The glittering marquee of Make Out Room promises good times, while the facade of this friendly neighborhood bar harks back to the days of speakeasies. There’s a blank, windowless wall and two heavy wooden doors with small, hard to see through glass panes set at eye level.
“It is a dark bar,” says Parker Gibbs, a regular DJ at the club and the husband of Amy Morris Gibbs, Make Out Room’s manager and occasional booker. “It’s been a hangout for artists, musicians and neighborhood people since it opened 24 years ago. Martin (Rapalski, the club’s owner) has a good sense of design and preserved a lot of the décor put up by previous owners. The place has been a bar since the 50s and there are interesting artifacts hanging around – a bearskin rug, old prints and a long wooden, art deco-looking bar that dominates the front of the room. You soak it all in when you walk through the door. It has a unique, welcoming vibe.
“Most people who work in the club are musicians and bands like playing there. It has a comfortable, exotic, out-of-time feeling. In that respect, it’s become ground zero for a lot of acts when they come to San Francisco. The Mekons, Pavement, Kelly Stoltz, Chuck Prophet, Ariel Pink, Hal Gelb and other big names stop by and play when they’re passing through. Jonathan Richman has been doing a week-long residency for the last ten years. He loves the resonance of the hollowed-out stage. He can stomp his feet like a flamenco dancer and the booming sound adds to his performance.”
Make Out Room’s high ceiling is festooned with dangling lights, disco balls, helium-filled party balloons, and lots of glitter. It’s a music venue, dance club and neighborhood hangout, with an ambiance that’s homey and hip. It hosts events for locals – weddings, birthday parties, social events – and is open to musicians of every persuasion.
Depending on the night, you can hear free jazz, folk music, singer/songwriters, rock, reggae, goth and world music. They also host poetry readings, events put on by LitQuake - San Francisco’s popular literary festival - drag shows and benefits for local non-profits.
Despite its moniker, Make Out Room is a gathering spot, not a pickup bar. “It’s not a dive, but the drinks are cheaper than anywhere else in the city,” Gibbs says. “It attracts a hard-working, hard-drinking local crowd, so you don’t wait ten minutes for designer drinks with strange ingredients. The margaritas are a great deal, 14 bucks for a pint that’s literally 90% alcohol. We’ve just been granted Legacy Status by the city, so we’re going to be around for a while.”
The Make Out Room, 3226 22nd Street, San Francisco, CA