Best Bars: Rite Spot Cafe

ritespot.jpgThe Rite Spot looks from the outside like a complete dive — which is to say, very promising. The neon sign has ruled the corner of 17th and Folsom since the neighborhood was light industrial and railroad tracks ran just half a block away.

First plus: except for the ODC Performance Gallery half a block away at Shotwell, the neighborhood is deserted at night, which means plenty of parking. No endless circling or betting on not getting ticketed for parking in the middle of Valencia St. — there aren’t even any apartments at 17th and Folsom. Which means there’s plenty of space for you.

Inside you’ll find that increasingly rare thing: a quiet bar.

No amplified musak; no clots of hipsters yammering at top volume. The place is rarely full, yet never deserted. White tablecloths cover the tables, and that, plus the ability to actually hold a conversation, makes this a great bar for a first or second date.

They also have a full menu every day except Sunday, when the kitchen is closed. It’s not the kind of place where you order a bunch of greasy appetizers with your beer, but a place where you come for a drink and feel so comfortable you ask the waitress for a menu and just have dinner right there. Or just drink — most people do.

There’s music almost every night at 9:00. Tonight a guy played and sang acoustic blues; there was a little amplification, but not much, and people chatter throughout, then gave the guy a hand.

They also hang local artists’ paintings on the walls; now through June 4 they’re showing the work of Elizabeth Traina.

I’ve been going to the Rite Spot for more than two decades. One night in the mid 80s some friends and I had just finished putting on a performance art show. We repaired to the Rite Spot for drinks, and a little after we came in, a whole flamenco troupe entered, having just finished a show at the ODC (then the New Performance Gallery) up the street. They sat and drank as the guitarist and singer launched into part of a number… stopped in the middle… drank some more; and finally they did a whole number as one of the dancers stood and threw down a few steps. That night was the essence of San Francisco and the Mission District to me.

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