This is a tour of the wild spirit that has made San Francisco such a special, popular place for so long. It includes images and brief descriptions of some of the city’s legendary, notorious night spots — bars, saloons, cocktail lounges, nightclubs and other bawdy hideaways. It’s a glimpse of some of the watering holes that reflected and exemplified their eras. 

Throughout its history, San Francisco has earned its reputation as the city that “knows how” to live well and enjoy life. San Francisco’s cosmopolitan nightlife is a big part of the city’s cultural heritage, and much of what defines the character of San Francisco.

The California Gold Rush (c. 1848-1855) began in Portsmouth Square, the center of the new city of San Francisco. It was there that an ambitious merchant named Sam Brannan held up a vial of gold and called out: “Gold! Gold from the American River!”  

San Francisco grew from a small settlement of about 200 residents in 1846 to a boomtown of about 36,000 just six years later. Portsmouth Square was close to the waterfront, and it was soon surrounded by various types of entertainment establishments — gambling houses, burlesque theaters and brothels.

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Bright and Yellow, Hard and Cold,
Molten, Graven, Hammered, Rolled,
Hard to Get and Light to Hold;
Stolen, Borrowed, Squandered - Doled.”

Greed (1924)