Voted #6 in the Best Clubs in America list by Rolling Stone magazine in 2013, San Francisco’s oldest and grandest nightclub, the Great American Music Hall carries guests back to an earlier, more elegant era, with its ornate balconies, soaring marble columns and elaborate ceiling frescoes. Long-time customers and newcomers alike feel at home in the 5,000-square-foot concert hall that symbolized renewal and optimism when it opened in 1907. Today, a professional sound and lighting system, two full bars, a modern kitchen and a spacious oak dance floor help to blend contemporary quality with turn-of-the-century graciousness.
The remarkable interior design came from an unlikely duo: a French architect who designed the building in 1907, and Chris Buckley, a political mover and shaker who wanted to erect a grand structure after the devastating 1906 earthquake. The result was Blanco’s, characterized as one of the most popular entertainment spots during San Francisco’s notorious Barbary Coast Era. The restaurant/bordello offered fine food, gambling and fast women right up until the dark days of the Great Depression in 1933.
Three years later, in 1936, the extravagant and elaborate fan dances of local favorite, Sally Rand, brought new life to the dark building. She called it the Music Box, and swanky city dwellers would dance the night away there for the next decade.
With the end of World War II, the Music Box turned out its lights. Blanco’s reopened in 1948 as a jazz club. In the 1950s, the premises were taken over by members of the Moose Lodge. The building went into an ignominious decline that hit bottom when the building was condemned by city building inspectors. A last-minute reprieve saved it from demolition, and the tarnished interior was revamped as a short-lived French restaurant named Charles (after the proprietor, Robert Charles). It was not until 1972, when the Great American Music Hall opened, that happy music lovers filled the hall once more.
Since then the Great American Music Hall has hosted artists ranging from Duke Ellington, Sarah Vaughan and Count Basie to Van Morrison, the Grateful Dead, Arcade Fire, Patti Smith and Godspeed You! Black Emperor.