The Best Bars in San Francisco: Try These 10 Local Favorites
There are hundreds of bars in San Francisco. Here are a few favorites of the locals.
Bars and pubs in San Francisco are a tradition. As much as San Francisco is known for the food, it is also known for the number and variety of bars. Among the many choices are themed bars, bars located close to favorite tourist spots, bars made famous by books or movies, and then there are the bars the locals love. Bars are gathering places for locals for more than just a drink. We celebrate life occasions in our favorite bars as well. I had my wedding reception at the first bar I share in this article and birthday celebrations at two other bars on this list. I am not only sharing my favorite bars in this article, I have carefully polled my friends on their favorite bars as well. This list truly is made up of local favorites.
Bacchus Kirk is located at 925 Bush St. Not far from Market Street or Union Square. Upon entering on a crowded night the bar may appear to be a bit small, just keep going because in the back there is a pool table and on some nights a DJ and dancing. On any Friday or Saturday night there is a large crowd with plenty of people to socialize with. On the weeknights it is a bit quieter and a great place to start or end a date. Whether you want to warm yourself by the fireplace on a cool night or sit near the window to people watch, the regular crowd at Bacchus Kirk is always friendly and full of conversation. For the sports fan, there is also a large screen TV with complimentary food and drink specials on Monday nights for football. Happy Hour happens every day at Bacchus Kirk between 4:00pm and 8:00pm.
The 500 Club
The 500 Club located at 17th street and Guerrero in the Mission District, it was the first bar a friend took me to when I moved to San Francisco more than 16 years ago. From that night forward it became a hands-down favorite of mine as well as many other people in San Francisco. Priding itself as a dive bar, the 500 Club has been around for many years.
There is kind of a rock-a-billy flavor to the 500 Club. In the true nature of a dive bar, there is no dance floor, there is however a pool table. Usually packed on Friday and Saturday nights you might have standing room only for a while before a stool or booth frees up. Don’t let this deter you. Standing in the 500 Club is a great way to meet people.
The jukebox has an excellent collection, however, it was a couple of years before any of my selections made it all the way through being played. There is a kill switch for the jukebox behind the bar, if the bartender doesn’t feel like the song is what the crowd is feeling or the bartender simply doesn’t like the song, they can kill the song and the jukebox moves to the next selection. Imagine the day one of my selections finally played, I finally felt cool!
The Napper Tandy
The Napper Tandy is a favorite neighborhood Irish pub in the Mission District. Known for a fun and fantastic staff, the Napper also offers some of the best pub food in San Francisco. There is a pool table, fireplace, jukebox, and weekly pub trivia. If you are looking for something to do on a weeknight, the Napper Tandy will likely have a local that is up for a game of pool, or on Wednesday nights, join in the pub trivia. On Friday and Saturday nights many locals meet up at the Napper to start their evening out about town. Honestly, there have been nights when my friends and I have had massive plans and had such a good time at the Napper Tandy we just spent the entire evening there. The Napper Tandy is truly a local experience any night of the week.
Danny Coyle’s is in the Haight District of San Francsico, near famed Haight and Ashbury. A long time fixture in the neighborhood, Danny Coyle’s is a good time on Friday and Saturday night for sure. For a very hip and fun local crowd, Danny Coyle’s is the place. Aside from being the place for the locals in the Haight District, Danny Coyle’s is also the place to go for televised sports. Boasting all of the sports hookups for television, the big draw is for the transplants from U.K. and the soccer coverage Danny Coyle’s offers. If you want to catch the game (pretty much any game) and hang out with fun, loud, rowdy devoted local sports fans, Danny Coyle’s is the place to go.
The Horseshoe Tavern
If you are partial to the Marina District then the Horseshoe Tavern is the place to go. Known to the locals as the “Shoe”, the tavern is located at 2024 Chestnut street. Known as one of the oldest taverns in San Francisco, the Shoe has been around since the 1930s. The crowd a the Shoe is diverse in age, with some regulars that have been going there for more than 40 years. It’s not hard to strike up a conversation with any regular at the Shoe. They are all friendly and the older regulars have some pretty interesting stories.
R Bar, Hemlock Tavern, Lush Lounge
If a bar crawl is what you crave, the following are all within a few steps from the other near the corner of Polk and Sutter Streets. The R Bar, known locally as a favorite “dive bar”, is a simple, no frills and to-the-point bar. A local gathering spot for televised sports, the R Bar is also known for serving shots of Fernet.
I recommend starting your pub crawl at the R Bar. From there you should move onto the Hemlock Tavern, located on Polk street. The Hemlock often has live music. If there is a cover charge it is likely worth it to experience a likely favorite local band. Next stop for your pub crawl is just at the next intersection. The Lush Lounge is a great space with a fireplace and plenty of bar-style seating. A likely nice break from the live music of the Hemlock, the Lush Lounge is a great place to have a bit of conversation before you finish your pub crawl by heading back to the R Bar for your final night cap.
Rogue Ale’s Public House
Although Rogue Ale’s Public House has more than one location, the unique flavor of the location at 673 Union St. in the North Beach District can’t be matched. Paying true tribute to the faithful locals, you will find brass plates tacked to the bar at each stool location with the name of a local on it. No matter what night of the week you visit Rogue, you are going to have a good time and meet dedicated locals.
As the bar is owned by Rogue Ale Brewery in Oregon, the selection of beers available at Rogue's is colossal and always changing. The bartender serving the brews is guaranteed to be an expert on anything they serve and will easily make a spot-on recommendation after a few questions about your taste preferences. If you are a beer aficionado, Rogue Ale’s Public House should be on your list of stops while checking out the North Beach District.
The North Beach District is also a nice and interesting stroll on warm summer weekend nights. Starting your evening at Rogue, and then finding a fantastic Italian cuisine restaurant for dinner, stopping at the gelato shop around the corner from Rogue on Columbus, and then ending your night with a nightcap from where you started would be a perfect evening in San Francisco.
Edinburgh Castle Pub
Without question the Edinburgh Pub is easily one of my favorite pubs in San Francisco. Although all the guides refer to the location at 950 Geary St. as Lower Nob Hill, it’s really very close to the Tenderloin. The nights I have spent in the Edinburgh have never been boring. Even if there are just a few people in the pub, which rarely happens, you can easily find conversation and company.
If you haven’t guessed, the Edinburgh Castle Pub is a Scottish pub. Hosting a very large selection of whiskey as well as $3 pints of beer, this is not the bar for flowery drinks. The Edinburgh does not offer food directly. You can however order fish and chips at the bar on busy nights and an order will come from just round the corner from the Old Chelsea Fish and Chip shop. The food is definitely worth the wait.
No matter which bar/pub you choose to go to on this list, it will be a fun time and a truly insider local experience. I hope you leave with cherished memories like I have from each and every place on this list. Don’t be afraid to strike up conversation, the locals of San Francisco are incredibly friendly and typically have some colorful stories to tell.
It is not necessary to drive for a good time in San Francisco. Geographically the city is a pretty small and it is usually very easy to find a cab at any one of the bars I have listed in this article. It shouldn’t cost you more than a few dollars via cab to get around town. I hope you have a fantastic time in San Francisco.
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