In my opinion, San Francisco is a great American city. It has everything, and is easily walkable when you visit. San Francisco even has the largest Chinese city outside of Asia. Walking through Chinatown is incredible, and then head down to the wharf and maybe head over to Alcatraz.
Although native people have been living in the area for thousands of years prior, the first European settlement in San Francisco was a mission founded by the Spanish and then a fort built nearby the Golden Gate bridge named El Presidio. Following the Mexican-American War, San Francisco became part of the United States and when gold was discovered in the area and the California Gold Rush started, the population exploded with people coming from just about everywhere making San Francisco one of the country’s most diverse cities as early as the 19th century.
Perhaps many know of the city today as the city that birthed the “counterculture” movement. The city kept growing after WWII and over the years the mix of “beats”, hippies, LGBT culture, tech professionals, and college student hipsters made the city one of the best for nightlife and bar culture. San Francisco is home to nightlife that literally caters to anyone looking for a good time and even has a few legendary watering holes as well. Check out some of the best bars and nightlife spots in San Francisco.
Dave’s is where you go when you’re not trying to show off. Located on the edge of the financial district and SoMa, you’d think the crowd here are the financial-business-yuppie types and while they do show up, the bar does not serve 15$ pink martinis and 40$ artisanal cheese plates. Instead, Dave’s is a low-key place with local beers on tap, TVs playing the game, welcoming bartenders, and the mark of any good dive bar; sticky tables. There’s no pretension here, no booze-snobbery, and the menu is classic bar food like nachos and hot dogs. Paired excellently with a PBR and a shot of Jameson.
Charmaine’s Rooftop Bar & Lounge
San Francisco’s famously foggy weather has made the city a less-than-ideal spot for rooftop bars. But Charmaine’s has taken the risk and set up a bar right on the rooftop of Proper Hotel. The swanky decor choices make it feel like a 19th-century Victorian lounge mixed with modern sensibilities and even more contemporary food and drink options. Enjoy expertly crafted cocktails pair with healthy bar bites like tuna tartare with nori crackers and kale salad with sunflower seeds. Sit amongst the greenery of the plants in the summer months or maybe cozy up the fire pits in the cooler winters. The atmosphere, views, and cocktails are the star of the show.
The Page has a throwback type of allure that keeps coming to this intimate bar located right around the corner from Haight St. Walking in, you’ll notice the red upholstered seats and dimly lit lanterns on the ceiling providing the light. Feeling more like an “old-time” study that’s where the bar gets most of its charm. The place is unpretentious but feels like it could be however once you settle into your own red chair or game of foosball in the back, you’ll feel right at home. They have 22 beers on tap and a rotating “whisky of the month”.
This cool cocktail bar has only been around since 2014 and practically ever since they opened they’ve been winning award after award and are amongst some of the best bars in the world. ABV quickly became a Mission hotspot and you wouldn’t think so if you were standing on the outside looking in. The place is sleek and modern with a bit of an “industrial” look to it. Dark floors, plenty of wood, and metal fixtures adorn the place with large communal tables in case you feel like making new friends. But why is it such a hotspot you might ask? For one thing, their cocktail menu is relatively small. Instead of a large menu of only a few good things, they opt for a small menu of fresh and exotic ingredients featuring creative concoctions. Secondly, the food menu is amazing and sophisticated and coupled with the fact that both the food and the drinks are priced at under 20$. You have a recipe for success.
Last Call Bar
Located in The Castro, Last Call Bar is the neighborhood friendly gay bar. The place is a little more on the low-key side when it comes to drinking options in the neighborhood and is more of a sit-down and order a beer and chit chat kind of a place rather than the raucous clubs and bigger venues nearby. But that’s not to say the place doesn’t go hard sometimes. Their jukebox is packed with 80s tunes and happy hour lasts from 12 pm to 7 pm. Their fireplace is always going so if you’re looking for an escape from the cold foggy weather, duck into Last Call Bar for a couple of pints.
This women-run Hayes Valley champagne bar is one of the best spots in town for either your next girls’ night out or romantic date night. The spot is chic and modern with tons of accents of gold, marble, and lush greenery. They offer over 100 different varieties of champagne and if you try them all, you get inducted into the “100 club” and get a jacket with your name embroidered in gold. Don’t be fooled by the fancy gold decor or the overwhelming list of champagne options though, this place is the champagne bar for the anti-snob. There’s no judgment based on the bottle or glass you buy and even better yet, why not pair your champagne with some tasty bites like tater tots or a cheeseboard. They even offer the “Joan” which is a glass of cheap white wine filled to the brim. Pairs excellently with a bad day.
Places like The Saloon are a rarity in this day and age. The Saloon is aptly named because if there’s anywhere that feels like an old-timey saloon, it is here. The Saloon is San Francisco’s oldest bar and has been in continuous operation since 1861. With over 150 years of experience under its belt, the place has somehow essentially stayed the same since the 1870s. The bar was opened by Ferdinand E. Wagner who was the son of a liquor merchant from France. The place was originally opened as “Wagner’s Beer Hall” and Wagner and his family lived two floors above the bar.
The bar in the modern era is a real place of history and true dive. Walking in, you’ll notice the large carved wooden bar (which is an original) and wooden stools with black leather tops. Sitting at the bar, you’ll notice the “cash only” signs before you’ll be asked by the barman what you’ll be drinking. Prices here have barely gone up with whiskeys and mixed drinks barely costing more than 5$. There’s no food served here and live music (mostly blues) is a regular. Having a drink at The Saloon means the possibility of running into someone famous, making a new friend, or catching acclaimed musicians do a quick set on stage.
Bardo Lounge and Supper Club
In the 1960s, San Francisco was the hot spot. And Bardo Lounge and Supper Club pays homage to grooviness and good times of the decade. The Bardo aims to get people to party like their grandparents did and enjoy the quintessential aspect of American mid-century home entertaining. Except you don’t have to cook or do any of the cleaning. The space is decorated with vintage 60s furniture arranged to resemble an intimate living room-like lounge. The bartenders mix up the 1960s inspired cocktails to the smooth sound of jazz, soul, and R&B while you can enjoy your drink served in vintage glassware and enjoy era-appropriate hors d’oeuvres.
Once upon a time, El Rio was a Brazilian leather bar. Today, the brightly lit and inclusive space mostly caters to the lesbian community of San Fransisco. The bar is one of the coolest places to hang out in the city and anyone can certainly enjoy spending a few hours here and having a couple of cocktails. They have live music with local indie bands coming in to play fairly regularly and afternoon ping pong competitions taking place outside on the patio in the afternoons. Friday and Saturday nights are the energetic and fun “afternoon dance parties” while Wednesday is Queeraoke night.
Right in the heart of Chinatown is Mr. Bing’s. The bar is old-school in the coolest sense of the word. Located far away enough from the tourist hotspots, this bar is a real “regulars” type of place. Head up to the horseshoe-shaped bar and order a drink, a short, or a 5$ cocktail if you feel like “splurging”. Mr. Bing’s isn’t about the craft beers or the expert mixology, you’re here for the cheap drinks, and good times. The bartender might offer you a game of liar’s dice, and unless you can lie like a politician, you’ll probably end up losing.
Anina is a tropical sun kiss in the heart of the city. The bar is brightly lit and designed to allow tons of sun and light on even the foggiest of San Francisco days. The colorful Moroccan-tiled bar and leafy green plants give the space a breath of fresh air and the large floral prints everywhere give a little taste of a kitschy Polynesian aesthetic while being right in the middle of the city. Like the decor here, the drinks lean on the tropical vibe with tiki punch bowls and light spritzes that looks like seafoam. Enjoy fruity and fun cocktails made with some exotic and flavorful ingredients like elderflower and lemongrass. The fun at Anina’s comes alive in the open back patio on a sunny summer afternoon while you have drinks on the big picnic tables mingling with other patrons.
While The Saloon is the oldest bar in San Francisco Comstock Saloon is the second-oldest bar in the city. Located in North Beach the bar was founded in 1907 and established itself right after the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 destroyed much of the city. The bar opened as the “Andromeda Saloon” and was a place where executives, sailors, and prostitutes could mingle and enjoy a drink.
The Andromeda gained notoriety when future heavyweight boxing champ Jack Dempsey gained employment there, and it is even rumored that John Dillinger associate Baby Face Nelson was captured here by the FBI in 1939. During the prohibition era, the bar managed to stay open by converting to a cafe and serving fresh seafood like oysters and clams while discreetly serving alcohol on the side.
In 2009, the original had to close due to financial troubles but the location was reopened under the new name of the Comstock Saloon. With plenty of original features still standing and a host of modern cocktails and modern bar food, the Comstock Saloon is a trip through history with all the modern amenities included.
Our Final Word
This list only scratches the surface of the amazing places in San Francisco to grab a drink. There are tons of great places around the city that offer a little something for any type of person just looking to have a fun night out. Whether you’re into chic cocktails, cheap tallboys, or snacking on bar food with friends, San Francisco has you covered.
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