Party spaces that give a damn
"If I can't dance, I don't want to be in your revolution" is a club-friendly sentiment traditionally attributed to estimable anarchist Emma Goldman. But even if she didn't put it in quite those words, the message is clear: changing the world doesn't have to be a grim slog. Why struggle at all if it doesn't result in a world we can actually enjoy? That's where these benefit-hosting, rabble-rousing, community-oriented bars, clubs, cultural centers, and performance spaces come in. Like the spoonful of sugar that masks the medicine, a nice pour and a few choice tunes can turn earnest liberation into ecstatic celebration.
Billing itself as "your dive," El Rio defines "you" as a crowd of anarchists, trannies, feminists, retro-cool kids, and heat-seeking salseros as diverse as you're likely to find congregating around one shuffleboard table. Whether featuring a rawkin' Gender Pirates benefit show or a rare screening of The Fall of the I-Hotel as part of radical film series Televising the Revolution, El Rio encourages an intimacy and camaraderie among its dance floorloving patrons less frequently found these days in an increasingly class-divided Mission.
3158 Mission, SF. (415) 282-3325, www.elriosf.com
Although it's really an aboveground Mission storefront, Balazo 18 has a great "in the basement" underground vibe, and within its gritty labyrinth, upstart idealists lurk like scruffy Minotaurs. The low overhead and inclusive ambience has proven fertile ground for local activist functions such as the recent Clarion Alley Mural Project fundraiser and December 2006's Free Josh Wolf event (freedom still pending). The dance floor's generous size attracts top-notch local bands and sweaty, freedom-seeking legions who love to dance till they drop.
2183 Mission, SF. (415) 255-7227, www.balazogallery.com
Applause for the Make-Out Room's green-minded stance against unnecessary plastic drink straws (it doesn't serve 'em), its championing of literary causes (Steven Elliott's "Progressive Reading" series, Charlie Anders's "Writers with Drinks"), and its calendar of benefit shows for agendas as diverse as animal sanctuary, tenants rights, and free speech. Plus, not only are the (strawless) drinks reasonably priced, but the wacked-out everydayisNew Year's Eve disco ball and silver star decor hastens their effect.
3225 22nd St., SF. (415) 647-2888, www.makeoutroom.com
The Rickshaw Stop hosts progressive literary luminaries by the library-load, raising the roof and the funds for programs such as the 61-year-old San Francisco Writer's Workshop and the reading series "Inside Storytelling." Other beneficiaries of the Rickshaw's pro-arts programming include SF Indiefest and Bitch magazine, and the club calendar is filled with queer dance parties, record release shows, and even an upcoming "Pipsqueak a Go Go" dance party for l'il kiddies with the Devilettes and the Time Outs. If teaching a roomful of preschoolers the Monkey isn't an act of die-hard, give-something-back merrymaking martyrdom, well ...
155 Fell, SF. (415) 861-2011, www.rickshawstop.com
A dancer- and activist-run performance incubator, CounterPULSE hosts a diverse collection of cutting-edge artistes ranging from queer Butoh dancers to crusading sexologists to mobility-impaired aerialists. It's also home to the interactive history project Shaping San Francisco and a lively weekly contact jam. But it's the plucky, DIY joie de vivre that pervades its fundraising events featuring such entertainment as queer cabaret, big burlesque, and an abundance of booty-shaking that keeps our toes tapping and our progressive groove moving. Best of all, the "no one turned away for lack of funds" policy ensures that even the most broke-ass idealist can get down.
1310 Mission, SF. (415) 626-2060, www.counterpulse.org
Sometimes a dance club, sometimes an art gallery and sometimes not quite either 111 Minna Gallery is pretty much guaranteed to always be a good time. Funds have been raised here on behalf of groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the West Memphis Three, and Hurricane Relief as a plethora of local and big-name artists and music makers from Hey Willpower to Henry Rollins have shown their stuff on the charmingly makeshift stage and the well-worn walls.
111 Minna, SF. (415) 974-1719, www.111minnagallery.com
It's true the revolutionary life can't just be one big dance party. Sometimes it's an uptown comedy club adventure instead. Cobb's Comedy Club consistently books the big names on the comedy circuit and it also showcases some side-splitting altruism, such as last month's THC Comedy Medical Marijuana benefit tour and the annual "Stand Up for Justice" events sponsored by Death Penalty Focus. Even selfless philanthropy can be a laughing matter.
915 Columbus, SF. (415) 928-4320, www.cobbscomedyclub.com
The headless guardian angel of cavernous, city-funded cultural center SomArts has been a silent witness to countless community-involved installations and festivals, such as the "Radical Performance" series, a Day of the Dead art exhibit, the annual "Open Studios Exhibition," and the San Francisco Electronic Music Festival. And plenty of fundraising celebrations have been hosted beneath its soaring rafters on behalf of organizations such as the Coalition on Homelessness, Survival Research Labs, and the Center for Sex and Culture. We've got to admit nothing cries "community" like a space where you can drink absinthe and build misfit toys one night, dance to live salsa the next, and attend a sober seminar on pirate radio the following afternoon.
934 Brannan, SF. (415) 552-2131, www.somarts.org
Even if the Edinburgh Castle were run by community-hating misanthropes, we'd come here for the craic and perhaps a wistful fondle of the Ballantine caber mounted on the wall. But general manager Alan Black has helped foster a scene of emerging and established writers, unsigned bands, and Robbie Burns lovers in the lively heart of the upper TL. The unpretentious, unflappable venue also hosts benefits for causes such as breast cancer research and refugee relocation. And the Tuesday night pub quiz, twice-monthly mod-Mersybeat dance nights, and annual swearing competition keep us coming back for more (except maybe the haggis).
950 Geary, SF. (415) 885-4074, www.castlenews.com
Turning martini shaking into charitable moneymaking, Elixir has been the go-to drinks dispensary for fundraisers of all varieties since it launched its unique Charity Guest Bartending program. The concept is simple: the organizers of a fundraising effort sign up in advance, beg or bully a hundred of their best buddies to show up early and stay late, get a crash course in mixology, and raise bucks behind the bar of this green-certified Mission District saloon (the second-oldest operating bar in San Francisco). Did we mention it's green certified? Just checking. Barkeep, another round.
3200 16th St., SF. (415) 552-1633, www.elixirsf.com
A 2006 Best of the Bay winner, CELLspace has weathered the usual warehouse-space storms of permit woes and facility upgrading, and yet it continues to expand its programming and fan base into some very far-flung realms. From roller disco to b-boy battling, hip-hop to punk rock, art classes to aerial performances, the CELL has been providing an urban refuge for at-risk youth, aging hipsters, and community builders since 1996. Though we mourn the loss of the Bike Kitchen, which moved to its new SoMa digs, we're glad to see the return of the Sunday-morning Mission Village Market now indoors!
2050 Bryant, SF. (415) 648-7562, www.cellspace.org