They say no other big American city has as many drinking establishments per capita as does the City by the Bay. San Francisco is a drinker’s paradise, with parties and festivals seemingly every weekend and bars seemingly on every corner.
There are bars for every taste and budget in San Francisco, from swank hotels that charge $14 per drink to seedy dives with $2 PBR tall boys. Today we’re going to focus on the latter. What follows is a list of 10 of the best dive bars in San Francisco, in no particular order.
The Saloon is not only the best blues bar in North Beach, it’s also believed to be the oldest standing bar in the city. Back in the day, and by “the day” I mean the 19th century, unwitting customers ran the very real risk of getting “Shanghaied” here– getting knocked out cold and waking up as indentured labor on a trans-Pacific steamer to China. Today, you only need worry about blacking out from all the shots you’re sure to down here. 1232 Grant Ave, between Broadway and Fresno.
Li Po feels like you’ve stepped back into old Chinatown. That’s because you have, although you can catch all the Giants, Niners or Warriors games on their TV. They’re known for their Mai-Tais, served in plastic cups, of course. Anthony Bourdain loved ’em. Cash only. 916 Grant Ave., at Washington.
Molotov’s is a Lower Haight institution that just made worldwide headlines as the scene of what some have called a “Google Glass hate crime.” Lots of black, lots of brooding, lots of dark music and boozing here at one of the few spots on lower Haight Street that serve the strong stuff. 582 Haight Street.
Esta Noche is a red-lit, rainbow flagged, mostly Latino gay bar in the Mission that features drag shows and a unique, gritty ambience. But you’d better hurry if you want to experience this institution– a recent ownership change portends big changes ahead.
Noc Noc is another Lower Haight dive that features a very un-divey beer, wine and soju selection. It’s also one of the most psychedelic spots around. This place has inspired imitators as far afield as Florida. 557 Haight.
The Gangway is a venerable Tenderloin gay bar that feels like it’s been there forever. And it probably has. This is no chic Castro see-and-be-scene; it’s gritty, down and dirty– just the way the Jäger-bombing regulars like it. 841 Larkin Street (at Geary).
Pittsburgh’s Pub is the place to go for all things Steelers and, lately, Pirates. There’s no mistaking the loyalties around here– from the Terrible Towel-adorned walls to the profuse Pirates memorabilia, you’ll feel right at home here if you’re a Steel City tourist or transplant, or have a buddy who is. It’s close to the beach, so there are lots of surfers and beach bums drinking in here too. 4207 Judah, between 47th and 48th Streets).
Diva’s is much, much more than just a Tenderloin dive. It’s four fabulous floors of fun for transgender women and their admirers. There’s so much character– and so many characters– in here, from the incomparable Alexis Miranda behind the main bar to suave owner Steve to all the T-girls and the guys who chase them. Performances on Fridays and Saturdays, “Naughty Schoolgirls” night on Wednesday and “Diva’s Darlings” on Thursdays. 1081 Post St. (at Polk).
Wild Side West is sometimes paradoxically called the “cleanest dive bar” around. This Bernal Heights lesbian dive is really friendly and welcoming to all, and boasts a great beer garden, pool table and a decent juke box selection.
The Hi-Dive is, well, pretty high class for a dive bar. But a dive bar it is, and one that attracts a curious mix of locals, tourists and, on game days, Giants fans. The place was downright magical during the 2010 and 2012 World Series. Within easy walking distance of both downtown and the ballpark. Plus, you can’t beat the bay views. Pier 28½, Embarcadero.