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Food & Drink

SF's 29 Most Essential Dive Bars and Why You Need to Visit Them ASAP

Updated On 11/15/2017 at 05:20PM EST
Flickr/Sally Mahoney

Kennedy's Pub & Curry House

North Beach
For those days when you’re craving a Guinness, a game of pool, and a samosa, enter Kennedy’s Pub & Curry House -- a concept so odd, yet undeniably perfect. Load up on delicious, cheap Indian food on the restaurant side of this funky building that incongruously features white tablecloths and plastic serving platters. Then take your pick of the 30 or so beers on tap on the Irish side of the joint.

Flickr/torbakhopper

Bamboo Hut

North Beach
We tip our coconuts to Tiki joints like the classic Trad’r Sam, but there’s much more potential for weird stuff going down (the hallmark of a good dive bar experience) at the Bamboo Hut, nestled between strip clubs and sex stores on Broadway. Something about this place -- probably the sand on the floor, faux Polynesian statues, and flaming drinks -- makes people drink like they're on vacation.

Flickr/drazz

Hawaii West

North Beach
You’re coming here for the free pool, but mostly to see what Sonia, the bartender is up to. Is she mom-dancing behind the bar? Is she pouring an unsolicited round of shots for everyone... and then still charging? Is she giving (or taking) punches like a champ? The answer is yes... and sometimes all in one night, if you’re lucky.

Abbey Tavern

Inner Richmond
Sometimes you just need a friendly joint where you can saddle up to the bar and drink alone like God intended. The talkative bartenders, TVs (loaded with HBO boxing, UFC, and the NFL Sunday Ticket), and a handful of Irish locals also drinking "alone" make this classic Inner Richmond spot the place to pop in for a solo drink. You might come in by yourself, but you’ll have several new friends by round two.

Amy Copperman/Thrillist

The Saloon

North Beach
What’s that smell? That, my friend, is the smell of 150+ years of debauchery. Back in 1861, when the bar reportedly opened, sailors came here to tie one on. Today, non-sailors come here to do the same, plus get in on pretty fantastic live blues. Pour one out for the drinkers that came before you... it’s not like the floor can get any worse.

International Sports Club

North Beach
After you’ve suffered through Fisherman’s Wharf, you deserve a little something. And by "a little something", we mean "a strong drink poured by a super-friendly bartender and a game of pool (free every Wednesday)".

Flickr/throgers

Noc Noc

Lower Haight
The décor at this spot, which describes itself as "Lower Haight's most unusual bar," can best be described as “Tim Burton on mushrooms in a cave during a Fraggle Rock Christmas special." Which is why we put "art" in quotes. But in the nicest way possible.

Molotov's

Lower Haight
Obviously, the greatest selection of punk rock jams in the city comes with a bit of an anti-establishment attitude. But that’s just part of this place’s identity and charm, which it’s not giving up without a fight. 

Flickr/Michela

Doc's Clock

The Mission
Jenga, Connect Four, shuffleboard that is totally broken (and sand is everywhere), Trivial Pursuit, Ms. Pac-Man... and the list goes on. If you want a spacious place to throw back super-cheap pitchers while embracing your competitive spirit over a game of Candy Land, this is where it’s at. See ya on Gum Drop Mountain.

Courtesy of Yancy’s Saloon

Yancy's Saloon

Inner Sunset
It’s worth coming here no matter what the day or time (see: darts, cozy corners, popcorn machine), but Yancy’s does the NFL Sunday Ticket right -- 14 TVs in a living room setting. Plus: Bloody Marys and mimosas are only $4 each.

Zeitgeist SF

Zeitgeist

The Mission
Who out there doesn’t have an "I was kicked out of Zeitgeist" story? The staff isn’t especially friendly and they’re not gonna take any crap, but good God, do they know how to make a Bloody Mary. We call that a tradeoff, folks.

Tempest

The Tempest Bar & Box Kitchen

SOMA
A favorite among bike messengers, you’d never guess this SOMA bar, chock-full of hodgepodge, garage-sale furniture and linoleum floors, would be the place you’d enjoy one of the best burgers of your life with fries made in duck fat. But it is. Order food from the side window and your $5 shot plus PBR from the bartender. And yes, the latter makes the former even tastier.

Flickr/sswj

Columbus Café

North Beach
Two-for-one draft beers between 4pm and 8pm seven days a week is pretty amazing in its own right. Even better is the fact that they use poker chips as drink tokens, so chances are, if you come here a lot (and you should for its three big TVs, pool, and photo booth), you’re bound to have one of those moments when you reach in your pocket and find a long-forgotten chip. It’s like finding money in your pocket, but instead of money, it’s your first (or last!) beer of the night.

The Bitter End

Inner Richmond
For $9.95 you’ll get chicken strips, Buffalo wings, zucchini sticks, onion rings, mozzarella sticks, and fries, which is definitely enough to share with your entire trivia team (every Tuesday at 9pm). If that isn’t enough to satisfy, the shepherd’s pie should do the trick. Enjoy your pile of pub grub next to the fireplace, then head upstairs for darts and pool. Drinks are affordable ($7 cocktails and pints that range from $4-$6) and people are nice.

Flickr/Thomas Hawk

Silver Spur

Outer Sunset
There are four beers on tap but late nights at this tiny, largely nondescript bar call for the Spur specialty: Apple Pie Moonshine, which dangerously tastes more like pie than moonshine, but tingles on the way down so you know it’s working. 

Kozy Kar

Russian Hill
If you want to break the ice with cartoons that randomly cut to porn and a conversation about the grooming practices of 1970s pinup girls, all while sitting atop a waterbed that probably doesn't get cleaned all that often, then by all means, take your date here. But we’re thinking this is much more of a third-date situation with someone who’s got a good sense of humor and high tolerance for this kind of stuff. Just maybe (definitely) make sure you shower after.

Flickr/Shawn Clover

Buddha Lounge

Chinatown
A perfect, little Chinatown hole-in-the-wall where you play Liar’s Dice with the owner for beers. It’s charming and friendly and home to potentially the craziest bathroom situation in the entire city. Here's how it works: You’re going to have to get the bartender to buzz you through a wire door in the back of the bar, then follow the dark, dank steps to... the gates of hell.  In reality, it’s just tiny bathroom in the basement where mobsters trafficked in alcohol during Prohibition. Therefore it’s also likely haunted. Good luck, and have fun!

Latin American Club

The Mission
Just about everyone has a story about the famously (infamously?) strong margaritas here (served in a pint glass), most of which involve ranch dressing. And your pillow.

Flickr/Thomas Hawk

Li Po Lounge

Chinatown
This kitschy Chinatown spot has been home to elaborate lanterns and made-for-tourists shrines since 1937, and it’s been slinging delicious, lethal Chinese Mai Tais, served in a plastic hurricane glass since the ‘90s. The drink, consisting of light rum, dark rum, 151 rum, mystery Chinese liqueur (don’t bother asking which), and... pineapple juice, catapulted to fame in 2012 when Anthony Bourdain declared it a must-try on his Travel Channel show. We would agree if you like having fun... and don’t mind paying for it in the morning. Which, duh, you do/don’t.

The Summer Place

Nob Hill
Instead of windows, the exterior is covered in rock, likely because the building was remodeled in the ‘70s when architects were designing exclusively mid-century Flintstone houses. Anyway as a result, almost zero sunlight gets in and decades of smoking inside (it was recently banned) has seemed to permanently thicken the air. There is literally nothing summery about this place, including the badass owner/bartender, who, while a lovely businesswoman is certainly not Mrs. Sunshine. But there’s nothing ironic about the killer jukebox, stiff (actually good) cocktails, and fireplace that make this cave-like haunt the perfect place to hibernate through El Niño.

Flickr/throgers

The Hearth

Inner Richmond
Something tells us -- we’re pretty sure it’s the bar’s tagline that's printed out front: "No Whiners. No Website. Just Booze" -- this cheap-drinking institution doesn’t want or need to enter the 21st century. So we’ll just say it has booze... and a picture of a woman severely overdressed for her surroundings in a martini glass. What more do you want?

Bow Bow Cocktail Lounge

Chinatown
Don’t leave this tiny, narrow bar until you’ve gotten the adorable owner/bartender Mama Candy to sing or bang a gong. That is the only thing remarkable about this no-frills dive. Wait, no... It’s coming back to us: there are peanuts.

Flickr/Scott Schiller

Garaje

South Park
This highly decorated bi-level watering hole is home to beers, burgers, and Mexican -- all of which they do well despite the slightly complex menu. We’re partial to the Zapatos, a flour tortilla filled with meats, beans, cheese, avocado, and pico, and pressed in a panini press until it’s crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside. The craft beers on tap try to take this place out of dive bar territory, but the ambiance is all dimly lit kitsch, giving you what is ostensibly the best of both worlds.

Aunt Charlie's Lounge

Tenderloin
You wouldn’t guess from the dark, urine-laden street deep in the Tenderloin that boas and glitter would be just past the unassuming entrance. But come Friday and Saturday nights, $5 (and a reservation you dare not be five minutes late to) gets you an up close and personal look at the sassiest, most talented drag queens in town.

Flickr/Todd Lappin

Wild Side West

Bernal
It’s been LGBTQ-owned and operated since it opened in 1962, but everyone is welcome -- including dogs -- at this varied gem that includes decks, patios, and a backyard. While the inside is lived in and worn, the backyard leans to a more secret garden vibe. Order from the full bar inside and then snag a nook among the plants until 10pm (or whenever the bartender says the garden is closed). Like most dives, the rules can and will change without notice.

Durty Nelly's

Outer Sunset
You’re likely not coming here for the vast selection of beers or Irish whiskeys (the selection on both counts is humble). But friendly bartenders serve up classic Irish pub fare in this cozy spot with a fireplace while Irish accents are not hard to come by. And the house specialty, Cherry Bombs, while not Irish at all, ensure no one leaves thirsty, or sober.  

Flickr/Thomas Hawk

Pissed Off Pete's

Excelsior
PBR for $1.50, pool, jukebox (with ABBA, Ella Fitzgerald, Amy Winehouse, The Dap Kings on lock) -- POPs has all the dive bar essentials, as well as some clutch extras like karaoke, live music, DirectTV AND Parmesan cheese fries. For a sleepy neighborhood, this gem is bumpin’ most weekend nights.

Flickr/KayVee.INC

Lone Palm

Mission
Can a bar with white tablecloths be a dive? It can if it’s Lone Palm. Dirty martinis are stiff (and good), lights are low, things are, well, sticky and the white tablecloths signal more a refusal to update the decor than anything else. Still, with the right company, the flickering candlelight, white tablecloths, and second martini, you might soon be mistaking your life for a Humphrey Bogart movie.

El Rio

Mission
El Rio’s tagline is “neighborhood bar with a heck of a lot to offer.” And it certainly delivers. The spacious backyard plays host to everything from restaurant pop-ups and ping-pong tournaments to local live music and salsa on Sundays. It’s a quintessential neighborhood bar that caters to its community and it has more drink deals than we can list here. Get there at 1pm when they open to take advantage of one of the longest-running happy hours in the city.

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The Best Spots to Watch the FIFA World Cup 2018 in San Francisco

Published On 06/08/2018
T he World Cup comes around every four years and like many cities in the country, San Francisco is full of both die-hard footy fans and general fans of excuses for morning drinking. With both the US and Ireland out of contention this year, many fans in SF -- and many patrons of our dozens of Irish bars -- are going to have to find new teams to root for this time around. (And you can bet the Irish bars will be rallying around whichever team is playing against England that day.)
Below we bring you our picks for the best places in SF to watch all the matches, some of which will be heavily attended by certain national contingents, but many of which will feature a mixed bag of fans. Note: The World Cup is in Russia this time around, which means the live games will be airing mostly between 5am and 11am -- with some bars choosing to replay recorded games in the evening hours.

Abbey Tavern

Inner Richmond

Best for: Fans who definitely don't like England
While you’ll find fans of Spain, Mexico, and Germany at this Inner Richmond pub, there's definitely one team you can be assured they will not be supporting. “I would say there’ll be a lot of rooting against England,” says a rep at Abbey Tavern, now that Ireland is out of the running. The bar is planning to do a $5 Moscow Mule special, because Russia. And even though they don’t normally serve food, they’ll have some finger food spreads for the biggest game days. And while they don’t plan to open up for the 5am matches, the Abbey will be open for 100% of the 7am, 8am and later games.

Aces

Tenderloin

Best for: Beer-shot combos and surly regulars
Yes, this is a Yankees bar where ex-New Yorkers gather to watch the NY Giants and New York Jets during football season. But this Tenderloin watering hole likes some soccer too, and given that it’s one of the few bars in town that opens at 6am daily, this will be a reliable spot to catch some of the earlier games live. Just be forewarned this place has a lot of loyal regulars and one surly bartender in particular who generally covers the early morning shift. They offer a daily “BJ” special which is a Bud Light and a shot of Jameson for $4. And if you call ahead you can reserve the round “poker table” booth for you and your friends.

Barrel Proof Bar & Restaurant

Barrel Proof

Mission

Best for: Cheap beers, good food, and a side of soccer
This handsome new Mission spot with 30 flat-screen TVs has only been open three months (in the former Cease & Desist space) but they plan to cater to the soccer fan base in the ‘hood as much as they can -- though don’t expect them to open much before 11am until the second or third round, depending on demand. Mondays feature $5 cocktails, drafts, and food and $3 bottles and cans. There’s a special World Cup menu and some other drink specials in the works, but those aren’t finalized so check Facebook for upcoming details. Also, there are barrel-aged cocktails ($16), and the food menu is pretty impressive for a sports bar, with a great chicken karaage sando, and a tuna and rice poke bowl.

Blackthorn Pub

Blackthorn Pub

Inner Sunset

Best for: Those who don't really like the whole "soccer bar" thing
Barrel Proof’s sister pub in the Inner Sunset has a great setup for sports fans with ample seating and 20 TVs, but because this isn’t really known as a soccer bar, this won’t be a go-to for the early-round, early-morning matches. That said, Blackthorn offers some great barrel-aged cocktails ($12) and boasts a nice whiskey selection, and while they don’t serve food, they welcome you to have food delivered with a book of delivery menus up at the front of the bar. They expect to be busy for the semi-final and final matches, but based on the showing during the 2014 World Cup, they’re sticking to regular hours (i.e. opening at 10am on weekends).

The Chieftain

SoMa

Best for: Irish food, tacos, and a good crowd
Workers in SoMa can duck out of the office to catch matches at The Chieftain, where they’ll be airing most of the 11am games live (and opening at 10:45). In addition, they’ll open up for the 9am Peru vs Denmark game on June 16, and at 8am on June 17 for Germany vs. Mexico. There are daily food and drink specials and plenty of hearty Irish fare here, as well as al pastor tacos every Tuesday for $11.

SF Rec and Park

City Hall Plaza

Civic Center

Best for: Family-friendly fun outdoors
As they have for past World Cups in 2010 and 2014, the San Francisco Rec and Parks Department sets up a big screen in the plaza outside City Hall for free family viewing of the biggest, later-round matches. So far they have not posted the schedule of games they’ll be screening, so check the calendar here for updates.

Danny Coyle's

Danny Coyle's

Lower Haight

Best for: Getting rowdy with fans of Germany, England, and Ireland
This Irish sports bar in the Lower Haight -- part of the triumvirate that includes Mad Dog in the Fog and Nickie’s -- can always be counted on to follow soccer, and they say they plan to air each and every game no matter the hour. Judging by crowds that gathered here during the 2010 and 2014 World Cups, Danny Coyle’s will most definitely be a magnet for fans. Despite this being an Irish bar, there’s a big contingent of England fans (they regularly show English Premier League games here), as well as a contingent of Germany fans as well. And there will be drink specials throughout the rounds, TBD.

El Farolito Bar

Mission

Best for: Burritos and Mexican beers
The Mission is going to be on fire with soccer fever as soon as the World Cup starts, but a nexus of Mexican fandom will be El Farolito’s next-door bar, which always opens at 10am but you can bet they’ll be open at 8am when Mexico plays their first match against Germany on Sunday, June 17, and again at 8am on Saturday, June 23 when they play South Korea. Bottled Mexican beers will run you $5 on average, but the built-in bonus here is being able to order up burritos from the taqueria, via the bartender, and have them brought over to you without taking a break from drinking/soccer watching.

The Dubliner Noe Valley

The Dubliner

Noe Valley

Best for: Grabbing a Guinness with the older crowd
Noe Valley soccer fans won’t have to travel further than The Dubliner to watch most of the matches, though the bar doesn’t plan to open before 11am -- except on Sunday, when they regularly open at 10am It’s also the best place in the neighborhood for a properly poured Guinness. There are daily $5 drink specials here, but don’t expect too much of a young crowd -- this place tends to skew a bit older, and is the local pub for many longtime Noe denizens.

Giordano Bros.

Mission

Best for: Brazil fans and good sandwiches
“We had some of the biggest crowds we’ve ever had during the last one,” says a manager at Giordano Bros.’ Mission outpost, which was then just newly open in 2014. Interestingly, this Pittsburgh-centric spot was a magnet for Brazil fans, and that may prove true again, but as a dedicated sports bar, you can bet you’ll find fans of many teams congregating here. Also, they make a mean sandwich, and it comes stuffed with French fries. Drink specials are still TBD, but the bar will be opening early for a lot of the matches, though probably not the earliest ones that kick off before 8am Definitely expect this place to be packed with fans for the later rounds and final matches.

The Irish Bank

The Irish Bank

Financial District

Best for: Grabbing an Irish breakfast
Down in the Financial District you can catch all the 11am and later matches at The Irish Bank, with the exact schedule of games still to be posted on their website. The place is inviting and cozy, with a full food menu including a proper Irish breakfast, and some solid fish and chips.

Curiously, this place has been a draw for fans of Uruguay and Brazil in past years, so look for those contingents to gather for those countries’ matches. The Irish Bank also will consider opening early for the later round matches, depending on interest.

Final Final

Cow Hollow

Best for: Morning beers and early games
This locals-only spot in the Marina is a go-to for all sports seasons, and World Cup season is no exception. With 11 flat screens and a spacious U-shaped bar, as well as draft cocktails, food, and 24 beers on tap, Final Final will have your soccer-watching needs met. The bar plans to open for all of the 7am and 8am games, and there’s always free popcorn available. But the fans here tend to skew younger, i.e. mid 20s.

Hi Tops

Hi Tops

Castro

Best for: Food and fun in an LGBTQ-friendly space
LGBTQ sports fans already know to head to Hi Tops to watch big games in a friendly space. And while the bar doesn’t plan to open earlier than usual (11:30am) for any of the games, they will be showing as many rebroadcasts and live games as possible. The bar boasts 20 HDTVs and ample seating, especially for the die-hard fans who’ll be showing up early. It’s a gay bar but everyone is welcome, and the place has an acclaimed bar food menu that includes brunch items like a breakfast burrito, and an excellent fried chicken sandwich.

The Kezar Pub

Upper Haight

Best for: Beer and wings for breakfast
“Opening at 4am for soccer matches is nothing new for us,” says a manager at The Kezar Pub in the Upper Haight. “We can start serving drinks at 7am.” Also, there’s a full menu of bar food, and who doesn’t love Buffalo wings for breakfast? The passionate soccer fans here don’t all necessarily root for the same teams, but this will be a prime spot to head for games with the earliest start times like France vs Australia on Saturday, June 16, and Colombia vs Japan on Tuesday, June 19. Check the Facebook page for updates on TBA beer and drink specials.

Mad Dog in the Fog

The Mad Dog in the Fog

Lower Haight

Best for: Taking a break from the games in the beer garden
This dedicated soccer-centric bar in the Lower Haight will, as they always have, open for each and every game no matter the hour. The place boasts 16 TVs and some good Buffalo wings, as well as a semi-secret beer garden out back if you need some air. Serious fans of English teams congregate here on the regular, so you can guess that England’s matches will be well attended here. But Barcelona fans also know this place, as do soccer fans generally, so expect a mixed back and lots of screaming “Goooool!”

Minas Brazilian

Hayes Valley

Best for: A delicious caipirinha and Brazilian food
Brazil fans are going to be scattered throughout the city -- and there is a pretty large contingent of Brazilians residing in SF, in case you weren’t aware. But you can bet, as during previous World Cups, there will be some enthusiastic soccer fans gathering at this little Brazilian spot on Franklin off of Market. In addition to some authentic Brazilian food, the bar here has probably the biggest collection of cachacas in the city, and the caipirinhas can’t be beat.

The Napper Tandy

The Napper Tandy

Mission

Best for: Two-for-one margs and burgers
Opening times may vary at this 24th Street Irish pub, but likely the Napper Tandy will be open by 8am for most of the game days -- and this was a popular spot for World Cup viewing back in 2014 (for rooting against England, naturally). Wednesdays feature $4 beers, and Thursdays offer two-for-one margaritas, and every day there’s a food menu featuring some great tater tot nachos, corned beef quesadillas, and solid burgers -- also don’t miss the pork belly Benedict on the weekends.

SF Mix

The Mix

Castro

Best for: Unbeatable drink specials
For gay soccer fans who A) smoke cigarettes, or B) want to catch the earliest games live, The Mix will be the place to go in the Castro. This all-inclusive bar with a very diverse crowd has multiple screens both at the inside bar and on the outside smoking patio, and they open at 7am on weekdays and 6am on the weekends, with or without a World Cup going on. They plan to show as many of the matches as possible, and for the games that kick off at later in the morning, you can take advantage of happy hour starting at noon every day. Drink specials include $2 domestic drafts on Mondays, $3 for any beer on Wednesdays as well s $5.50 Hangar 1 cocktails, and $2.50 Tecates and $5 Tito’s cocktails all day Thursday.

The Pig and Whistle Bar

Inner Richmond

Best for: Getting a proper Guinness
This is a bar where they’ll be rooting for England, but as a bartender tells Thrillist, “We get people of all nationalities in here. For the last World Cup we had a lot of Portuguese and Spanish fans for some reason.” Specific drink specials for the World Cup are still TBD, but they do boast that they “pour one of the best Guinness' in San Francisco,” always with a proper head, and in a 20-ounce glass.

Schroeders SF

Schroeder's

Financial District

Best for: Finding a seat and watching Germany play
For an authentic German beer hall experience, wherein Germany fans can watch their team score, look no further than Schroeder’s down in the Financial District. With a cavernous space and plenty of seating, you likely won’t feel too hemmed in here, but be warned that since this isn’t typically a sports bar, there are only a couple of TV screens up front. The bar plans to show every match that Germany is playing, even the early ones -- and there will be breakfast served for all the morning matches. Drink specials are TBD.

San Francisco Athletic Club

Western Addition

Best for: Finding a TV to play whatever game you're looking for
Divisadero's San Francisco Athletic Club first opened its doors at the opening of the 2014 World Cup, and since then they’ve become one of the top spots in town for watching Giants, Warriors, and 49ers games, and everything else you can think of including plenty of soccer. This place has 28 flat screens including two 80-inchers, and they’ll likely all be tuned to the World Cup once it starts. They’ll be opening for most or all of the games that kick off at 5am, and this is a place that attracts a lot of different fan bases -- but there’s a big Colombian contingent that comes here, so this place could be the prime spot to catch Colombia’s matches against Japan (June 19 at 5am), Poland (June 24 at 11am) and Senegal (June 28 at 7am). They also serve breakfast on weekends, and bar bites always.

Tempest

Tempest Bar

SoMa

Best for: The casual watcher who enjoys a great burger
This bustling SoMa dive is a go-to spot for Giants watching, but they’ll be airing as many World Cup games post-11am as they can, for soccer fans in the ‘hood. They won’t, however, be opening any earlier than that. Drinks are pretty cheap here in general, especially for SoMa, and the place has an attached food window called The Box that makes an excellent burger, which you can bring into the bar to eat.