San Francisco

The 16 Best Dive Bars in San Francisco

Your old haunts are back.

Aunt Charlies Lounge
Aunt Charlies Lounge
Aunt Charlies Lounge

We’ve had to say goodbye to some of the city’s most beloved dives over the past couple of years-casualties of the pandemic’s merciless effect on the beverage industry, San Francisco’s unforgiving rents, or both. So before we celebrate the return of bars during hot (or foggy) vaxxed summer, we raise a shot and a beer to the High Tide, Lucky 13, Hawaii West, 540 Club, The Summer Place, and all the other sticky-floored watering holes of old.

Luckily, many of the old faithfuls have survived, and as bars have reopened, we’ve rushed back to these reliable spots where the grizzled bartender feels like a best friend, and we can sit in our favorite dark corner and remain anonymous. Just don’t forget to bring your vax card, mask, and cash. And probably don’t wear short shorts or open-toed shoes.

Flickr/throgers
Flickr/throgers
Flickr/throgers

Clooney’s

Outer Mission
Walking into this time warp of a corner pub is likely to trigger a nostalgia for something you may have never experienced. This is the magic of Clooney’s. The horseshoe-shaped bar facilitates a bar culture that few others have, with regulars and visitors alike being forced to look at each other, and maybe even talk. The 6 am opening time has returned, meaning you can enjoy an early morning whiskey with no judgment. The bar also has a fluctuating menu of bar bites like sandwiches, tacos, and hot dogs.

Fizzee’s

Inner Richmond
Fizzee’s is a dive bar that’s renowned for its diviness, but regardless of public opinion, the bar has a comfortably spacious interior that lets pool sharks do their thing at a couple of tables on one side, and local bar flies can hang out, well, at the bar without getting their eyes poked by pool cues. The young bartenders will jovially do shots with you if you’re so generous as to buy them.

Hockey Haven

Outer Richmond
You don’t have to like hockey to drink here. Pro hockey player Rene Trudell opened the bar in 1949, and the family who’s since taken over just hasn’t changed the name. Step through the heavy wooden doors and you’ll be rewarded with a pool table, cheap drinks, and a short walk through a defunct kitchen to get to a gem of a patio. It’s well-maintained, with artfully arranged potted plants. It’s also a great place to debate which cinematic monster would actually beat Godzilla after watching Godzillafest at the Balboa Theatre across the street.

The Rite Spot
The Rite Spot
The Rite Spot

Rite Spot

Mission
Look for the old neon sign pointing you toward the corner entrance. Much like Pee Wee Herman’s RV, Rite Spot is much bigger on the inside than expected, and now has outdoor seating. In an uncrowded area of the Mission, this low-key bar/restaurant/local art gallery/live music venue is unpretentious, yet also claims to have the best Irish coffee in town-fighting words in this city. Try a Happy Meal, where $10 gets you a shot of well liquor, popcorn chicken, and fries.

The Royal Cuckoo Organ Lounge
The Royal Cuckoo Organ Lounge
The Royal Cuckoo Organ Lounge

Royal Cuckoo

Outer Mission
This bar might be too classy to be considered a dive, but it’s got the darkness, old-school vibe, and bartender surliness to qualify as so (this is a compliment). Only organ-based musicians can play here, and the bartender doubles as DJ all other times, strictly playing vintage vinyl records. Stay inside to enjoy the tunes, or sit in the intimate back patio under the lime trees and sip one too many of their classic Negronis or absinthe-based Cuckooland signature cocktails.

Uptown

Mission
Like some other favorite dives, Uptown has two halves-one for the pool table and onlookers, and the other half for the bar flies and lounge seaters. Load up the jukebox with indie rock or power ballads, and run to the coveted couches, which are a little grimy by normal standards, but luxurious in any dive. Stare at the tiny skeleton action figures above the bar while imbibing a fruity Pimm’s Cup summer special.

Zeitgeist SF
Zeitgeist SF
Zeitgeist SF

Zeitgeist

Mission
This bar will never not be on this list. Even though polo-shirted tech workers and bumbling tourists discovered this punky biker bar long ago, the place still maintains its hard edges. Some have grown to like the judgmental scorn of the tatted-up bartenders. The top-notch bloody marys, 64 beers on tap, decent burgers, and one of the best outdoor drinking areas of the city keep the customers coming-no matter the degree of dork-shaming by the cool staff.

Wooden Nickel

Mission
The perks of this unassuming corner bar include freshly pressed grapefruit juice for all your greyhound and paloma needs, boozy slushies, and an excellent San Diego-style Mexican food menu, complete with $1.50 shrimp tacos on Taco Tuesdays. Prefer something with less fuss? Go for the $10 shot-and-beer combos. The new outdoor seating area also includes an outdoor pool table, which has time slots you can reserve ahead of time online.

The Knockout

Outer Mission
The queer-friendly El Rio bar across the street gets most of this neighborhood’s bar buzz, but The Knockout is a more low-key option for shows that skew local and punk. The stage and show area is just big enough to feel the energy of a crowded night, but small enough to see the band up close and feel like you know them. You can also catch karaoke nights and the legendary Sweater Funk dance parties. Drinks are straightforward-the Hamm Job is just a shot of well whiskey and a can of Hamm’s beer. You’re also welcome to bring takeout from Taqueria Cancun next door. Commemorate the night with the photo booth.

Aunt Charlies Lounge
Aunt Charlies Lounge
Aunt Charlies Lounge

Aunt Charlie’s Lounge

Tenderloin
Before the Castro became SF’s LGBTQ+ hub, the Tenderloin and Polk Gulch held space for queer culture and gathering spaces. Aunt Charlie’s is one of the last holdovers from that era, and was saved during the pandemic thanks to loyal customers and community members. The bar is back with its signature drag shows, which only cost $5 for entry. Be sure to tip each queen well, though. Each enters from backstage and swans in front of patrons, then catwalks up and down the bar to collect those tips. Even on nights when jaded performers throw shade at the audience, it’s still worth supporting a community pillar and sassy queens.

Flickr/Michela
Flickr/Michela
Flickr/Michela

Mission Bar

Mission
With the Mission going through so much gentrification in the last couple of decades, a no-frills staple like Mission Bar feels like a refuge from the Valencia Street pretension. It’s not trying to be a concept. It just is. The interior is spacious, with ample seating for bar, booth, and table lovers. Get a cheap gin and tonic or a pint of $5 Lagunitas IPA from one of the tough-looking bartenders. Slink into the darkness to end your day, or just take a break from the marathon pace of bar hopping, with no pressure to see or be seen.

Molotov’s

Lower Haight
If the commercialized hippie tourist traps of the Upper Haight bother you, go to the lower half of the neighborhood. It’s more residential and relaxed, but there’s no shortage of bars, restaurants, and people-watching. Molotov’s is always dark inside, even during the daytime, and frequented by colorful locals. There will probably be a bar dog or two hanging around, and don’t be shy about ordering double bloody marys or margaritas. Counter to the drippy atmosphere inside, Molotov’s built a solid parklet for these times-for those who need a little Vitamin D with their vodka.

The Saloon

North Beach
With a strong claim to being the oldest bar in San Francisco, The Saloon has been boasting blues and booze in North Beach since 1861. It’s back in full swing with live music twice a day, every day. In between sets, a patron-driven jukebox keeps things going in the narrow bar. Duck into the alleyway for a smoke or just to talk to the long-time customers who’ve got stories for days.

EZ5 Bar
EZ5 Bar
EZ5 Bar

EZ5

Chinatown
The gaudy zebra-print walls, in-your-face neon fish tanks, and disco balls at EZ5 make it a current favorite Chinatown dive. Semi-hidden on Commercial Street, EZ5 is usually less crowded than its Grant Avenue counterparts. Get into discounted Sapporo and house wine during happy hour from 4–8 pm Monday through Friday.

Trad’r Sam

Outer Richmond
While the Bay Area has recently seen a wave of upscale tiki bars, Trad’r Sam is a holdover from a kitschy past. In fact, it claims to be the first tiki bar in the U.S., having opened in 1937. Its recently restored neon sign amplifies the experience of sipping foamy liquid from a potent scorpion bowl or a piña colada topped with a paper umbrella. Regulars are just as likely, though, to order an Anchor Steam beer. You’ll also most likely be wearing a puffer jacket inside to protect against that westside fog. A quintessential San Francisco experience.

The Mint

Duboce Triangle
You might not care that the bartender keeps pouring tequila when you order your third round of whiskey. Like any pay-by-song karaoke spot, there are regulars who rule the roost and dominate the night. There are no private rooms here. Everyone is on display and you never know what will happen next. Newbies should just take the plunge onto stage after imbibing some cheap liquid courage. Simply have another drink if the veterans don’t like your shy rendition of “Glamorous” by Fergie, though they will more likely than not be supportive.

Editor’s note: The San Francisco Bar Owner Alliance, which includes more than 500 San Francisco bars, voted in July 2021 to require proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test for entry. Some venues have designated outdoor seating for everyone, some don’t. Check each bar’s policies before going.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat.

Margot Seeto is a contributor for Thrillist. 

San Francisco

How to Celebrate Black History Month in San Francisco

Support and celebrate SF's Black community.

Courtesy of Black Joy Parade
Courtesy of Black Joy Parade
Courtesy of Black Joy Parade

Though it’s something we need to be doing every day of every month of every year, Black History Month encourages us to pay tribute to the struggles and oppression generations of Black Americans have faced, as well as their often-neglected triumphs and achievements that have helped shape this county and make it better. It’s a time to reflect on how we can do better to confront racism and oppression, which this year’s theme, “Black Resistance,” echoes. This is especially important in a town like San Francisco, where the Fillmore District was known as “the Harlem of the West” before the city displaced a vast portion of the neighbourhood’s Black community in the ’60s and ’70s. This displacement continues today, as the Black population is the only racial group that has declined in every census since 1970.

If you’re looking for ways to celebrate Black History Month, there are lots to do. Whether you want to educate yourself by attending films, performances, or conversations, share the joy at a parade or dance party, or do a little bit of it all at a drag show, here are just a few ways you can get involved and have a lot of fun while doing so:

Visit San Francisco Public Library branches for workshops, films, performances, and more

February (and throughout the year)
Library branches and online
SFPL’s “More Than a Month” celebration focuses on the theme of resistance this year. Family-friendly and adult events include film screenings, musical performances, book clubs, workshops, and more.
Cost: Free

Museum of African Diaspora
Museum of African Diaspora
Museum of African Diaspora

See art, poetry, films, talks, and more at MoAD

February (and throughout the year)
SoMa
Right now, at the Museum of African Diaspora, you can see the first and only West Coast exhibition of “The New Black Vanguard: Photography Between Art and Fashion,” which highlights the work of 15 contemporary fashion designers “whose images present radically new perspectives on the medium of photography and art, race and beauty, and gender and power.” The museum, which has a robust year-round program and event calendar, has a slew of events to attend, including youth poetry readings, film screenings, open mic nights, book clubs, artist talks, and more.
Cost: Event prices vary; GA to visit the museum is $12 but free every second Saturday of the month

Check out films, art, reading, talks, and more at BAMPFA

February (and throughout the year)
Berkeley
There is always something interesting to discover at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA). During Black History Month, you can see films by Pratibha Parmar, “Felwine Sarr: Music, Freedom, Africa,” a conversation through music with the Senegalese writer, scholar, composer, musician, and more.
Cost: Varies

Old Skool Cafe
Old Skool Cafe
Old Skool Cafe

Enjoy menu specials honoring Black community members at Old Skool Cafe

February (and throughout the year)
Bayview
For Black History Month, Old Skool Cafe is adding the favourite meals of notable Black community members to the menu each weekend. The nonprofit, youth-run supper club helps at-risk, formerly incarcerated, and foster care youth ages 16-22 gain the skills and experience they need to succeed in various front and back-of-house restaurant roles. Bayview hero/community advocate Mrs. Dorris Vincent is first up, followed by Judge Trina Thompson, Delroy Lindo, and Mayor London Breed.

Yerba Buena Gardens
Yerba Buena Gardens
Yerba Buena Gardens

Walk beneath the Marting Luther King, Jr. Memorial waterfall

February (and ongoing)
Yerba Buena Gardens
Did you know that Yerba Buena Gardens is home to the country’s second-largest memorial to Dr. King? Visit the sculptural waterfall featuring glass panels inscribed with his inspiring words at 750 Howard Street.
Cost: Free

Attend the Commonwealth’s “Dreaming Forward: A Celebration of Black Joy, Power, and Excellence” conference

Thursday, February 9
Embarcadero
On behalf of Dr. Sheryl Evans Davis and the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, the Commonwealth Club is hosting its second annual Dream Keeper Initiative, a day-long conference/celebration/call-to-action featuring special guests, including April Ryan of TheGrio and CNN.
Cost: Free

Courtesy of Oakland First Fridays
Courtesy of Oakland First Fridays
Courtesy of Oakland First Fridays

Celebrate Black Love at Oakland First Fridays

Friday, February 10
Telegraph Avenue from West Grand to 27th Street
Telegraph Avenue transforms into a dining, shopping, and art-appreciating party on Friday, February 10, from 5 pm to 9 pm. There will be food, artist, and retail vendors and a host of Black artists, authors, and entertainment. Please note: This event was rescheduled from February 3 because of potential rain.
Cost: Free

Have a ball at an all-Black drag show at Oasis

Friday, February 10
SoMa
“Reparations with Latrice Royale” is an all-Black drag show hosted by Latrice Royale, the beloved Drag Race star who also happens to be celebrating her birthday.
Cost: $15 to $60

Dance all night and shop all day at the Afro Soca Love carnival and marketplace

Friday, February 10 ‚Äď Saturday, February 11
341 13th Street, Oakland
Afro Soca Love creates experiences that act as a “gateway to building bonds and strengthen relationships-between communities, individuals, and Africa and its diaspora.” See for yourself at the all-ages marketplace (Saturday), where you’ll find food and drink, fashion, beauty and wellness, home decor, and more. But before the shopping comes the dancing at the 21+ Friday Night Carnival, a culturally immersive music experience with music from all over the world.
Cost: The marketplace is free; tickets to the Friday Night Carnival start at $20

See a live performance of “Words That Made the Difference: Brown vs. the Board of Education”

Saturday, February 11
Unity Palo Alto
See a live theatrical performance based on the true events that occurred in the fight to end school segregation. The script draws from trial transcripts of the five cases brought together in front of the Supreme Court and Chief Justice Earl Warren’s memoirs, and the play is set in the courtrooms where it all happened. There will be a Q&A with the playwright before the performance and the cast afterward.
Cost: Free

Courtesy of San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Company
Courtesy of San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Company
Courtesy of San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Company

Go to the I, Too, Sing America album release party

Saturday, February 11
Mission
Head to the Brava Theater Center to celebrate the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Company’s album release of the music created for I, Too, Sing America, a soulful and uplifting performance that moved audiences when it debuted last year. The night includes an album-listening and sing-along party, DJs, dancing, an open bar, and more.
Cost: $40

Go on the Black Liberation Walking Tour of West Oakland

Saturday, February 18
West Oakland
Take a walk with David Peters, founder of the West Oakland Cultural Action Network, and Gene Anderson, the author of Legendary Locals of Oakland, to learn about resident voices and document sites of cultural and historical significance in the neighbourhood. Peters is a local native, and Anderson is an Oakland historian whose family has historical roots in West Oakland.
Cost: $50 ($30 for West Oakland residents)

See a screening of The Black Kung Fu Experience followed by in-person demonstrations

Sunday, February 19
Great Star Theater, Chinatown
The Chinese Historical Society of America is celebrating Black History Month and social unity with a screening of this film about how a group of African American pioneers became respected in a subculture dominated by Chinese and white men. Afterward, there will be demonstrations and talks with Sifu Donald Hamby and Sifu Troy Dunwood, who “will speak about their success as internationally recognized martial arts masters, their Chinese Kung Fu teachers, and what this practice means in relation to diversity, race and inclusion issues.”
Cost: $15

Sip wine made by Black winemakers at a free tasting event at STEM Kitchen + Garden

Thursday, February 23
Dogpatch
STEM Kitchen + Garden is hosting an afternoon wine tasting celebrating Black-owned wineries in its gorgeous indoor/outdoor space, and best of all, and it’s free to the public!
Cost: Free

Bayview Opera House
Bayview Opera House
Bayview Opera House

Attend the San Francisco African American Arts & Cultural District Gala Fundraiser

Saturday, February 25
Bayview Opera House
Enjoy an evening of talent, fashion, and community inspiration at SFAAACD’s 1st Annual Gala Fundraiser. Carla Duke, Television News Director at CBS-KPIX Chanel 5, will host the event, which includes inspiring words from keynote speaker Aniyia Williams, an artist, tech creator, and system-preneur.
Cost: $100

Attend a Black History Month & Chinese New Year Poetry Reading on Angel Island

Saturday, February 25
Angel Island
There is so much history in poetry at the Angel Island Detention Barracks Museum, which makes it a fitting location for poets Chun Yu and Michael Warr. The co-founders of Two Languages/One Community will share their poems and stories in English and Chinese, accompanied by projected images of text and photographs.
Cost: $10 to $21

Courtesy of Black Joy Parade
Courtesy of Black Joy Parade
Courtesy of Black Joy Parade

Feel the joy at the Black Joy Parade

Sunday, February 26
Downtown Oakland
This parade and festival celebrate the “Black experience past, present, and future.” Be prepared to experience “more Black joy than you ever imagined,” starting with the parade (beginning at 14th and Franklin) at 12:30 pm. The family-friendly festival follows (main entrance is at 19th and Franklin) will include 200-plus Black-owned small businesses selling food, drinks, clothing, art, and more. There will also be two stages with Black performers, including The Black Joy Choir.
Cost: Free

Take a sound bath at Grace Cathedral in honor of Black History Month

Monday, February 27
Nob Hill
Take an immersive sound bath featuring Fractals of Sound, a collective of top Bay Area musicians Egemen Sanli, Phoenix Song, and Sam Jackson, with special guest Destiny Muhammad. Together, they will create a “soundscape deeply rooted in world music,” allowing you to take a meditative journey in one of the most beautiful places in San Francisco.
Cost: $25 to $75

See Tsitsi Dangarembga and Angela Davis at City Arts & Lectures

Tuesday, February 28
Civic Center
Co-presented with MoAd, City Arts & Lectures is hosting novelist Tsitsi Dangarembga and scholar and activist Angela Davis for what’s sure to be a riveting conversation.
Cost: $36

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Daisy Barringer¬†is an SF-based freelance writer who spent many childhood days wandering around the Exploratorium. Follow her on¬†Instagram¬†to see what she’s up to now.

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