San Francisco Bay Area


New to Tango

In deep...

San Francisco is my birthplace, but I started dancing in Los Angeles, so I’m not part of the San Francisco community. A few quick points:

  • Milongas end very early and are often empty 30 minutes before the stated closing time. Since this means they are quite short, people go on time at the start.
  • If you want a candle, you’ll have to drive 2 hours to Tango on Broadway in Sacramento.
  • The few young folks in the scene are self-importantly preparing for regional competitions, having no idea what they don’t know.
  • Marks’ left hand is generally in good position.
  • Evil sequence in heavy rotation.
  • Average milonga price $15. (If you’d rather eat some great FOOD, see my guide below.)
  • Women Marks: one or two at most places.
  • Queers: integrated
  • Dress Code: Women are wearing sexy dresses and high heels everywhere, even practicas. Men, as usual, whatever they want.
  • Crime: People were complaining about alarming rates of car break-ins (4/night) at some of the milongas. I asked about theft of personal items inside the milongas and was told this is not a problem.
  • People passing on the sidewalk are friendlier than people in the milongas. San Francisco tango scene is not interested in or welcoming to visitors. (For me it was ok, because I know a lot of people, but my friend was really disappointed.) I would not recommend tango tourism in San Francisco, unless you are an older gentlemen who is very expert with the cabeceo. For women and less experienced dancers, it will be expensive and disappointing.

The comprehensive guide to Northern California tango events with times and locations is Tango Mango.

I visited for nearly 3 weeks in January 2018. Here’s a guide and review of the milongas I attended.

Monday: The Beat in Berkeley.

This is Homer Ladas’ long-running weekly practica. It’s in a brightly lit dance studio, but it usually has a very nice onda. Although it is still attended by people who know it for years as the home of open-minded tango, now that Homer is not always present, it has been occupied by conservative-smugsters,  The young DJs disrespect their inheritance and Homer’s legacy.

Music: 100% traditional when Homer is not present.
Lighting: overhead/classroom
Bar/Coffee: none.
Cabeceo: There are two rooms and you basically have to walk around in order to make contact with various people.
Floor: good wood.

Tuesday: The Great Northern in San Francisco

This is a wonderful venue with ancient posts and beams of redwood trees and a danceclub atmosphere. In January 2018 the notoriously elitist and unfriendly Tuesday milonga “El Valenciano” had relocated here, but the word was that ElV will go back to its original location and the Great Northern milonga will change to Sunday nights.

Music: 100% traditional
Lighting: soft/colorful/club
Bar: Full.
Cabeceo: It’s a very big space with a lot of different seating areas, but the cabeceo seemed to work.
Floor: good wood.

Wednesday: Cellspace in San Francisco

This was Homer Ladas’ San Francisco milonga for many years. Now it is run by a community collective. It has also moved to a new space, and according the locals, attendance has not recovered from the trauma of losing the beloved old space. To me the two spaces have a very similar warehouse vibe. The new location has two adjacent floors in one room. One seems to be used for practice. This milonga is committed to live music 1x/month. Level and attendance varied dramatically between my three visits, so give it a chance.

Don’t be surprised that even though you pay $15 for only a couple of hours of dancing, the crew will turn on the lights and start cleaning up 30 minutes before the milonga is over.

Music: 50% altertango
Lighting: dark/club
Bar/Coffee: None.
Cabeceo: Friendly.
Floor: black stage material

Thursday: Next Practica at the Beat in Berkeley

I did not attend this, but it’s Homer’s new event emphasizing “gender-neutral” and “shoes optional” environment. Details.

Music: I’m guessing this is 50% alternative?
Lighting: overhead/classroom
Bar/Coffee: none.
Cabeceo: ?
Floor: good wood.

Friday: Genesis Ballroom, San Francisco

Everyone I know was committed to this milonga, so it’s the place to be. Personally, I was counting the minutes until it ended and I would never go back there. Horrible lighting, horrible chairs, low ceilings, no attempt made to create a pleasant onda.

Music: 100% traditional
Lighting: overhead/classroom
Bar: very low quality wine available for free. Coffee on the corner.
Cabeceo: chairs and small tables on three sides of a large room, never works.
Floor: wood.

Escape to a great wine bar across the street, High Treason.

Saturday: Afternoon Practica at Baobab Bar, San Francisco

This was the only really friendly event I attended and also had the highest level. The dance floor is small, but appropriate for the size of the event. Seating is sticky so don’t wear fancy clothes.

Music: 100% traditional
Lighting: daylight
Bar: Full. (Coffee nearby at Linea at 3417 18th St.)
Cabeceo: chit-chat
Floor: it’s a bar, so it’s variable.

Saturday: Russian Center, San Francisco

This is a big, beautiful ballroom, but a poorly attended milonga. Word on the street is “you have to organize a crew to make a good evening here”. The saving grace is the selection of flavoured vodkas infused by local Russian families and a bartender who wants you to try them all! My favourite was walnut.

Music: 100% traditional
Lighting: nicely indirect
Bar: Full, and cheap. Nice food snacks too (free).
Cabeceo: at your table
Floor: wood.

Sunday: Practice at La Paz, San Francisco War Memorial Building

“Everyone” (with a car) goes to a milonga called “Alberto’s” 20 miles to the south of the city, which purportedly has a difficult dance floor. Not having a car, we went to a nearly empty milonga at the beautiful War Memorial building, adjacent to the San Francisco Opera House. This is a great place to practice. Bring your partner! The room has high ceilings and gorgeous vintage chairs and could be beautiful with some attention to lighting and cabeceo area, but the organizers make no effort for these points.

Music: 100% traditional
Lighting: not overhead, but ugly (compact flourescent?)
Bar/Coffee: free wine available, also cookies.
Cabeceo: chairs on three sides of the room
Floor: wood




Don’t miss:

  • Blue Bottle Coffee (several locations)
  • La Taqueria at 2889 Mission St. order this: “carne asada taco super” ($7) closed Mondays and Tuesdays
  • B. Patisserie at 2821 California St. order this: “Kouign Amman” $5. closed Mondays. This famous pastry is also available at the wonderful Sightglass Coffee
  • Pizzetta 211 at 211 23rd Avenue (Richmond District, not 23rd street in the Mission!), closed Tuesdays. This restaurant has 4 tables, so dress warm to wait outside. It’s worth the wait
  • Go to a farmer’s market and these two grocery stores:
    • 2 incredible grocery stores:
      1. Rainbow Grocery is WORKER OWNED and what a difference you will feel and see! 1745 Folsom St, open 7 days 0900-21:00.
      2. BiRite Market (the original): local local local quality quality quality and amazing service! 3639 18th St, open 7 days 0800-2100.
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