SLICK CHEAPSKATES LIKE myself have figured out sneaky ways to get into clubs for free that don't involve getting runs in the knees of our stockings, if you know what I mean. Your best bet is to find yourself a lover who works at a club, plays in a band, or is a club promoter. Perhaps the more toadyish among you will be smart enough to flirt with the folks working the door. You might even offer to hand out a flyer or two. Oftentimes, this type of back-scratching leads to free passes or a membership card. And sometimes, if you're very, very lucky, it might mean a wave past the line of commoners waiting to get inside.
For those of us with day jobs to attend to, however, there are less glamorous ways of earning a night out on someone else's tab. Of course, there are a ton of nightspots in every part of the city you can walk in for free. Once there, you can order a $2 coke and mix in the small bottle of rum from your sock at your own risk. For me, sittin' around drinkin' has its place, but usually I want a little more entertainment – and I want it cheap.
For the purposes of this extremely reliable scientific study on the underground world of free clubbing, we limited ourselves to places that offer more than bar stools: we looked for amenities such as a dance floor, a stage show, or some other kind of free festivity. This is by no means a complete list.
The Web is the way
Once again, the geeks shall inherit the night. You are a click away from printing out free passes or from joining a mailing list that leads to free passes.
The club savvy can give up their contact information to 1015 Folsom (1015 Folsom, S.F. 415-431-1200) in exchange for the chance to win a month's free admission (sign up at www.1015.com). Club Q at the new DNA Lounge (375 11th St., S.F. 415-626-1409) has a mailing list (e-mail email@example.com to sign up) that gives out monthly passes to a few fast-acting and alert recipients, and 26 Mix (3024 Mission, S.F. 415-826-7378) also gives away heaps of passes and free drink coupons to a few new members every week through its mailing list (e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up).
Ducking the cover
These are the clubs and club nights that have promised on a stack of holy Yank mags never to charge a cover on a regular night. Of course, we can't blame them for that special-event night when sometimes dollars will change hands at the door. But for the most part, these events don't charge a cover:
Club KY Always free, this indie, punk, and queercore freakfest caters to all genders and all who want to come dance to Pansy Division, Joan Jett, Wire, and the like. It even promote itself as a not-for-profit organization. Mission: getting your booty on the dance floor twice a month. The crowd can sometimes be a little thin, but hey, that means there's more room for you to shake your stuff. Event organizer Spike says, "I prefer not to make money from the things I do for pleasure." Second and fourth Sundays, 10 p.m.-2 a.m., Amnesia, 853 Valencia, S.F. (415) 970-8336, www.spike00.com/clubky.
Hot Pink Not only is it free to get in here, but you can also feast on $2 Pabst Blue Ribbons. Um, hello? Sure, it's kind of newish and underpromoted, but why is this place not packed? Is this town finally getting sick of '80s music? That would be grody to the max! Tuesdays, 10 p.m., Voodoo Lounge, 2937 Mission, S.F. (415) 285-3369, www.voodoolounge-sf.com.
Odeon Bar You will never be bored here, between the ridiculous Burning Man burnt crowd in costumes just cuz and the perpetually silly nightly entertainment, such as Porn-e-Okie, Bing-e-oke, or the weekly installment of hilarious, Church of the Subgenius-fired "Ask Dr. Hal." All kinds of mishugas will keep you wildly, wildly entertained. Come drink and laugh, cuz five nights out of seven it's free to get in. 3223 Mission, S.F. (415) 550-6994, www.odeonbar.com.
Sexotica For cocktails you're on your own, but dancing on this Mission dance floor on a weekend night is a freebie. DJ King Coffin rotates a funky, danceable set that fuses Indian, Middle Eastern, world beat, and Latin rhythms at sound levels that facilitate both conversation and booty shakin'. Fridays, 10 p.m., Make-Out Room, 3225 22nd St., S.F. (415) 647-2888, www.makeoutroom.com.
It pays to come early
If half of life is just showing up, then the other half is showing up early enough so that you don't have to pay to get in. Club owners have got to make a living, so door fees are a fact of life. However, the more crafty among us read the fine print on the flyers and take advantage of the somewhat earlier, more unfashionable hours to save a few bucks. Here are some totally fun nights where early birds often get in free:
Dark Sparkle Friends in the know tell me that if you get to Cafe Du Nord early enough, you can blend in with the happy-hour crowd and avoid the cover. Pretty sneaky, sis. However, be warned that this trick won't work on nights when Dark Sparkle is preceded by a special show or performance. Second Wednesdays, 10 p.m., Cafe Du Nord, 2170 Market, S.F. $3 before 11 p.m., $5 after. (415) 861-5016, www.cafedunord.com.
Death Guild Perhaps you've seen these sick pukes under the barbarian Thunderdome at Burning Man. They spin those same turbulent tunes once a week for cheap (or free, if you bring in a stiff dead squirrel). Seriously. The more animal friendly in attendance may still want to part with the three to five bones, as Death Guild often gives away CDs, posters, tickets, and other swag. Mondays, 9:30 p.m.-2 a.m., Manhattan Lounge, 699 Market, S.F. $3 before 10 p.m., $5 after. (415) 995-4676.
Fake For those who loved the now-defunct Bordello, there always seems to be money for Bowie clothes and accessories and enough coke for the night, but not to pay to walk in. Rather than cutting back on the cost of hair spray and glitter, get glam, come early to make the place look good, and enjoy the sublime pleasure of snarling catty comments about everyone as they walk in the door. Six-buck penalty for those who just can't get it going on time. Fridays, 10 p.m.-3 a.m., Cat Club, 1190 Folsom, S.F. Free before 10:30 p.m., $6 after. (415) 431-3332, www.sfstation.com/clubs/cats.htm.
1984 I have proof that this town never gets sick of the '80s: 1984 is one of the best examples of how the Cure and the Smiths can still pack 'em in. Just like in the days when I used to waltz past the door guy by flashing a terrible fake ID, entry is free for people getting an early start. Thursdays, 9 p.m.-2 a.m., Cat Club,
1190 Folsom, S.F. Free before 10 p.m., $5 after. (415) 431-3332, www.sfstation.com/clubs/cats.htm.
Karen Solomon is a writer who lives in San Francisco.