Every Single SF ‘Hood Ranked by Its Drinking Potential
You know how you and your friends are always having that conversation about where you want to go out? And no one can ever decide because making decisions is the worst? And you feel like if you absolutely have to put on pants, you want it to be really, really worth it?
Yeah. Well instead of picking a particular bar to go to, maybe you should pick a neighborhood instead. And maybe you should pick that neighborhood based on its drinking potential, something we’ve ranked for you based on a very scientific algorithm of number of bars, variety of drinks available, proximity of bars to each other, how much fun we have when we go there, and years and years of research.
Also, not that we would tell you how to live your life, but we highly recommend referring to this list the next time you’re choosing a place in SF to live as well. Because life without a good bar nearby just isn’t a life anyone should live.
29. Noe Valley
You always hear that parents love to drink because they’ve been driven to do so by their terrible children, but this stroller and baby mecca says otherwise. Basically, if you’re in Noe, you’re choosing between the Valley Tavern, The Dubliner, and Caskhouse. Which really isn’t much of a choice at all.
28. Potrero Hill
27. Bayview-Hunters Point
A Laughing Monk Tasting Room is on its way to Bayview, as is a Seven Stills brewery, distillery, and tap room (yeah, it’s like a combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell… but better ‘cause booze), and Speakeasy Ales has a tap room there as well, but truthfully this neighborhood has a long way to go before anyone considers it a fun place to go drinking.
26. Outer Richmond
25. Outer Sunset
Ever since The Riptide burned down, we just can’t get stoked about trekking to Outer Sunset. Yeah, there are some perfectly acceptable bars to hit up if you live nearby, but otherwise, there’s not much to see there. (That being said, we look forward to when The Riptide rises from the ashes and will happily bump Outer Sunset up at least one spot at that time.)
24. Lower Pac Heights
The bars in Lower Pac Heights are exactly what you’d expect the bars in Lower Pac Heights to be like, and that’s not exactly a compliment. The only things keeping this at the No. 24 spot are the fresh-squeezed greyhounds and the fireplace at Lion Pub, and the many, many TVs and bathtubs of beer at SF Athletic Club.
23. Cole Valley
Cole Valley is a complete ghost town on Saturday nights (points deducted), but it’s not a bad spot to grab a drink during the week (no points added because really any place is a good place to grab a drink after a long day of work). There aren’t a lot of choices, but there should be something for whatever ails you. The bartenders at Finnegans Wake will pour you a stiff, cheap drink; the mixologists at Padrecito will serve a tasty Mexican-inspired cocktail; the sommelier at InoVino Wine Bar will give you a, uh, glass of wine, or you can get all three at Kezar Bar & Restaurant.
22. Inner Richmond
Eh… the Inner Richmond actually has a decent amount of bars, all of which we’d happily drink at if we lived nearby, but none of which we’d call an Uber for. Except for you Buckshot, with your sexy Skee-Ball and shuffleboard setup; we can’t get enough of you. Points for the sheer volume of Irish bars, but minus points for lack of originality.
21. Bernal Heights
People who live in Bernal love to tell you Bernal’s not that far away from the rest of San Francisco. Those people are lying. The good news is that Old Bus Tavern, one of our favorite brewpubs and cocktail bars, and El Rio, one of best day drinking spots in the city (bring your dog!), are actually more Outer Mission than Bernal. The bad news is almost every other Bernal Heights watering hole is waaaaaay up on that monstrosity of a hill. Still, once you ascend it, Holy Water and Wild Side West (with its amazing back yard) are good bars to quench your thirst.
20. Fisherman’s Wharf
It pains us to say it, but there are actually a few good bars in the land of tourists and T-shirt shops. So if your out-of-town friend insists on dragging you there, try to plan the day around stops at Buena Vista Café (just tell them you need your morning coffee and they should not judge you that it’s Irish), Gold Dust Lounge (longest bar in the city!), and the Luau Lounge on Pier 39 (which has some of the best views of any bar in SF AND Skee-Ball). That being said, this is Fisherman’s Wharf and no amount of overpriced drinks will make the throngs of people holding selfie sticks any more tolerable.
19. Divisadero Corridor
Yeah, STILL not calling it NoPa. Sorry not sorry. But just ‘cause this ‘hood really wants to adopt a new moniker all in the name of gentrification doesn’t mean there aren’t some decent places to drink (mostly because of said gentrification, but still). Fly Bar, Mini Bar, Nopa, Madrone, Bar 821, and La Urbana are all good spots to quench your thirst. Unfortunately, there’s nothing that really knocks our socks off here, hence where it sits on the list.
18. The Castro
Castro gets points for having a good amount of boozy options within walking distance of each other, the city’s only gay sports bar, and Lookout, whose second floor balcony provides a perfect view of all the muscle queens as they come and go from the gym across the street. And other out-of-shape people too, or whatever.
We’ve never had a night out drinking in Chinatown that we didn’t regret the next day in the best way possible. From playing dice at Li Po’s to drinking the “Three Penis” Chinese whisky at Buddha Lounge to karaoke at Bow Bow… there is always a good time to be had. Still, points must be deducted for lack of variety, since these spots are all pretty much dive bars. Also, did we just deduct points for dive bars? We’re mortified. Should probably have a Chinese mai tai and forget it ever happened.
16. Inner Sunset
A decent amount of Irish bars, a couple of good sports bars (Blackthorn Tavern, Yancy’s), a dive bar with a fireplace, a wine bar that would be a good spot for a first date, AND a brewery… The Inner Sunset is doing just enough to not totally suck when it comes to the bar scene. A solid C student who doesn’t care because he’d rather be doing shots at the Mucky Duck than studying anyway.
15. Upper Haight
Not the first place we’d go to drink, but also not the last. There’s good beer at Magnolia, phenomenal cocktails at Alembic, jazz at Club Deluxe, and, of course, our Haight St favorites: Aub Zam Zam, Hobson’s Choice, and The Gold Cane. Too bad we can’t go to any of them without a pack of street kids hitting us up for money or bumping into a group of tourists licking Ben & Jerry’s while wearing their very best tie-dye.
14. The Dogpatch
Points go to the Dogpatch for being home to The Ramp -- the waterfront day drinking spot where dreams come true -- as well as the Magnolia Brewing Company, Third Rail (cocktails and jerky, yes please!), The Sea Star, and the Triple Voodoo Tap Room. Plus, it has an organic wine bar which we’re convinced lessens hangovers and is almost always sunny. Too bad it’s a total trek for anyone who doesn’t live in Potrero or SoMa.
13. Union Square
We’re as surprised as you are that Union Square ranked this highly, but what can we say? We’re huge fans of the thoughtful cocktails at Benjamin Cooper, the beers and brats at Hogwash, the film noir vibe (and drinks) at Burritt Room, the barrel-aged cocktail (and burger) at Bartlett Hall, and fine... sometimes we like to drink a little too much and sing along at the top of our lungs with the dueling pianos at Johnny Foley’s. Nonetheless, points must be deducted for the annoying location and the fact that we simply don’t have time to navigate around groups of slow walkers with shopping bags when we’re trying to get to the bar.
12. Financial District
The only reward for working in the Financial District is that there are a few good bars to hit up right at 5pm. The bad news is that pretty much all of them will be packed until “happy hour” is over. Still, 83 Proof, Rickhouse, The Barrel Room, The Old Ship Saloon, and all of those fancy-ass restaurants with fancy-ass bars make the fact that your job requires you to wear a button-down shirt and slacks that much more tolerable. Points off for being in the Financial District though ‘cause, man, that place sucks to go to if you don’t have to.
11. Russian Hill
We admire Russian Hill’s effort when it comes to places to drink because it’s clear that it's trying. Still, while Tonic, Rouge, and Bullitt had their time to shine, their moment’s kinda over. Luckily, newcomers like Reverb and Ho’s Bootleg Tavern are breathing new life into the ‘hood, and we appreciate that we can always count on Greens having the game and Bacchus Wine Bar pouring good wine and sake. And fine, those totchos (tater tot nachos) at Bullitt will never stop being the most delicious thing we’ve put in our mouths after a downing a few drinks.
10. Cow Hollow
Is it going to annoy people that Cow Hollow has such a high ranking? Probably. But thanks to a good amount of sports bars that double as Bad Decision Bars (looking at you: Final Final, Bus Stop, The Blue Light, Eastside West, and Bar None), a few wine bars for pre-bad decision making (Cellar Door SF, West Coast Wine-Cheese, Ottimista), and a vast beer selection (Belga, Sessions at the Presidio), we’d be doing the world a disservice if we didn’t admit that it’s worth it to take a drinking trip to this neck of the woods. And yes, before you ask, we deducted points for the Herpes Triangle, but then added a few back due to the fact that you can order a boozy punch bowl with a rubber ducky in it at Palm House. Plus, it’s within walking distance of the Marina, which just so happens to also be pretty high on this list.
9. Hayes Valley
Ten years ago, Hayes Valley would have been at a very different spot on this list, but thanks to Smuggler’s Cove, Biergarten, Dobbs Bar, Pause Wine Bar, Hotel Biron, and Rickshaw Stop, it’s eked its way up. Just like the rent prices.
8. Duboce Triangle
The stretch of Market St in the Duboce Triangle with bar after bar after bar was made for a pub crawl. Start at Churchill, then make your way to The Residence, Blackbird, Lucky 13, Café Du Nord (where you’ll want to soak up the booze with the burger), and finally Brewcade, where you can spend hours playing old-school video games. And if you’re still rarin’ to go, make your way back down Market for a night of karaoke at The Mint. This ‘hood gets major points simply for having a slew of good bars all within stumbling distance of each other.
7. Lower Haight
If we were ranking ‘hoods based solely on dive bars, Lower Haight would take the prize. Toronado may have the best beer selection in town, and spots like The Page, Danny Coyle’s, Nickies, and Mad Dog in the Fog are old favorites we go back to again and again. We even want to give extra points for the whole Google Glass incident that went down at Molotov’s. But when it comes down to it, humans can not live on beer and cheap cocktails alone. Unless that human is in college, in which case, we’re living proof it actually is possible. Not recommended, but possible.
6. The Marina
There’s a reason the Marina has a reputation for housing obnoxious frat boys, and that’s because obnoxious frat boys love to do one thing and one thing only: drink. That helps explain why it seems like there’s a bar every five feet along Chestnut and why the Marina earned a top-10 spot on the list. Plus, if you can look past the white baseball hats and popped collars, there are some legit places to grab a drink, like The Dorian, Horseshoe Tavern, and The Interval at Long Now. Even Monaghan’s has done a little growing up in recent months… though the free popcorn remains, thank God.
SoMa earns its spot on this list simply because it’s so enormous that there’s basically a place to go for whatever your current mood is. Want a winery? Got that. A brewery? Got a fewofthose. A cocktail bar? Um, yeah, somany. Dive bar. Surprise! (Not really.) SoMa has thosetoo. In fact, the only thing keeping SoMa from a higher ranking is the fact that there are entire blocks without a single bar in sight, which means there’s often a need to Uber from place to place.
4. North Beach
Are strip clubs bars? If so, does that earn North Beach points in this exercise or is paying to see nekkid lady parts a con? And did we ever think asking ourselves these two questions in all seriousness would be a part of our job when we grew up? Dreams really do come true. If you love strip clubs, feel free to bump North Beach up on your personal list. If not, no worries because there are plenty of places to drink in North Beach that aren’t adult entertainment venues, including some of SF’s most iconic watering holes (Tosca, Specs', Vesuvio) and finest cocktail bars (Comstock Saloon, The Devil’s Acre). Add in a few old standbys (Sweeties, 15 Romolo, Northstar Café) and this neighborhood is a shoe-in for a top spot. The only thing keeping it from the top three? All of those bridge-and-tunnel peeps who turn North Beach into a total shit show on Friday and Saturday nights.
3. The Tenderloin
Home to one of the best rare whiskey selections (Whiskey Thieves), some of the best craft cocktail bars (Bourbon & Branch, Wilson & Wilson, Rx, Rye), a crazy beer selection and tap system (Mikkeller Bar), and the best gin bar (Whitechapel) in all of the city, the TL’s only flaw is that we don’t necessarily always want to see someone smoking crack when we’re out and about and trying to have a good night.
2. Nob Hill
If you live in Nob Hill, you probably shouldn’t have a car ‘cause you’ll never be able to find a parking space. That’s OK though, because with the amount of bars in your ‘hood, you’ll never have to leave anyway. What earns Nob Hill one of the top spots, however, is not just the amount of places to drink, but the variety. There are winebars, divebars, cocktailbars, sportsbars, hotelbars, and even a bar dedicated solely to Champagne and fries. The hardest part is deciding what you’re in the mood to drink.
1. The Mission
SURPRISE! No, not really. Clearly there’s only one choice for the best drinking ‘hood in all of the 7x7 and that’s the Mission. It seems like there are close to 100 places to get a drink, so we’re not even going to try to list them, but based on variety, volume, and quality of bars within close vicinity of each other, the Mission takes home the top prize. Congrats, Mission. You did it. We’ll drink to that.
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Daisy Barringer is an SF-based writer who is proud to say she has consumed an alcoholic beverage or seven in every single one of these neighborhoods. Give her a cookie on Twitter @daisy.