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Bars, Clubs & Coffeehouses: Dance Clubs

This club, modeled after an Eastern European wooden synagogue, is a Berkeley institution dedicated to dance and music. The nonprofit venue hosts live music nearly every night, and shows are all-ages. Ashkenaz hosts reggae, bluegrass, Balkan, Brazilian, Cajun, and Caribbean bands, just to name a few. Come early for a dance class or on Sunday afternoon for a kids' concert.

With eight full bars, a billiards room, smoking lounge, and multiple dance floors, it's easy to believe Bench and Bar's claim to the title of the Bay Area's biggest gay and lesbian dance club. Fridays have a soul happy hour from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m., and Saturdays is Club Rimshot, a hip-hop and R&B LGBT party. Other nights are a mix of dance, house, and Latin music. Free wi-fi and a daily happy hour cater to the after-work crowd.

Just five minutes from the Oakland Airport, the lounge keeps classic R&B, jazz, and doo-wop alive with live bands each weekend. Its website proclaims it a destination for "mature adults."

1220 has been a mainstay of gay nightlife in Contra Costa for three decades. Along with billiards and a red-upholstered lounge area, this club hosts DJs on Fridays and Saturdays, and regular karaoke and drag events.

If salsa dancing is your thing, then Club Montero's is your nightclub. The Albany dance club, voted Best Latin Dance Club in the Express in 2004, features salsa lessons every Friday and Saturday, with live bands on Friday to put your skills to work. Do an underarm turn or take a dip on the huge wooden dance floor underneath a giant palm tree. If you need to take a breather, order a drink at the cabana-style bar or grab a bite to eat at Montero's Cafe next door. The cover charge is $15 on Friday, and $10 on Saturday, and the dress code requires semicasual to evening attire. No sportswear or tennis shoes allowed. Eighteen and over.

Nestled between Alameda’s bustling Park Street and Alameda High School, this 92-year-old hall draws about 250 people on Friday nights for dancing to live zydeco, and occasional Saturdays for swing. These weekly gigs are not too unlike a church function -- except for the full bar hidden in the back corner — with punch bowls filled with Oreos, pretzels, and chocolate chip cookies, and regulars who affectionately call each other by name. Tables line the wooden dance floor in this four-hundred-capacity hall, and it’s easy to see why people of all ages and walks of life – from rockabillies to pimply-faced teens in Nirvana T-shirts to your aunt who frequents Ashkenaz – come for the guaranteed crowd and, oh yeah, the handy dance lesson beforehand.

During the day, the softly upholstered furniture, richly colored linens, modern-exotic lighting, and casual seating coax patrons to relax, share, and open up — even with strangers. But on weekend nights, this bar turns into a crowded, sweaty dance club, with plenty of bumping and grinding. The drinks are neither low-brow nor high-brow; they exist to lubricate social interaction, not dominate it. On Tuesdays, comedians of various stripes test their mettle before accommodating, though nonetheless real crowds. You'd never know — or maybe you would — from the blank street sign out front, featuring only a glowing neon cocktail glass: This place is the real deal.

This downtown club has a DIY-aesthetic and a diverse entertainment lineup — which represents the panoply of Caribbean music from salsa to dancehall roots to Afropop, and open mics, and proffers a savory selection of Jamaican cuisine served for lunch and the late evening.

This intimate venue books national and local bands and comedians: Acts like Mos Def, Dave Chappelle, Ra Ra Riot, Kid Sister, and Elephant Man have performed on The New Parish’s small stage since it opened in January 2010. The club has a balcony, exposed brick walls, a back patio, and barbecue served for late-night munchies.

This narrow Uptown bar has exposed brick walls, high ceilings, and lots of art on the walls. DJs spin house, hip-hop, soul, Brazilian music, and more.

This recently restored large venue dates back to the Art Deco era, when jazz big bands like Count Basie swung almost every night. These days, the occasional live act saunters through to add to the history.

Erected in the building that used to house the Oakland Box, this swank rock club is decked out with a classy mahogany bar inherited from the Old Spaghetti Factory, plus top-notch acoustics designed by the sound consultant at Yoshi’s. A lot of things have changed since the old Box days, most notably in terms of decor: Bushmama’s old boutique is now “The Green Room,” where performers kick back before going onstage; and the club’s sign is now shaped like an electric guitar. The Uptown features local and touring acts in a variety of genres, including hip-hop, soul, rock, and ska.

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