San Francisco's gay nightlife scene has seen an impressive renaissance in recent years. The majority of the city's gay bars are still in the heart of the Castro District, near the intersection of 18th and Castro and also along Market Street, but many of these have undergone attractive renovations, and quite a few newcomers have joined the old-time favorites over the past decade. The other primary hub of gay nightlife is the lower SoMa district (the western reaches of the neighborhood, quite close to the Mission). But you'll also find a smattering of gay hangouts along Polk Street (San Francisco's earliest gay 'hood), in the Mission, and in other parts of the city. Here's an alphabetical listing of fun gay hangouts in San Francisco, including a handful of mixed lounges, gay-popular restaurants, and queer-ish cafes.
If it's serious cruising and hooking up you're seeking, take a look at San Francisco and Bay Area gay bathhouses and sex clubs guide.
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It's testament to the first-rate seafood, friendly service, and welcoming vibe of Anchor Oyster Bar (579 Castro St., 415-431-3990) that this intimate restaurant and bar has been a fixture in the Castro since 1977 - plenty of neighboring establishments have come and gone in that time. It's a great choice for lunch or dinner - worthy dishes include the lumpmeat crab cocktail, Caesar salad with prawns, steamed greenlip mussels, and crabcakes with house-made tartar sauce. There are few surprises on the menu - just honest, fresh, traditional seafood.
In the gritty, unvarnished meatiness that is the San Francisco Tenderloin District (and also the city's Little Saigon neighborhood), this beloved drag bar is an SFO institution of considerable acclaim. Just a few blocks east of Polk Street, tiny Aunt Charlie's (133 Turk St., 415-441-2922) produces a series of parties (some weekly, some once or twice a month) that rake in a dizzyingly eclectic mix of old-school queers, hipsters, drag aficionados, and the occasional curious tourist. Of particular note is the Dream Queens Revue (second and fourth Wednesdays), the Friday and Saturday Hot Boxxx Girls parties, Tubesteak Connection Thursdays, and first-monthly Suicide Tuesdays. Great music, hostess Gina La Divina, and performers with names like Pinky, Ginger Snap, and Hoku Mama Swamp enthrall the onlookers.
You may recognize the space that is Beaux (2344 Market St., 415-658-7712), a somewhat new gay bar and dance club for the Castro that was the cruise-errific Detour for many years and then Jet and Trigger. With big windows facing a busy stretch of Market Street, Beaux is attractive and contemporary, with plenty of seating up front (a part of the bar that's especially popular for weekday happy hour and on weekend afternoons) and a compact but energetic dance bar in back - it's a little easier to mingle while bumping and grinding here than at some of the bigger nightclubs around town. It's a nice addition to the mainstays of the Castro.
Part of the new wave of more eclectic and sophisticated gay hangouts that have steadily been gaining in prevalence and popularity in the Castro, the dapper and convivial Blackbird Bar (2124 Market St., 415-503-0630) is along the hip Church Street corridor (right at the intersection with Market Street). Inside what was for many years the Expansion Bar you'll find handsome space hung with changing artwork and filled with a mixed crowd of gays and straights, hipsters and wine lovers, and generally friendly and stylish sorts. Cocktails here are simply stellar. There's also a well-chosen wine list, a good mix of craft beers (on tap and in bottles), and highly popular happy hours (from 5 until 8 on weekdays). This is a must for any discerning drinkers visiting the Castro.
Address2369 Market St, San Francisco, CA 94114, USA
The Cafe (2369 Market St., 415-834-5840) was formerly the Castro's main lesbian dance bar, and while it continues to attract a fair number of women, over the years it's become favored by a more mixed-gender, though somewhat youthful bunch. Following a major renovation a few years ago, the space - which has three bars and two levels - looks stylish and current. DJs here spin a nice mix of danceable hip-hop and dance tunes, and a pair of pool tables are nearly always in use. Top nights include the Latino-flavored Dulce on Sunday nights and Boy Bar, with hot go-go guys, on Fridays. It's a club that fits a need in the Castro, which has relatively few places for dancing, so here's hoping it remains popular.
It's a coffeehouse, happy-hour bar, brunch spot, dessert cafe, late-night dinner option, and Castro social melting pot: Cafe Flore (2298 Market St., 415-621-8579) has for decades been a wonderful venue for food, coffee, drinks, and conversation at one of the most prominent intersections in the Castro. There's ample outdoor seating overlooking this busy sidewalk, plus a long wooden bar and tables inside. Brunch is served daily (till 4 pm) and features such delicious fare as huevos rancheros, salmon Benedicts, Hawaiian French toast (try it with macadamia and cinnamon crust). Dinner is served till 10, and from the drinks menu you'll find everything from designer coffees to sangria to colorful Stoli cocktails.
Opened relatively recently in the space formerly occupied by the Bar on Church (the exterior of which is pictured here), Churchill (198 Church St.) has been a terrific addition to the increasingly scene-y Church Street corridor. As is true for this eclectic and lively part of the lower Castro, the bar draws a mix of straights and gays, and it's much more a place to go for superbly crafted cocktails (try the Churchill's Southside, with Raynal VSOP, Smith & Cross rum, lime, sugar, mint, and soda), well-chosen craft beers, and carefully selected wines by the glass than for cruising (hey, that's what your Grindr and Adam4Adam apps are for). The decor, which includes a bust of Winston Churchill, is a retro-cool homage to the Allied Forces of World War II.
Many, many, many years ago, Polk Street - which lies roughly between the Castro and downtown near the Civic Center and San Francisco Opera - was the heart of San Francisco's gay nightlife scene. There used to be more than a dozen gay bars lining this seedy street. Gradually, the GLBT presence waned, although arguably it's started to come back a little in recent years as nearby Hayes Valley has gentrified and even the nearby Tenderloin has show a few hints of rejuvenation. The Cinch (1723 Polk St., 415-776-4162) is one of the only gay bars remaining on Polk, and it's worth a visit to watch amateur strip contests and partake of some serious hard-drinking. Other gay-bar survivors on or near Polk include Aunt Charlie's, Diva's, and Gangway (the oldest gay bar in SF).
Held the second Saturday of every month, Cockblock at the Rickshaw Stop (155 Fell St.) in Hayes Valley has since 2006 been one of the premier Bay Area events for - as the promoters describe it - "lezzies, lovers, and friends." With the demise of the Lexington Club, this four-hour dance fest (it starts at 10 pm) is led by some of the city's top DJs and pulls in a great mix of women. Rickshaw Stop hosts all sorts of other cool events, including indie bands, the alluring Nerd Nite SF monthly party, and other fun parties.
When pizza critics and experts on Italian food create their lists of favorite sources around the country, Delfina (3621 18th St., 415-552-4055) and neighboring Pizzeria Delfina (3611 18th St., 415-437-6800) often rank near the top. These dapper but informal Mission standbys just down the street from Dolores Park and around the corner from hipster-centric Valencia Street are prone to long waits, so prepare accordingly (and make a reservation online in advance, especially on weekends). Delfina's menu is relatively short and often changes, featuring trip Florence-style, mint tagliatelle with porcini mushrooms, beef short ribs with polenta and orange gremolata, and other treats. The charred-crust Neapolitan-style pizzas are heavenly - try the one topped with cherrystone clams, tomato, oregano, pecorino, and hot peppers. There's another Pizzeria Delfina location in Pacific Heights as well as branches out in the burbs in Burlingame and Palo Alto.
Arguably San Francisco's - and one of the country's - favorite transgender nightclubs and show bars, Divas (1081 Post St., 415-474-3482) is another of the few LGBT hangouts still along the Polk Street strip (it's a half-block east of Polk, right near another gay neighborhood bar on Polk, Mark's Bar (see below). This spacious, attractive space with a friendly staff draws both queer and straight patrons to watch the highly entertaining, well-produced shows, from the "Naughty Schoolgirls" sets on Wednesday nights to karaoke on Sundays. There's dancing on Friday and Saturday, capped off by a famously fun midnight show, and amateurs can win $50 during the Talent Tuesday competitions.
DNA Lounge (375 11th St., 415-626-1409) is along a popular clubbing strip in lower SoMa and presents a nightly cavalcade of indie rock shows, DJ trance and trip-hop nights, drag burlesque shows, glam parties, and so on. Saturday's Bootie SF blowouts are especially fabulous. The crowd tends toward the young and hipster-ish, but it really varies a lot depending on the night and entertainment. The adjoining DNA Pizza serves pies 24/7 and is a reliable option if you're drunk, hungry, and coming from other nearby gay bars.
Comfy, cheerful, and low-keyed, The Edge (4149 18th St., 415-863-4027) is one of those gay "Cheers"-like hangouts that's been going strong right in the heart of the Castro for years. It's a fun place to include in an 18th-and-Castro bar crawl, and there's a very popular happy hour. Notable theme nights include Musical Mondays and the cruise-y Prowl Saturdays.
Featured prominently in the first episode of HBO's Looking, El Rio (3158 Mission St., 415-282-3325) straddles the Mission District and Bernal Heights and ranks among the best mixed queer venues in San Francisco. It picks up some of the lesbian crowd that used to frequent the nearby but defunct Lexington Club, plus gay guys, hipsters, gender-benders, pool players, music fans, and all sorts of others. There's a great patio in back that's a lovely place to relax on a sunny afternoon, and live bands often perform in the cozy and often-packed interior. It's one of the most eclectic and enjoyable places to hang out in the city.
A legendary spot that began as a bathhouse and has been going strong - give or take a few booms and busts - since it opened in 1973, the Endup (401 6th St., 415-896-1075) played a supporting role in Armistead Maupin's Tales of The City serial novels. And it's no less relevant as a gay nightclub today, presenting an ever-impressive slew of parties. Fag Fridays are a must for many young scenesters, and many devotees swear by the Sunday "Church" T-Dances, which commence at 6 a.m. and pulse into evening, before the club is overtaken by a high-energy party called Super Soul Sundayz. If you love to dance, do not miss this one.
Although it's completely casual and unfussy, Eureka (4063 18th St., 415-431-6000) is one of the most attractive and romantic dining options in the heart of the Castro. There's seating in three classically simply dining rooms plus a convivial upstairs lounge that's great if you're dining solo or enjoying drinks with friends. The food tends toward Southern-inspired but with some modern touches, and ingredients sourced locally. Standouts include spicy jambalaya, garlic-braised pork shoulder with house-made tasso, and that beloved Southern appetizer, pimento cheese spread (with crostini and house-barbecue pickles).
Known for many years as Daddy's, 440 Castro (440 Castro St., 415-621-8732) has for years been a stalwart among gay neighborhood bars in the Castro. Back in the day, it drew a predominantly leather-and-Levi's crowd, and it's still definitely a go-to if this is your scene. But 440 has steadily broadened its reach in recent years, and on any given night you're liable to find all kinds here, from buffed gym dudes to rugged bears. One thing you can count on is a cruisy vibe, especially on Monday Underwear Nights and Thursday's CDXL Outlaw Parties (great music, hot go-go boys).
Among San Francisco's culinary elite, the chef-proprietor of the eponymous Gary Danko (800 North Point St., 415-749-2060) is one of the top names around - he's also one of the most acclaimed GLBT chefs in the country. His snazzy restaurant near Fisherman's Wharf is an ideal destination to celebrate a special occasion, and savor some truly outstanding contemporary cuisine - seasonally inspired fare like risotto with rock shrimp, Dungeness crab, shimeji mushrooms, and asparagus; and branzini fish with fennel puree, Nicoise olives, and a saffron-orange emulsion; and lemon-pepper duck breast with duck hash, bacon-braised endive, and huckleberry bordelaise. There's also an exceptional cheese selection, a terrific wine list, and some memorable desserts, including one signature favorite that's prepared tableside: flambeed pineapple with mascarpone-filled crepes, Graham cracker-macadamia nut streusel, and vanilla ice cream. Bon appetite!
Named for the legendary, late gay activist Harvey Milk, the quintessential gay brunch restaurant Harvey's (500 Castro St., 415-431-4278) - which opened in 1996 on the site of the old Elephant Bar (which has burned in a fire several years earlier) - is also one of the most popular queer bars in the Castro. Whether for evening cocktails or dinner, or to partake of the delicious brunch (served until 3 pm daily), Harvey's is a must-see for gay visitors. Inside the warmly decorated space are many photos of Harvey Milk and other aspects of the gay rights movement in San Francisco.
A hipster-queer take on a gay sports bar, Hi Tops (2247 Market St., 415-551-2500) is set along a busy and cruise-y stretch of Market Street and is part of the new face of this block that's seen a fair share of changes over the years, as the Castro demographic continues to evolve. Theme nights like Thursday's "Gym Class" and Wednesday's "Bottoms Up Bingo" play on this oft-packed bar's sporty theme, and you can watch games on the several TV monitors, but this is first and foremost a convivial neighborhood bar drawing all stripes, from Falcons fans to guys with zero interest in pitching and catching (except as double entendres). The bar keeps here are fun and hunky, and what elevates Hi Tops above many other Castro hangouts is the first-rate beer list and exceptionally tasty bar snacks, including hand-cut garlic fries, pulled pork sandwiches, veggie corn dogs, and bacon-beef burgers.
This long-running SOMA leather-daddy-bear bar has always been a good bet for cruising and conversation. The Hole in the Wall Saloon (1369 Folsom St., 415-431-4695) been in the current location for a few years, its interior known for its dark lighting and industrial-motorcycle-themed decor. There's a patio, pool table, and a rockin' juke box, and on weekend nights, the sexual energy of the Hole in the Wall often amps up to a fever pitch.
Openly lesbian chef and stellar kitchen wizard Traci Des Jardins has been dazzling foodies in San Francisco for well over two decades, with her stylish neighborhood bistro Jardiniere (300 Grove St., 415-861-5555) in Hayes Valley having earned raves since it opened in the late '90s. There's a more formal (but still quite relaxed) main dining room as well as a natty little bar and lounge with its own more tapas-inspired, share-friendly menu. This is a wonderful spot for a casual bite to eat or a full-on romantic celebration. A nice example of Des Jardins' cooking from the main menu is the braised shortrib with spring greens, barley, and consumme, while the bar menu features fare like chicharrones with avocado, and duck-confit spring rolls with chili sauce. For an all-out culinary extravaganza, opt for the full tasting menu, with wine pairings.
As the name suggests, this cozy on gay-bar-festooned 18th Street is a perfect spot to toast the night away. Last Call Bar (3988 18th St., 415-861-1310) has a fun, friendly staff and a welcoming, cheerfully decorated interior. It's much less of a scene than some of the gay pubs to the west, closer to Castro Street, and the fireplace imparts an especially inviting tone.
Veterans of San Francisco's Folsom Street-area leather and bear scene have long been cruising and carousing at the Lone Star Saloon (1354 Harrison St., 415-863-9999), which remains somewhat infamous for its "friendly" trough urinal in the men's room. Highlights here include the generous drink specials, good-size back patio, and attractively designed interior, which was redone when new owners took over a couple of years ago.
You won't find many better spots for people-watching in the Castro than the extensive balconies at the aptly named Lookout (3600 16th St., 415-431-0306) - for years it was a different bar called the Metro. This airy and open space with a bit of a sport-bar theme has packed happy hours, serves tasty pizza, sliders, and tacos, and presents some weekly events, from Wednesday dance parties to Thursday drag-meets-go-go-boys parties. Although the Lookout pulls in a good mix of guys throughout the night, it's especially popular in the afternoon and early evening. The outdoor balconies overlook Market Street, where you'll also find a number of nice restaurants and shops nearby.
Although not explicitly or exclusively a gay bar, Lush Lounge (1221 Polk St., 415-771-2022) is a quite LGBT-popular spot for drinks along the city's once historic queer-bar row, Lower Polk Street. You'll encounter plenty of family here, especially gay guy 50 and older who have been socializing in this part of the city for decades. It's totally unpretentious and serves well-mixed cocktails, and it's relatively near downtown so a good choice (along with Cinch Saloon and Diva's) if you're staying in these parts and don't feel like trekking all the way to Castro for gay nightcrawling.
Address4 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94103-1102, USA
An elegant little piano cabaret near where the U.S. 101 freeway drops down to Market Street on the edge of SoMa, Hayes Valley, the Mission, and a few other converging neighborhoods, Martuni's (4 Valencia St., 415-241-0205) draws big crowds after downtown theaters let out, for cocktails before dinner in any of the aforementioned areas, for late-night sing-alongs held by patrons happily sloshed on the bar's stellar martinis and cosmos, for karaoke...well, you get the idea. There's almost always something fun going on here, and the crowd is completely eclectic and quite welcoming. The talent is impressive, too, whether it's jazz standards or show tunes.
The Castro's classic gay video bar, which was heavily refurbished inside and out a couple of years ago, the Midnight Sun (4067 18th St., 415-861-4186) continues to be a mainstay of the neighborhood's gay bar crawlers. The happy hour (held from 2 pm until closing on Mondays) here is quite popular, and when you're up for watching Project Runway, RuPaul's Drag U, True Blood, and other gay faves with a crowd of friends and strangers, this is a good bet. Sundays, they screen movies and - in season - football games, too.
It's true that you'll find some great karaoke nights at gay bars throughout the Castro, but The Mint (1942 Market St., 415-626-4726) - which is on the edge of Hayes Valley along a rapidly gentrifying stretch of Market Street, is San Francisco's most hallowed ground for fans of the genre. Sing to your heart's content, and try not to be intimidated by the fellow talents, as some seriously capable singers frequent this bar known for its immense karaoke catalog. Whatever your talent level, you'll encounter a consistently friendly and encouraging bunch here. The crowd is mostly gay, depending on the night, but all are very welcome.
A relative newcomer to SoMa's trendy lower reaches, Oasis (298 11th St., 415-795-3180) is a downright dazzling 6,000-square-foot theater and cabaret that hosts some of the Bay Area's best drag shows. Hostesses Heklina and D'Arcy Drollinger are behind this ambitious venture that offers a range of cool events, from the hipster-adored Blowpony SF to comedy nights to high-camp shows and revues. Definitely check the club calendar for what's on, as you'll want to buy tickets in advance for the more popular parties.
What started out as a somewhat sleepy neighborhood bar has developed into a very popular but still neighborhood-y gay hangout that draws a fun and varied crowd, including guys and more than a few women of all ages, styles, and looks. The Pilsner Inn (225 Church St., 415-621-7058) a terrific conversation bar set along the Castro's bustling Church Street Corridor, close to the Mission and Hayes Valley, and a few other cool gay hangouts, such as Blackbird and Churchill and the adjacent restaurant-bar, Chow. There's a lovely garden patio out back with ample seating, and the long bar inside is the perfect place to chat with friends or make new ones. Leave your attitude at home - this is one of the city's friendliest gay bars.
The industrial-strength Powerhouse Bar (1347 Folsom St., 415-552-8689) throws some of the best sleaze and fetish parties and theme nights in California - Underwear Parties, Steam (you check your clothes and don a towel), Bulge, Stank, and third Saturday's riotously off-color Beat Pig party are among the favorites. You'll always find a long list of upcoming events on the bar's website. Guys with tats and piercing, bears and cubs (etc.), leather daddies, bikers, and self-professed pigs of all stripes and styles pack the rafters on weekends.
Opened in the centrally located space that used to house the Bar on Castro, Q Bar (456 Castro St., 415-864-2877) is a terrific, attractive, and modern gay bar just across the street from the venerable Castro Theatre. Generally packed during happy hours and drawing a cute, stylish crowd of San Francisco gay A-listers, Q Bar has a number of fun theme nights - 13 Licks "Lezzie Dance Maniac" parties on Tuesdays, go-go boys on Wednesdays, an afternoon beer bust on Saturdays. Signature cocktails include the Anderson Cooper and and Pamelmousse 415.
There's nothing overwhelming exciting or notable about Badlands (4121 18th St., 415-626-9320), a longtime Castro party spot that's been around for many years. But thanks to its relative roominess (by Castro standards), festive decor, and youngish, good-looking crowd, it's steadily developed over the eons into one of the city's de rigueur gay cruise-and-schmooze mainstays, and it remains popular despite plenty of competition from many newer hangouts around Castro and elsewhere. There's a small but potent video dance bar in back and a somewhat mellower lounge area - a good place to exchange Manhunt and Dudesnude profile names - up front. Expect a mostly 20s and 30s clean-cut bunch but relatively little attitude. There are great drink specials many nights.
One of the most famous gay leather bars in the country for more than three decades, the SF Eagle (398 12th St.) temporarily shut down in 2011 and looked, for a while, destined to be replaced with a mixed lounge/restaurant. Thankfully, this legendary space in SoMa was brought back to life by new owners in 2013, and it's now going strong, although - like most historically leather-flavored hangouts - it draws a more eclectic bunch of gay dudes (and even a few women) these days: bears, otters, hipsters, and so on, but usually still some men in leather and fetish gear, too. And, of course, it's still a happily cruise-y place, its best attribute perhaps being the expansive patio out back, which has its own small bar to one side.
Near the Good Hotel and Best Western Plus Americana as well as several gay and mixed bars in the trendy lower end of SoMa, handsome Sightglass Coffee (270 7th St., 415-861-1313) is as noteworthy for roasting and serving some of the finest coffee in San Francisco as for its gorgeous and airy loft interior. It's a lovely place to while away an afternoon on your laptop or chatting with a friend while sipping single-origin Mwasa espresso from Rwanda or Chemex-brewed Finca Alaska, Perez Zeledon coffee from Costa Rica. Other Sightglass locations around the city are in the San Francisco Ferry Building and in the Mission on 20th Street, but this revered java cafe has other locales planned, including one at the newly revamped SFMOMA.
Another of San Francisco's most fabled gay institutions, the Stud (399 9th St., 415-863-6623) opened many years before the majority of its patrons were born, in 1966. What you'll find going on at this rocking SoMa club depends entirely on the night of the week. The lineup and themes change somewhat often and include Frolic costume-and-dance celebration on second Saturdays, Thai-themed Go Bang! on first Saturdays, Dark Room dance parties on fourth Saturdays, and Meow Mix variety shows on Tuesdays - there's plenty to keep you entertained. Like the Endup, the Stud's popularity has waxed and waned over the years, but you can usually count on a colorful crowd most nights.
An easy-going hangout in the Castro that for many years was known as the Pendulum, Toad Hall (4146 18th St., 415-621-2811) is within a stone's throw of several other neighborhood gay bars nearby the famous intersection of 18th and Castro. There's a nice patio inside, and the happy hours here are quite well-attended.
Address424 Haight St, San Francisco, CA 94117-3506, USA
The crowd at Underground SF (424 Haight St.), which enjoys a Castro-walkable location on the Lower Haight side of Hayes Valley, varies mightily depending on the party. This slightly raffish, youthful spot with a decidedly hipster-y vibe has weekly and monthly bashes, many of them with a strong queer following, such as the Sissy Bar parties the first and third Mondays of the month, the occasional Zodiac Disco bashes, Thursday's weekly Bubble parties, and the dragalicious Hella Tight parties on second Saturdays.
One of San Francisco's venerable gay-nightlife icons, Twin Peaks Tavern (401 Castro St., 415-864-9470) is said to have been the very first gay bar in America to have clear (as opposed to opaque or covered) glass windows, something unheard back when it opened in the early '70s. Two lesbians opened the bar, but it's had a mostly male following over the years, and these days it tends to draw a somewhat seasoned bunch of guys, and a few women. As dozens of bars and have come and gone over the decades in the Castro, the Twin Peaks has become something of a legend. And if for historic reasons if nothing else, it's worth dropping in for a drink and soaking up the neighborhood atmosphere.
Equal parts kitschy and dive-y, this somewhat out-of-the-way (for tourists, at least) bar with a particularly strong lesbian following has long been a fixture in quirky, if increasingly gentrified, Bernal Heights. Wild West Side (424 Cortland Ave., 415-647-3099) along the neighborhood's main thoroughfare, Cortland Avenue, and it's notable for having one of the better juke boxes among the city's LGBT bars. The crowd is generally a bit older and diverse than that of the city's best-known dyke bar, the Lexington Club, and as it's the only queer bar in this part of the city, it also pulls in a fair number of Bernal Heights gay dudes, bisexuals, and hetero neighborhood folks. Wild West Side has a lovely back patio, perfect on a warm evening.
For tasty late-night (it's open till midnight generally) grub and a wide selection of craft beers and fine cocktails, The Willows (1582 Folsom St., 415-529-2039) is an inviting, unpretentious, and conveniently located choice. It's at the lower end of SoMa, near several popular gay clubs in that neighborhood and also a short walk from the Mission District. The bar features more than a dozen well-curated beers on tap, and the kitchen turns out creative takes on pub fare, including pork belly "donuts," carne asada fries, the "Mary Burger" with avocado, bacon, and cheddar, and fried-chicken sliders. It's quintessential drinking food, and the crowd makes for fun people-watching.