Martuni’s: The Piano Bar Full of Charm and Enchantment

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Image of Martuni’s by William Whelan

I was standing in line at Martuni’s, waiting to take a piss, when these thoughts occurred in this order: 1) Martuni’s is Magical. 2) This place is really too big to only have one fucking bathroom. Both these statements are true. Firstly, how else would you describe a dark, slightly campy, piano bar where giant martinis are $9 and drag queens sing show tunes? Secondly, I couldn’t wait any longer and had to slip out the front door and pee around the corner.

But back to point number 1, Martuni’s is magical. It might be the neon martini glass that beckons you in from Market St. like a warm and beguiling new friend. Maybe it’s the sweet (and occasionally terrible) crooning that drifts through the back room, begging you to stay for just one more song. Or possibly it’s the candle lit front room and incredibly potent drinks. Regardless, almost every time I go to Martuni’s, it ends up being a memorable night. That may have something to do with the fact that it’s a great place for a first date. While so many date-ish bars tend to swing towards either a gay or straight clientele, Martuni’s is perfect no matter what gender you find tender. The scene is predominantly gay, but there’s also plenty of straight couples there drinking down the atmosphere, soaking up the booze, and belting out the tunes. I can attest to this, I’ve been to Martuni’s on a number of dates, some more magical than others.

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But there’s more to Martuni’s than looking lustfully over your martini glass at the person who’s thigh your hand is resting on. To begin with, despite the possible allure of $9 martinis, you should know that those are well drinks, and martinis made of well drinks will almost certainly hurt you in the morning. Martuni’s has a great list of delicious cocktails that are made with fresh fruit and good booze, thus making the next morning not as painful. Then there’s also the staff. The bartenders are efficient and highly capable drink makers while the wait staff are sassy, no bullshit cats in tuxedo vests, very happy to bust your balls a little. My favorite is fella with the Harvey Fierstein voice and the “look sugar, order your drink already” attitude. I wish he served me drinks everywhere I went.

Martuni’s is a true San Francisco gem, a place of charm and near enchantment. I’ve had nights there where I drank myself under the table with new friends that I met an hour before. I’ve also had nights where I was stone sober and watched with wonder as a local institution played it’s role perfectly in creating another incredible San Francisco night. That said, they really need to get another goddamn bathroom, or I’m gonna keep watering the concrete around the corner.

4 Valencia St. @ Market St.

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Broke-Ass Stuart - Editor In Cheap

Broke-Ass Stuart - Editor In Cheap

Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, poet, TV host, activist, and general shit-stirrer. His website is one of the most influential arts & culture sites in the San Francisco Bay Area and his freelance writing has been featured in Lonely Planet, Conde Nast Traveler, The Bold Italic, and too many other outlets to remember. His weekly column, Broke-Ass City, appears every other Thursday in the San Francisco Examiner. Stuart’s writing has been translated into four languages. In 2011 Stuart created and hosted the travel show Young, Broke, and Beautiful on IFC and in 2015 he ran for Mayor of San Francisco and got nearly 20k votes.

He's been called "an Underground legend": SF Chronicle , "an SF cult hero": SF Bay Guardian, and "the chief of cheap": Time Out New York.

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