Market Street's most beloved karaoke bar makes its return – SFGATE


SFGATE reporter Amanda Bartlett performs at The Mint.
Besides the cars and occasional passersby, Market Street was quiet on a recent Thursday night. The same could not be said for The Mint, a karaoke institution founded in 1993. 
Avril Lavigne, The Cranberries, Bing Crosby — here, the playlist is scattershot, dictated by the whims and pipes of the patrons. The constants are strong drinks, high energy and a diverse crowd ranging from 20-somethings to octogenarians. 
The Mint (1942 Market St.) reopened for the first time since the start of the pandemic shutdown June 17. And the regulars are glad it’s back. Many people we spoke to have been coming to this unassuming karaoke bar for 10, 20, almost 30 years. Some regulars drop in at least twice a week. 
“It reminds me of ‘Cheers,’” said regular Tony Maddox. “We all know each other, we all feel comfortable singing around each other. It’s a second family, a second home.” 
Not much has reportedly changed since the pandemic forced The Mint to close its doors in March 2020. Before the pandemic, easily more than 100 people packed the bar on any given Saturday night, many arriving with a stomach full of sake and unlimited sushi from Sushi Delight next door. Regulars hyped up newcomers and sweaty impromptu dance battles broke out. At some point, the DJ would usually jump on stage to take the mic for their own solo.
SFGATE reporter Michelle Robertson gets some help from the DJ and crowd at The Mint.
The one main thing that has changed is there’s no more flipping through a laminated, liquor-stained songbook — instead, participants scan a QR code that guides them to a digital directory of songs. But besides a plastic partition around the bar and disposable mic covers, everything else appeared to be normal (as normal as a place like The Mint can be). 
It’s just after 6 p.m., and the opening chords of George Michael’s power ballad “A Different Corner” swell toward the back of the room. Maddox saunters to the stage, positioning himself in front of a brightly colored backdrop. The silhouette of an animated figure dances behind him, reminiscent of a 2005 iPod commercial, and he offers a few twirls of his own as he croons in a rich vibrato, then receives a round of applause as he returns to his seat.
The enthusiastic crowd at The Mint.
Another woman wearing a flannel with her long gray hair tied back in a ponytail surprises us when she busts out Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk,” swiftly followed by Britney Spears’ “Toxic.” By this point, it’s a fairly modest audience of no more than 20 people or so, but nearly all of them clamor to dance next to her, jabbing their fingers toward the ceiling to punctuate her lyrics. “Free Britney!” she cries out, and her newfound fans holler excitedly in response. Afterward, a stout, older gentleman takes her place, warbling his fourth Frank Sinatra song of the night. 
All bets are off at The Mint: You can sing anything you want (with the exception of “Hey Jude,” according to one regular) and take on a new persona entirely, if only for a few minutes. Many of the people stepping on stage probably haven’t sung out loud in well over a year — at least beyond the confines of apartments or cars. 
SFGATE reporter Madeline Wells performs at The Mint.
But the community is so tight-knit that even after extended absences, longtime patrons still feel at home, even if they’ve moved outside of the Bay Area. Bradley Sweet, for example, was visiting from Reno. The Mint was one of his first stops when he got back to town, and even though it was his first visit in four years, he was recognized immediately. “No matter how long you’ve been gone, if you were here and met people, they still remember you. It’s like you didn’t leave,” says Sweet.
The exterior of The Mint. 
For singers like Sweet, Maddox and many more, karaoke isn’t just a passive form of after-hours entertainment. In a way, it can be a cathartic release from the cooped up day-to-day living we adapted to during the pandemic. After a solemn year marked by loss and tragedy, we all need something ridiculous and laughable to help us let loose and blow off some steam. For many people, that something is the shared solace and communal outlet of belting Christina Aguilera hits at the top of their lungs at The Mint.
SFGATE reporter Amanda Bartlett fills in her song request card at The Mint.
“I’ve been coming here for 20 years. Why do I come here? I have absolutely no idea,” mused Maddox. “It’s the best place.”
Michelle Robertson is an SFGATE features reporter.
Amanda Bartlett is a culture reporter for SFGATE. Prior to joining the newsroom in 2019, she worked for the Roxie Theater, Noise Pop and Frameline Film Festival. She lives in San Francisco with her rabbit, Cheeto. Send her an email at
Madeline Wells is a reporter for SFGATE covering food and drink in the Bay Area. She grew up in the Seattle area and received her B.A. in English and Media Studies from UC Berkeley. Prior to SFGATE, she was an associate editor at East Bay Express and freelance writer covering the Bay Area music scene. Email:


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