours and weekend nights (not a noisy, nightclub crowd - just a victim of its own success) but weeknights and Sundays are pretty chill in my experience. Add a pre-cocktailing dinner at Cotogna a few blocks down Pacific and you've got the ingredients for a sublime SF evening. Cheers.