Food & Drink

Signs You’re in a Real San Francisco Dive Bar

Published On 09/15/2015 Published On 09/15/2015

The dive bar scene in San Francisco has shifted a LOT over the past few years and, thanks to the skyrocketing cost of living in SF, a bunch of veritable drinking institutions have been forced to close (RIP, 21 Club). That means you're probably going to be spreading your dive bar wings soon if you haven't already, and when you do, you'll want to make sure you end up at a tried-and-true SF dive.

How do you know if you're in a proper one though? Well this list of signs should help...

Flickr/Nick Fullerton

1. The name is entirely misleading

Mr. Bing’s Cocktail Lounge is not, in fact, a lounge… unless you count leaning against beer cases stacked against the wall as lounging.

The Hearth | Flickr/throgers

2. Signage is also incongruous with the experience

This woman is severely overdressed for this establishment.
 

3. There’s no theme

Outside of "cheap drinks."
 

4. It’s cash only

The on-site ATM most likely doesn’t work. JK, JK, it definitely doesn't work.
 

5. The only wine selection is red or white

Why are you trying to order wine in a dive bar?
 

6. A PBR is never more than $3

 

7. A cocktail = liquor with a splash of flat soda

Latin American Club

8. If there is a house specialty, it’s lethal

Whether it's Li Po’s Mai Tai or Latin American Club’s "margaritas" (in quotes because THEY'RE SERVED IN PINT GLASSES), one is guaranteed to do the trick.
 

9. Using the bathroom is an adventure

Don’t expect a functional lock. Or toilet paper. Or any level of cleanliness. Really, just be happy there's still a seat on there. Oh, and dive bar bonus points if the bartender has to buzz you through a metal door that leads to the basement toilet (<3 you, Buddha Lounge).
 

10. At least part of the LED sign is broken

Flickr/FogCityFog

11. It opens at 6am

And regulars are there by 6:01am.

Li-Po Lounge | Flickr/Sean Savage

12. There are colorful characters

Like aviator goggles guy.
 

13. The bartender is neither sober, nor super intoxicated

Daves | Flickr/James Cridland

14. The lighting is hahahahaha what's lighting?

Ambiance = last year’s Christmas lights.

High Tide | Courtesy of James H.

15. All of the portraits on the wall are topless

Doesn't matter if you're in the Tenderloin (High Tide) or the Mission (The Homestead).
 

16. There are two microwaves

So many people are microwaving things that they, in fact, decided one microwave was not enough.
 

17. And maybe there’s a hot plate

See: Thieves Tavern, where happy hour often includes grilled cheese, made one by one on the hot plate using white bread and American cheese.
 

18. It’s sticky

The bar tops, the floor, the stools, the handle to the bathroom -- at least one surface is coated in a mystery substance.

Hotel Utah | Flickr/brandi

19. There’s a condom machine

If you’re going home with someone you met in an establishment with a condom machine, using it is non-negotiable.
 

20. There are lots of board games

All of which are missing between one and 17 pieces.
 

21. There’s a popcorn machine

No one knows when the popcorn was last made.
 

22. The pool table/shuffleboard/Big Buck Hunter is broken or poorly maintained

But that doesn’t stop anyone from playing.

Homestead | Flickr/Jared Zimmerman

23. Peanut shells litter the floor

Especially if peanuts are inexplicably nowhere to be found.
 

24. Dogs are allowed

But it’s not so much a policy as it is this place lacks policies in general.
 

25. The jukebox only accepts paper money and is not connected to Bluetooth

You want to play a song that was released after 1999?? Good luck.

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Amy Copperman is a regular Thrillist contributor who believes you know a good dive bar when you smell it. Tell her your favorite on Twitter.

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