Stompy+Sunset at Cafe Cocomo

During a September 2010 trip to San Francisco, our good SF pals Dan and Corina recommended an all-afternoon/ all-night dance party that, to be honest, sounded too good to be true.  Located in an indoor/ outdoor event space in Potrero Hill, “Stompy+Sunset” was to be a dance party for those who, get this, actually like to dance... to music created for dancing!  What a novel concept!  Sure, there were people here just getting their drink - and such - on, and others clearly just looking for a hook-up later in the night, but for the most part, it appeared that the majority of “stompers” just wanted one thing and one thing only, to “boogie on down” all night to some great music!

The “Stompy” concept is actually derived from the online music “boutique” of the same name that promotes only select electronica and house music artists.  Their taste is impeccable, and it is this same mix of music that is brought to their live events.  We’re not sure if they are purposely trying to re-energize a nightlife scene that been severely lacking since the late 1990’s, but that is exactly what they have done!  While the weird Lucite light fixtures and “high school prom”-esque decor inside Cafe Cocomo probably does not change from night to night, the promoters behind “Stompy+Sunset” select DJs into their roster who add engaging video-mix elements to their set.  The result is a wonderfully soul-inducing mélange of music and visuals that will keep you going hour upon hour.  Previous DJs, some “Stompy” residents, have included Tasho, Deron Delgado, Kevin Yost, Pepe Bradock, Solar, Chez Damier and Alexander Robotnick!  This is top-notch stuff kiddoes.  Aside from the beats, we also loved the fashions displayed here by hoofers from all walks of life, every ethnicity, age bracket and sexual orientation.  A night out at Stompy+Sunset is truly the way LIFE itself should be!

Stompy+Sunset events are usually held at Cafe Cocomo on Sunday afternoons during holiday weekends.  We’ve already been to two more since our maiden voyage and have enjoyed them immensely.  Admission is usually around $20 USD, but that is a drop in the bucket for the amount of fun you will have all afternoon and evening long!  Set of Drifters tip:  Since “Stompy+Sunset” is a special event, it does not happen all the time at Cafe Cocomo, a bar that caters to a number of different crowds each day and night according to their own schedule.  We have heard reports of gang violence erupt here, up to and including shootings!!  W-w-w-what?  Just make sure you know what you are getting yourself into when you come here!  Look for the “Stompy” name and then you can feel secure that you are amongst like-minded people who just want to have a good time with no attitude, no drama, and most importantly, no violence!

Stompy+Sunset not happening the weekend you’re in town?  Have no fear.  We think the promoters behind the event would approve of a night out at The EndUp which offers great music in the same vein, if not in a more subdued environment.

Stompy+Sunset @ Cafe Cocomo - 650 Indiana Street, San Francisco, CA  94107, (415) 824-6910, or

The EndUp - 401 Sixth Street, San Francisco, CA  94103, (415) 646-0999,

Tonga Room and Hurricane Bar at the Fairmont

Ah, what can be said about the Tonga Room that has not already been said before?  This place is a perennial fave of ours, and we rarely make a trek to San Francisco without a visit here.  Nestled inside the opulent Fairmont - worthy of a visit in its own right as it featured so prominently in the kitschy 1980s Aaron Spelling sudser Hotel, the Tonga Room (and adjacent Hurricane Bar) is the ultimate place for natives to take out-of-towners, and since Set of Drifter Brady once lived in San Francisco, we have carried on the hosting tradition, albeit in reverse, ever since.

By now, you all know that we love a good tiki spot (see “Forbidden Island” below for even more).  Nevertheless, the Fairmont’s Tonga Room is perhaps the ultimate Polynesian experience of them all, and as usual, that honor has nothing to do with the overpriced, and undersized, food.  Aside from some rather lethal elixirs - that “Scorpion bowl” throws one mean sucker punch - the best attribute at the Tonga Room is the ambiance, made wholeheartedly preposterous via a faux rainstorm that sprinkles over an indoor 75-ft. pond twice each hour.  (The idea was the 1945 brainchild of Mel Melvin, then Metro Goldwyn Mayer’s leading set director, who was hired by hotel investors to transform an underused plunge pool into a “swanky outpost of South Seas high style.”)

But it doesn’t stop there!  Set amidst a virtual pu pu platter of rich fuchsia and orange tapestries, tribal raffia and bamboo, the Tonga Room experience reaches its apex when the loungey “Island Groove Band” eschews itself out over the lagoon atop a mini-barge to perform multiple sets each night.  A smattering of thunder claps is their call to the “stage” as it were.  Their mostly wan performance is representative of the fact that they are forced to muddle through warmed-over covers of Sade tunes at least 10 times each week!  While many older couples undoubtedly take to the dancefloor, others in the audience should find humor in the expressionless faces of the band members.  It’s as if they have become completely oblivious to their extraordinarily awkward surroundings.

A few years back we had heard rumors that the Tonga Room was headed for the chopping block.  As it turned out, the spot was just getting a nice repolish.  And if our two last visits in 2012 and 2013 were any indication, this place is busier than ever!  Trust us, a night out here is one you won’t soon forget!  Set of Drifters tip:  If you have rented a car, or driven up the coast to San Francisco, Nob Hill is NOT the place to park your vehicle.  Find a spot elsewhere in the city and cab it, or better yet, take a cable car up the hill for added “pulse impact.”  Come to think of it, this pertains to most neighborhoods in San Francisco.  See “clang! clang! clang! goes the...” in “essentials” for more information on getting around the city.) 

The Tonga Restaurant is open for dinner only five days a week, Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday from 6:00 PM until 10:00 PM and Fridays and Saturdays from 6:00 PM until 11:00 PM (closed Monday and Tuesday).  The Hurricane Bar has slightly longer hours with Happy Hour starting at 5:00 PM.  The bar closes at 11:30 PM Sunday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights and stays open until 12:30 AM on Fridays and Saturdays (closed Monday and Tuesdays).  Happy Hour specialties at the bar include a variety of “Pacific Rim” delicacies via a buffet line that will make any spendthrift Euro vacationer salivate!

Set of Drifters video:  Check out our YouTube channel for video from this event!

Tonga Room and Hurricane Bar at the Fairmont - 950 Mason Street, San Francisco, CA  94108, (415) 772-5278

caffeine - old school vs. new school

Your Set of Drifters are not coffee snobs.  Seriously, we’re not, but when baristas fashion those cute little hearts out of the froth of your cappuccino we swoon with the best of ‘em!  On recommendation from a family member, we checked out Four Barrel Coffee on Valencia, a hot-spot we were told was one of the hippest in the Mission.  After stepping one foot in this joint, it appeared our contact was making no joke.  This place was simply a zoo - with a cast of city folk so well-groomed you might have taken them for a cast “hipster” extras from some up-and-coming indie flick.  We sneaked in just in time to avoid a line that soon grew almost to the door!

A barista manning one of those new-fangled glass cafetiere things was busy impressing locals with his grinding/ infusing skills while others gabbed and chatted in a long line for the oddly-handsome bathroom.  We must say, the cappuccino was delicious, and according to Four Barrel’s website, the result of careful sourcing of the very best “direct-trade” green beans.  (Four Barrel prides itself on its “social sustainability” focus.)  We recommend this space only if you reaaaaallly love the whole coffee experience.  A rather long wait time may shut out others looking for that quick energy fix!

For a more relaxed, and perhaps, old school vibe, may we suggest a stroll through North Beach?  Here, java-mongers will find dozens of different options in which to caffeinate their souls.  Most of the locations feature Italian influences thanks to their positioning along Columbus Avenue, the “Little Italy” of San Francisco.  In fact, there are so many cafes in North Beach, Set of Drifter Brady even completed an entire report on the neighborhood phenomenon as a project for his Urban Geography class back in college!

Favorite hang-outs include classics like Caffe Greco, Cafe Trieste (live music on Saturday nights) and Puccini, though most along the stretch between Broadway and Greenwich will offer similar features:  traditional espresso options accompanied by a wide variety of pastries ad biscotti.  Yummmmm.  The perfect way to warm up on a foggy SF morning!

Four Barrel Coffee - 375 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA  94103, (415) 252-0800,

Caffe Greco - 423 Columbus Avenue, San Francisco, CA  94133, (415) 397-6261,

Caffe Trieste 609 Vallejo Street, San Francisco, CA  94133, (415) 982-2605,

Caffe Puccini - 411 Columbus Avenue, San Francisco, CA  94133, (415) 989-7033 ‎

The Stud

Your “Set of Drifters” may not be “hitting the clubs” every night of the week - we barely make it out once a month these days - though we do love to get our groove on from time to time.  One of our perennially favorite places in San Francisco in which to do this is The Stud.  This legendary South of Market dive has been a mainstay for gays and wanna-be-gays for decades, having opened way back in 1966!

It must be said that the 50 year-old interiors are a bit rank, though they somehow only add more edge to an already rough ‘n tumble experience.  While a revolving roster of theme nights assure that you will always be entertained by some oddity or nonesuch, the best part about The Stud is its diverse crowd, a mish-mosh of dancers and drinkers who are always colorful - and perhaps a bit risqué.  (To say we have seen a handful of naked people running around here would be an understatement.)  On any given night, expect a gaggle of punk otters in suspenders, sequined trannies in stilettos, curious B&T folk from the East Bay and, probably a “Macho Man” in mustache - or two.

The Stud is open nightly and hosts well drink specials Mondays through Thursdays from 9:00 PM until Midnight and Fridays and Saturdays from 8:00 PM until 10:00 PM.  The dance music here is usually spot on with DJ’s spinnin’ a healthy mix of current indie rock, electronica alongside no wave, acid house faves, and yes, even Modern Rock nostalgia from the 1980’s.

The Stud - 399 9th Street, San Francisco, CA  94103, (415) 863-6623,

Forbidden Island Tiki Lounge (Alameda, CA)

Located in the “bedroom community” of Alameda (see “architecture in Alameda” in “sights” for more information), Forbidden Island is a must for any cocktail enthusiast and tiki fan visiting the Bay Area.  You’ll first have to cross the San Francisco Bay and then manage a trip through the “Posey Tube” from Oakland to Alameda, but that quick passage almost acts as a time tunnel back to an era when specialty cocktails were king and the ingredients were pure!   Yes, friends, quite frankly, this is one of the best spots we’ve visited yet to soak in that classic tiki vibe.

Stepping inside Forbidden Island, easy listening lounge music, courtesy of greats like Les Baxter and Martin Denny, fill the air while vintage tiki decor and artwork carries down the bar and even into the restrooms!  (Be sure to check out those glowing puffer fish and velvet paintings that showcase daily life in French Polynesia!)  An open-air patio out back seals the deal in warmer months, no doubt pissing off neighbors in this mostly residential neighborhood!  Set of Drifters tip:  Please be mindful of this during your visit.

Imagined by brothers Michael and Mano Thanos, Forbidden Island Tiki Lounge opened in 2006 with hopes of establish- ing a “retro oasis” that offered refuge to top-notch mixologists and their followers.  Some seven years in, it seems the duo has succeeded in that mission.  (Forbidden Island is notable as the only tiki bar in America to use freshly-squeezed orange, lemon, lime and grapefruit juices in their elixirs!)  It’s always a gas to browse Forbidden Island’s simple, yet informative bar menu, a potion list that includes several original recipes from classic tiki institutions of yore (i.e. “The Missionary’s Downfall” from Don The Beachcomber’s and the “Singapore Sling” from a 1915 Raffles Hotel debut).  Keep an eye out for the cheeky presentation of the “Combover” (with flavors of passion fruit and guava), and the bar’s own signature drink which, at only $15, comes courtesy your own souvenir tiki mug!  It seems the only problem here is deciding which tasty libation(s) to consume first.  You just may have to come back here more than once, twice, etc.  And we have...

On our last visit in February of 2013, we were happy to see that this cozy, colorful spot is still home to a series of special events, including an annual luau and surf music festival, as well as monthly “Turntable Matinee” parties where vinyl enthusiasts and would-be DJs can line up to play mini-sets and/ or swap records!  (A nearby store for “recycled music and fashion” is the Record Gallery on Webster.)  At Forbidden Island, expect to mingle (or groove) alongside a friendly local crowd of all ages that is only partially “hipster.”  Making quick work of their satay skewers, a few couples we noted seemed to be visiting the bar on their first date, a sign that this den of exotica has a reputation for kitschy fun both near and far.

Forbidden Island is open daily from Mon through Thursday from 5:00 PM until 12:00 AM, Fridays and Saturdays from 5:00 PM until 2:00 AM and Sundays from 3:00 PM until 10:00 PM.  (Happy Hour specials are available Monday through Friday from 5:00 until 7:00 PM.)   So, don your groovy glad rags and get on down to Forbidden Island.  We’ll likely see you there!  Set of Drifters tip:  If driving, be sure to pay attention to the menu’s clever ratings of alcohol content!  You’ll be glad you did. 

Forbidden Island Tiki Lounge - 1304 Lincoln Avenue, Alameda, CA  94501, (510) 749-0332,

Record Gallery - 1451 Webster Street, Alameda, CA  94501, (510) 523-2330,

bar-hopping in the Mission

Over the last 15 years or so, the Mission District has seen a lot of change.  What used to be considered somewhat a “no-go zone” is now a hip and funky area that caters heavily to shopping, eating and/ or pubbing interests (see "sights" for more information).  There are literally dozens of great watering holes worth checking out along the blocks that stretch out from the nexus of Valencia and 16th Streets, though a couple of our favorites include the Casanova and the Beauty Bar.

The Casanova Lounge is sandwiched between an up-market coffee shop and a few fabulous vintage furniture shops along Valencia (see “goodies”).  Here, SF imbibers will find a cozy ambiance dripping in a red luminance that will easily wash out any complexion imperfections!  What initially caught our attention however was a fantastic array of ‘70s hanging lamps that showcase throughout the bar.  The back section also features some rather brilliant thrift store artwork, including images of leopards painted on velvet, that your “Set of Drifters” wished we could have stashed in our back pocket for the trip home.  Though we arrived here during the fairly quiet “Happy Hour” on our way to “Stompy - Sunset” (see above), we understand the Casanova has a rotating schedule of nightly DJ’s that play a mix of music ranging from punk and glam rock to Motown soul.  We will definitely be back to check out what we presume to be the local hipster scene after dark, though next time we will remember that it is a CASH ONLY establishment!

Another long-time favorite in the Mission is the Beauty Bar.  Truly part of another larger chain of elixir taverns that have outposts in Chicago, Austin, Portland and many other cities, the SF Beauty Bar was the second to open after the New York City original.  Using cast-off beauty parlor hardware from a salon in Long Island, New York, the Beauty Bar SF offers a fun, kitschy experience that is still casual and non-pretentious.  Music runs the gamut from New Jack Swing/ early ‘90s Hip Hop to NoWave Tuesdays.  (Set of Drifter Doug even DJ’d here once back in the early part of the millennium!)  Perhaps the most clever aspect of the Beauty Bar is its “Martini & Manicure Happy Hour” that runs Thursdays through Saturdays from 7:30 PM until 12:00 Midnight.  Heck, even we might check that one out next time we are in town!

Casanova Lounge - 527 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA  94110, (415) 863-9328,

The Beauty Bar - 2299 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA  94110, (415) 285-0323,

Bigfoot Lodge

The brainchild of owner Bobby Green and his 1933 Group," Bigfoot Lodge is a friendly little spot that seems to have assembled the perfect mix of local regulars and those who simply pass on through for a visit.  Actually part of a groovy “chain” of bars that started in San Francisco and has since spread to Los Angeles and New York City,  We love a good old-fashioned log cabin, and honestly, what better environment is there to unwind in when in the midst of an otherwise burgeoning metropolis?  At Bigfoot, it’s all about the “old frontier.”  Snow shoes, stuffed deer and jackalope mounts are just the appetizers to a heavily lacquered wood main course that boasts a carved Yeti as its centerpiece!

And yet, it is not just the decor that keeps this cute little “Polk Gulch” bar a-hoppin’  Aside from a better than average selection of beers - local, domestic and foreign - Bigfoot also slips a few varieties of “moonshine” into the mix!  (Call a cab afterward my friends!)

Bigfoot Lodge is open daily starting at 3:00 PM with a “Happy Hour” that lasts until 7:00 PM.  During this time, special prices are offered on such cleverly-named libations as “The Girl Scout Cookie,” “Sasquatch,” and “Smores.”  Delicious and eclectic, the quality of the drinks combined with the kitschy decor make this a Set of Drifters must!  Need we say more?

Bigfoot Lodge - 1750 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA  94109, (415) 440-2355

We also recommend:

Top of the Mark (for stellar views and drink menu) - 999 California Street, San Francisco, CA  94108,

Midnight Sun (for campy videos) - 4067 18th Street, San Francisco, CA  94114, (415) 861-4186,

Condor Club (stripper madness!) - 560 Broadway, San Francisco, CA  94133, (415) 781-8222,

Hobson’s Choice - 1601 Haight Street, San Francisco, CA 94117, (415) 621-5859,

Zam Zam - 1633 Haight Street, San Francisco, CA  94117, (415) 861-2545