On the Hunt for the Best Jukebox in S.F.'s Richmond District
|The jukebox at the Bitter End.|
Thanks partly to the diversity of its residents, the Richmond District has a lot of great bars and restaurants. The neighborhood is a confluence of Russian bakeries, Chinese markets, and Irish pubs, and the songs available on the few scattered classic jukeboxes reflect this diverse blend.
1. O'Keeffe's Bar is an Irish bar that offers plenty of Irish music in its back-wall jukebox. The sweet Irish owner/bartender will serve you pear cider over ice as the Pogues come cranking out of the box. There are also CD comps like St. Patrick's Day Compilation and Kiss Me, I'm Irish. Stuffed in between those are sleeves of albums by the Wolfe Tones and a few festive Celtic records.
But it isn't all Irish music. The jukebox plays equal opportunity with good-for-the-bar 1990s bands like British duo Everything But the Girl, grunge rockers Alice in Chains and, happily, L.A. alterna-rockers Mazzy Star.
Juke rating: 4 drinks
2. Another Irish bar in the area with a decidedly livelier vibe, the Plough & the Stars has an equally authentic jukebox and interesting beer selection, but that's where the similarities split. The bar is triple the size of O'Keeffe's, with long communal tables in rows like a beer garden and a stage for live Irish acts.
The jukebox has a lot of Van Morrison (as pointed out by numerous Yelp users) and some more unusual Irish acts -- soloist Eoin O'riabhaigh, Paul Brady -- along with the usual suspects (U2). Its jukebox also has a lot of dad rock: Steve Earle, Dire Straits, Elvis Costello, which, while good, takes away from the vibe of the spot.
While the jukebox at the Plough & the Stars has an interesting selection, it's really more of a live band bar, so don't go expecting to hear many of your song choices -- there are fun Irish folk bands there most nights of the week. If you're looking for quality time with a mind-expanding jukebox, you won't find it here.
Juke rating: 2 drinks
3. Occasionally on these juke hunts I come across a box that is so middle of the road, so predictable, it's difficult to judge the quality. There is nothing offensive about the jukebox in the expansive Geary bar the Bitter End. It has everything you might expect from a standard machine: plenty of Rolling Stones, Madonna's Immaculate Collection (does every jukebox on earth have this album?), AC/DC, T-Rex, ZZ Top, and Bob Dylan. There are also a few gems like Madness, Sam Cooke, and House of Pain.
But because the bar itself is similarly conventional -- sweatshirted college kids and hardened drinkers, elbow to elbow -- and food expands beyond typical bar fare, it's a spot worthy of your precious dollars. Throw $5 in the jukebox and relive every happy bar memory you've had through a musical timeline of your drinking life: the high school hip-hop, college rock, and post-college psychedelic haze. Just don't expect any fireworks.
Juke rating: 3 drinks
That rounds out the Richmond's jukebox offerings. While other bars in the hood may have traditional machines or feature the digital monstrosities, our selection is meant to highlight the particularly noteworthy of the bunch. Next up: we hit Bernal Heights in search of jukes, sock full of quarters in hand.
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