"If I can't dance, I don't want to be in your revolution" is a club-friendly sentiment traditionally attributed to estimable anarchist Emma Goldman. But even if she didn't put it in quite those words, the message is clear: changing the world doesn't have to be a grim slog. Why struggle at all if it doesn't result in a world we can actually enjoy? That's where these benefit-hosting, rabble-rousing, community-oriented bars, clubs, cultural centers, and performance spaces come in. Like the spoonful of sugar that masks the medicine, a nice pour and a few choice tunes can turn earnest liberation into ecstatic celebration.
Billing itself as "your dive," El Rio defines "you" as a crowd of anarchists, trannies, feminists, retro-cool kids, and heat-seeking salseros as diverse as you're likely to find congregating around one shuffleboard table. Whether featuring a rawkin' Gender Pirates benefit show or a rare screening of The Fall of the I-Hotel as part of radical film series Televising the Revolution, El Rio encourages an intimacy and camaraderie among its dance floorloving patrons less frequently found these days in an increasingly class-divided Mission.
3158 Mission, SF. (415) 282-3325, www.elriosf.com
THE REVOLUTION WILL NOT BE SANITIZED
Although it's really an aboveground Mission storefront, Balazo 18 has a great "in the basement" underground vibe, and within its gritty labyrinth, upstart idealists lurk like scruffy Minotaurs. The low overhead and inclusive ambience has proven fertile ground for local activist functions such as the recent Clarion Alley Mural Project fundraiser and December 2006's Free Josh Wolf event (freedom still pending). The dance floor's generous size attracts top-notch local bands and sweaty, freedom-seeking legions who love to dance till they drop.
2183 Mission, SF. (415) 255-7227, www.balazogallery.com
Applause for the Make-Out Room's green-minded stance against unnecessary plastic drink straws (it doesn't serve 'em), its championing of literary causes (Steven Elliott's "Progressive Reading" series, Charlie Anders's "Writers with Drinks"), and its calendar of benefit shows for agendas as diverse as animal sanctuary, tenants rights, and free speech. Plus, not only are the (strawless) drinks reasonably priced, but the wacked-out everydayisNew Year's Eve disco ball and silver star decor hastens their effect.
3225 22nd St., SF. (415) 647-2888, www.makeoutroom.com
STOP IN THE NAME OF ART
The Rickshaw Stop hosts progressive literary luminaries by the library-load, raising the roof and the funds for programs such as the 61-year-old San Francisco Writer's Workshop and the reading series "Inside Storytelling." Other beneficiaries of the Rickshaw's pro-arts programming include SF Indiefest and Bitch magazine, and the club calendar is filled with queer dance parties, record release shows, and even an upcoming "Pipsqueak a Go Go" dance party for l'il kiddies with the Devilettes and the Time Outs. If teaching a roomful of preschoolers the Monkey isn't an act of die-hard, give-something-back merrymaking martyrdom, well ...
155 Fell, SF. (415) 861-2011, www.rickshawstop.com
A dancer- and activist-run performance incubator, CounterPULSE hosts a diverse collection of cutting-edge artistes ranging from queer Butoh dancers to crusading sexologists to mobility-impaired aerialists. It's also home to the interactive history project Shaping San Francisco and a lively weekly contact jam.