Downtown SF

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Phoenix Hotel (601 Eddy St at Polk)

The hotel was popular with rock bands on tour; guests have included Pearl Jam, Ziggy Marley, Johnny Depp and John F Kennedy Jr.

John's Grill (63 Ellis St at Powell)

The Grill was a favourite of author Dashiel Hammet and it still has a touch of the Maltese Falcon about it.

Fillmore Auditorium (1805 Geary St)

The dance halls of San Francisco’s acid rock era are still legendary. Names like the Avalon, Fillmore, Fillmore West, and the Straight, are enshrined in the fantastic swirling psychedelic posters which are bought and sold today for many hundreds of dollars.

The Fillmore Auditorium was the very first local ballroom to open its doors to hippies, and it is the only one of them still presenting rock concerts.

The auditorium specialised in R&B and Soul revues, presenting all of the top Stax and Motown stars to the local African-American community until 1966.

Chet Helms (leader of the Family Dog collective) and Bill Graham began running psychedelic rock dances at the venue, starting with a benefit concert for the radical San Francisco Mime Troupe.

Shortly afterwards there was a rift, and Helms went on to open the Avalon Ballroom, leaving the highly driven Graham to turn the Fillmore into the beginnings of a massive rock empire.

The hippie community flocked to see every major alternative rock band of the sixties at the Fillmore (including a very poorly received show by the Velvet Underground in May 1966). Graham moved his operation to the nearby Fillmore West in mid 1968.

From the 1970s, the Fillmore’s history was very chequered. It became a private club in the 1970s, and in the early 80s it occasionally showed punk rock/hard core bands (under the name the Elite Club) including Black Flag, The Dead Kennedys, Bad Brains and Public Image Limited. The Auditorium reopened as a full time rock venue in April 1994, with a show by the Smashing Pumpkins and Ry Cooder.


Wally Heiders Studios (245 Hyde St, Tenderloin)

Heider was a top LA recording engineer, who moved his operation to San Francisco in April 1969 to take advantage of the acid rock explosion.

Many of the classic recordings of the era were made in these studios: Jefferson Airplane’s Volunteers, CSNY’s Deja Vu, Santana’s Abraxas, and everything by Credence Clearwater Revival after (and including) Green River.

Mark Bolan recorded his glam rock classic Get It On at the studios while on tour in the early 70s. Heider retired shortly after Bolan’s recording session (no causal connection between the two events is documented), but the studios remain in business.

Winterland (Post and Steiner Sts)

The cavernous Winterland sports arena played a key role in Bill Graham’s rock empire from the late 60s until he closed it down on New Years Eve 1978.

It is best remembered for its performances in its final year. These included the explosive final concert by the Sex Pistols in January 1978, The Band’s Last Waltz concert in 1976 (documented on film by Martin Scorsese), the Grateful Dead’s so-called retirement concerts in 1975 (they recorded the gigs in The Grateful Dead Movie, and then decided to keep going), and Ken Kesey’s anti climactic, but final, Acid Test Graduation in October 1966.

Less memorably, it was the venue for Peter Frampton’s mid 70s multi platinum recording, Frampton Comes Alive, which introduced the world to history’s most annoying guitar effect.

The nearby Miyako Hotel (1625 Post St) was often used by touring rock bands in the 70s, including the Sex Pistols. The Pistols disintegrated in a bitter brawl at the hotel immediately after their Winterland concert.

Mabuhay Gardens (412 Broadway)

A famous punk rock club, run by the eccentric Dirk Dirksen, an ex TV producer who played the role of Evil Prince of Youthploitation with great gusto.

Avalon Ballroom (1268 Sutter Street)

Together with Bill Graham’s Fillmore venues, and the shoestring Straight Theatre, this ballroom was the heart of the San Francisco hippie community.

It is commemorated in hundreds of vividly painted psychedelic posters, which advertised performances by all the major acid rock stars from Jimi Hendrix, to the Grateful Dead, to the Doors. Like many of the hippie monuments of the era, the Avalon no longer exists, and a cinema multiplex has taken its place.

Fillmore West (Market St and Van Ness Ave)

The El Patio ballroom was a very popular swing band venue in the Forties and Fifties. The ballroom was used for rock concerts from the mid sixties, under the name The Carousel, but Bill Graham took over in mid 1968, shifted his operation from the Fillmore Auditorium, and renamed the new venue Fillmore West (to distinguish it from his Fillmore East in New York).

One local wag observed that the ballroom had the ambience of a local youth club, with no seats and a low stage at one end - which in fact was part of the appeal. Parts of Cheap Thrills, Janis Joplin's first record with Big Brother and the Holding Company, were recorded at the hall.

Graham shut down both Fillmores in 1971, when he realised that the utopian days of the dance halls had passed, and that the growing rock industry required a much bigger corporate response.

Hard Rock Café (1699 Van Ness Ave at Clay)

Featuring loud music, good burgers, high prices, and lots of tourists

The Levis Factory (250 Valencia)

The jeans with the little red tab have been an icon in the world of rock for many years. This is the original Levis factory. There are daily tours.

Mel's Drive-In (2165 Lombard St at Fillmore, 3355 Geary Blvd at Stanyan)

A uniquely American cultural experience: 50s futurism straight out of American Graffiti, with burgers, fries milkshakes and rock `n' roll on the jukebox. It is no longer a drive-in, but is open to midnight every night, and 3am at weekends.

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