The Fun Bars San Francisco!
Reviews of The City's Top Neighborhood Hangouts
A bay window by the bay, and Irish coffee at the cable car turnaround.
This grand 'ol city may be more renowned for its restaurants than its pubs, but it definitely has an abundance of the latter. There are some really cool little pubs and bars in this town. They are all over the place, each with specialty drink, local lore or having some type of historical significance.
First, we look at these classic pubs. Then, we head to the different districts for the best places in the Marina and Haight districts. For SoMa and the Mission District, read "Clubbing in San Francisco."
Longtime Downtown Bars & Pubs
Classic bars make for classic fun times in San Francisco.
The coolest, neatest pub in town was once the Gold Dust Lounge (by Lefty O'Doul's, a piano pub in Union Square). Even the city's "scenesters' liked the place. But this 1800s saloon with really cheap drinks before 8 and a Dixieland band afterward has been forced to relocate to Fisherman's Wharf to make room for shops. Just what San Francisco needs – more shops around Union Square!
Still holding on, however, is The Blue Lamp, a dusty dive with live music, pool and great low-key music (Geary and Jones). [MAP]
The specialty drink of Tosca/Specs (off Broadway) is chocolate brandy. Yet it's house drink is called a Red Orchid, going back to the Prohibition days which is what you said if you wanted a cocktail. A scene of the movie "Basic Instinct" was filmed here. [MAP]
For the City's Best Bloody Mary, head to the Owl Tree (Taylor and Post). The key ingredient is a pickled string bean. Trust us, it works. If tequila is your thing, the aptly-named Tommy Tequila (Geary & 24th Ave. near the Presido) is the spot. Word is that Hulio is the bartender with the wicked touch.
Frankie's Bohemian (Divisadero and California) is a jamming little joint with creative food, such as tostada on a potato pancake.
San Francisco doesn't rock that hard early in the week, but the one place where that does happen is Fiddler's Green. This is where the bartenders and waitresses from the fancy Fisherman's Wharf restaurants go when they get off work. Flight attendants on layover also like it here. There's certainly nothing fancy about the place which, of course, is part of its allure. On weekends, it has two floors of fun.
Talk about tradition. The Buena Vista claims to have introduced Irish Coffee to the U.S. The smell of coffee is evident when walking in the door. It's located at the turnaround of the Hyde Street cable cars a couple of blocks from Fiddler's Green, so it has a mix of tourists and local businessmen. The huge bay window looks out over the cable car's starting point. Make fun of the tourists waiting in long lines for a lift while you sit relaxed place with a cocktail. Saturday afternoons finds the Buena Vista at its best. [MAP]
Finally, for Jimmy Buffett fans, there's a little bit of Margaritaville on the edge of Golden Gate Park. Trad'r Sams doesn't serve cheeseburgers, but it does have a drink called the "P38," served in a bowl fit for a group of four. This is a small place where each table is decorated like a different island. [MAP]
A more famous tropical outpost – even featured in a recent Jimmy Buffett song – is the Tonga Room. It's a Polynesian lounge downtown in the Fairmont Hotel with indoor thunderstorms and a cheap lounge band floating on water. get out before getting hit with a $3 "entertainment cover" at 8). It's a novelty with a so-so $7 buffet (one-drink minimum at an additional $6.50 a pop; go for the Mai Tai), from 5-7 p.m.
A better bar, tho, is Smuggler's Cove (650 Gough St). It's THE place for rum drinks in the City.
Pier 23 is a local legend, especially on Sunday afternoons.
If it's Sunday afternoon, there are two excellent options. Pier 23 has a large outdoor patio, live jazz, strong drinks (they even make an Irish Car Bomb) and a lively crowd. Since people know they must work the next day, they leave nothing on the table. Get there before 5 to avoid the line and cover charge.
On the other side of the Bay is our Favorite Bar in the Bay Area – Sam's in Tiburon. A large, wooden patio, adjacent to a dock where wealthy sailboat captains cruise in looking for first mates, this is one place that can really get out of control.
PubClub.com once mentioned to the bartender that the drinks are quiet strong. "Hey," he responded without hesitation. "We want people to have a good time here." And have a good time they do! Get the right table and it's the best social scene in the area. Plus, a ferry will drop you off and pick you up practically right at the dock.
DRINKING IN THE DISTRICTS
PubClub.com relaxes – in style – in a Marina District bar.
The Marina District
The Triangle is still going strong in San Francisco's Marina District.
Mid-20s to mid-30s professionals (and those visiting from Los Angeles) party in the Marina District. All the bars are within a few blocks of one another and there are plenty of choices.
For starters, there's the Star wine bar (Chestnut & Steiner), a small tasting room of sorts that features bottles of wine for sale. Glasses are $8 & up. Far from a hot nightspot, it's s a cool little hangout. Wine-loving locals love it and seem to be in there about every evening, starting about 6 or 7.
Be sure and go into the Tripsy Pig (2231 Chesnut St). This is a restaurant with a bar scene – the place keeps pouring until 2 a.m. – and the food's popular items include chicken pot pie and mac 'n cheese. It's a nice gastropub with a heated patio. The Tipsy Pig is the most happening place in the Marina District and you'll likely to stay in there so long you'll wind up tipsy. Just don't be a pig, guys!
Locals and longtime visitors refer to the area around Fillmore and Buchanan (basically at Lombard) as "The Triangle," because at one time three of the city's most popular bars were situated in what was basically a triangle from one another.
The Balboa Cafe is as much of a landmark to locals as the Golden Gate Bridge.
While three bars are still there, only Balboa Cafe is an original. For some locals, this is their favorite bar in town and they go there every Friday and/or Saturday at some point in the evening, and just about every Wednesday. It's good, sometimes great, because people here like to mingle. Balboa Cafe has been there forever and for those who live and party in the Marina, it's as much of a landmark in the City as the Golden Gate Bridge.
Across the street is City Tavern, which has a younger (mostly 20s as opposed to 30s) crowd. This is more of a sit-down place but sometimes you can get conversations going at the bar. It's a good meeting spot for a drink before going to other bars in on that side of Lombard Street. It's best on Tuesdays when it offers all beers (even the good ones!) for $2 to wash down the $2 food specials. That's good until 10 p.m, and on Thursday Happy Hour also goes until 10.
Head up the Fillmore Hill and hang a left on Union Street for several more bars. Many people start their night at Left at Albuquerque, a Mexican restaurant with mediocre food, okay margaritas but a good atmosphere. Across the street is the Blue Light, kind of like a slightly more upscale version Mauna Lua. It's a good place to stop and check out the crowd; who knows, it might be awesome and be worth staying all night. Bar None, formerly Union Ale House, is rarely busy but is sometimes lively.
Along the way is one of the City's great dives, Mauna Lua. It's kind of like The Lodge in Chicago, a great place to hang out and see what happens. Regulars play pool or pop-a-shot.
Speaking of dives, cross Lombard Street (carefully; wait for the light to change!) over to Chestnut and hit The Horseshoe. This is for people who really like dive bars. While there, walk a couple of blocks toward the Golden Gate Bridge to Delaney's, a true neighborhood haunt for people who like to stumble back home.
If it's Thursday, then try La Barca on Lombard. Find a comfortable place at the bar. Then let the action come to you. A band plays live music, but nobody really pays much attention to them. They come for the strong margaritas and the mingling. Until KT's came along, this was one of San Francisco's biggest meat markets for the mid 20s-early 30s crowd. Next door is Mai Sake, which has a bit of a scene crowd on Thursdays. It's a sushi place that's been there forever, but has now become a bar spot.
The proper pubs provide refreshment in the Haight District.
Tie-dies and the Grateful Dead. Vintage clothing shops and funky bars and restaurants. Never-ending 60s, hippies and the cult. This is Haight/Ashbury.
It's easy to spend an entire day in this area, going from one funky shop to another, stopping in for cocktails along the way and an interesting meal or two to top if off.
A must-do is Cha Cha Cha, at the end of the district. The Cuban food is awesome and the decor is definitely Havana, but the real treat is the colorful and potent sangria. While on the subject of food, a few doors down is Kan Zam, a Middle Eastern restaurant where diners smoke scented tobacco through large pipes.
Okay, onto the bars. Au Bandroin is an Irish pub with DJs on weekends and Celtic music Sundays.The name is Gaelic for an Irish drum made out of goatskin, and there's one on the wall. Martin Mack's is another Irish-style pub that's crowded on weekend afternoons. Nikki's BBQ features Sunday reggae (Haight & Fillmore).
Okay,we have to do it. Every tourist publication from here to Helsinki writes about a tiny martini bar that ONLY serves martinis. Ask for anything else and you will be asked – no, told – to leave.While that used to be the case, the keeper of the martinis has passed on and now it's okay to get anothe drink. The place is dark and had red leather booths and is very, very quiet. The name is Zam Zam. There, we did it.
– PUB AND BAR LOCATIONS –
• An Bodhran 668 Haight St. (415) 431-4724
• Bar None: 1980 Union St. (415) 921-0300
• Blue Lamp: 561 Geary St. (415) 885-1464
• Blue Light: 1979 Union St. (415) 922-5510
• Buena Vista: 2765 Hyde St.(415) 474-5044
• Cha Cha Cha's 1801 Haight St. (415) 386-5758
• Delaney's: 2241 Chestnut St. (415) 673-9383
• Fiddler's Green: 1333 Columbus. (415) 441 9758
• Frankie's Bohemian: 862 Divisadero St. (415) 921-4125
• Gold Dust Lounge: 247 Powell St. (415) 397-1695
• Horseshoe Tavern: 2024 Chestnut St. (415) 346-1430
• KT's 3231 Fillmore (415) 567-7181
• LaBarca: 2036 Lombard St. (415) 921-2221
• Left at Albuquerque: 2140 Union. (415) 749-6700
• Lefty O'Doul's: 333 Geary St. (415) 982-8900
• Mauna Loa: 3009 Fillmore St.. (415) 563-5137
• Martin Macks: 1568 Haight St. (415) 864-0124
• Nikik's BBQ: 460 Haight. (415) 621-6508
• Mai Saki: 2030 Lombard St. (415) 346-7373
• Owl Tree: 601 Post. St. (415) 776-9344
• Pier 23: Embarcaero at Pier 23. (415) 362-5125
• Royal Oak: 2201 Polk St. (415) 928-2303
• Sam's: 27 Main St., Tiburon. (415) 435-4527
• Shanghai Kelly's: 2064 Polk St. (415) 771-3300
• Tommy Tequila Mexican Restaurant: 5920 Geary.(415) 387-4747
• Tonga Room: 950 Mason St., Fairmont Hotel. (415) 772-5278
• Trad'r Sam's: 6150 Geary Bl. 415-221-0773
• Tosca/Specs Cafe: 242 Columbus Ave. (415) 986-9651
• Zam Zam: 1633 Haight St. (415) 861-2545