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Bars, Clubs & Coffeehouses: Dance Clubs

Located below street level in the Old Oakland district, the AIR Lounge exudes that upscale, VIP vibe for the urban hip. Three rooms offer plenty of space to spread out, and the cozy seating within the blue walls invites snuggling. DJs spin downtempo, soul, and world beat every Wednesday through Saturday nights. Open-mic poetry precedes music on Wednesdays.

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.

Cousin to the nearby Bench and Bar, Club 21 attracts regulars from around the Bay Area with its embrace of everything gay and south of the border. Its capacious dance parlor is home to the annual Gay Vaquero pageant, and "La Bota Loca," a Saturday-night Mexican cowboy fiesta. Don't be surprised to see straight couples sharing the dance floor too, drawn to the live fifteen-piece brass band. Pool tables, free wi-fi, Latin karaoke on Wednesdays, and Thursday and Friday happy hours round out the attractions.

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 Uptown nightspot offers bar bites, plus DJs every night of the week.

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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