Cafe Cool

A tasty cappucino served at Dolores Park Cafe

Java Joints are Jivin’
by Heather Cassell

Not in the mood for crowded bars and clubs, but still want to be out late? San Francisco offers a host of cafes that are open into the wee hours of the morning and offer everything from sweet concoctions and confections to art, entertainment and even a little bit of hookah.

Since the inception of cafes more than five centuries ago, these quaint, charming, and rather unassuming places have been radical centers, according to historians. Unlike taverns, which allowed accompanied respectable women, cafes were male-only gathering grounds throughout most of history, and inspired more radical interactions than drinking and gambling.

Cafes were the scene of intermixing socioeconomic classes brewing intellectual pursuits, exchanging information, and discussing anything and everything from art, business, and politics along with building community and forming relationships.

Café culture hasn’t been lost on queer society. From central London’s “molly houses,” which allegedly became the nesting place for gay men in the 18th century, to last century’s cafes that created unofficial community centers for queer youth, to hot cruising hangouts for gay men and lesbians, coffeehouses are hipper than ever while maintaining centuries of underground bohemian mystique.

It should be no surprise that three of San Francisco’s late night cafes claim the Castro as home. Café Flore has been the neighborhood’s staple for nearly four decades, according to the café’s spokesman, who requested not to be identified. The quirky bohemian coffeehouse is a historical landmark drawing politicians, artists, and businessmen for nearly 40 years. Well-known for its glass patio perched at Market, 16th, and Noe streets, patrons have a perfect view for cruising as well being viewable by passerbyers as they dine and sip from a variety of beverages.

The popular café was joined by Dolores Park Café in the late 1990s when Castro/Mission resident Rachel Herbert was craving a resource to support her art with a neighborhood café closer to home that could also be a gathering place for artistic expression.

Herbert, a documentary filmmaker and ceramics artist, pulled together private funding with her then business partner and opened the doors to Dolores Park Café in 1997. Within a year, with the help of songwriter friend Deborah Pardes, Dolores Park Café established itself as a place for intimate concerts by local musicians Friday evenings: a signature of the café, which is also known for its rotating gallery of local artists.

“We want everyone who comes in to be entertained, inspired to have a good time,” said Herbert, who believes art is just as nourishing as food. “Art is such an important part of our lives, especially in the city. We want a little infusion of goodness.”

She recently expanded both cafés’ beer and wine selection.

Herbert never expected the success that the café has become. The former waitress became the sole owner of Dolores Park Café in 2001. In 2006, she opened Duboce Park Café, which has become a gathering place for the city’s literati and spoken word artists.

“I enjoy music, entertaining people, and providing a good gathering space around art and music,” said Herbert.

Wicked Grounds in SoMa

Naughty coffee
One unique café has risen up in the heart of the leather community. At Wicked Grounds, it’s not unusual to sit next to a leather-clad individual bound up by their partner enjoying a cup of coffee. Combining café and San Francisco tradition, the kinky coffeehouse entered the café nightlife scene more than a year ago to provide an alternative gathering place for the kink community.

Ryan Galiotto, who co-owns Wicked Grounds with his wife Rose White, said, “We wanted to provide a space for the kink and leather communities and to have our own club house.”

Inspired by London’s Coffee, Cake and Kink, the couple that tied the knot during the Folsom Street Fair two years ago spent their first year of married life dreaming up their version of a café with a twist: a place that would allow a certain level of play among other services.

The late night café, housed at the old Hole in the Wall bar location, was an instant hit, said Galiotto, pointing out the success of “munch nights,” themed evening gatherings, such as Transgender Screw Up.

“These groups have a place to go without worrying about what people at the next table are going to say. They don’t have to curb conversations,” said Galiotto, who also welcomes non-kink customers.

“People don’t have to be kinky to walk in the door,” said Galiotto. But some knowledge of the community helps people that don’t know “much about this side of life to explore it in a comfortable safe place.”

Plus, the coffee’s not bad, either.

Friendly staff at Steps of Rome Cafe in North Beach

Café night spots

Bazaar Café, 5927 California St. 831-5620.
Cafe Claude, 7 Claude Lane. 392-3505.
Café Flore, 2298 Market St. 621-8579.
Dolores Park Café, 501 Dolores St. 621-2936.
Duboce Park Café, 2 Sanchez St. 621-1108.
Melt!  700 Columbus Ave. 392-9290.
Momi Toby’s Revolution Cafe & Art Bar, 528 Laguna St. 626-1508
Nile Cafe & Hookah Lounge, 544 Jones St. 409-1000.
Quetzal, 1234 Polk St. 673-4181. (Internet WiFi connections; food and drinks. Open til 10pm daily; open late on Saturdays)
Steps of Rome Caffe, 348 Columbus Ave. 397-0435.
Sugar Café, 679 Sutter St. 441-5678.
The Marsh Cafe and Gallery, 1070 Valencia St. 826-5750.
The Revolution Café, 3248 22nd St. 642-0474.
Velo Rouge Café, 798 Arguello Blvd. 752-7799.
Wicked Grounds, 289 8th St. 503-0405.

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