Where to Drink Beer in SF This Fall
Don't worry: Beer's still here for you.
When it comes to places to drink beer, SF has a lot of quality bars and a lot of great breweries, but not every SF beer bar can be the BEST beer bar -- objectively, unequivocally, and backed by a very specific and highly guarded algorithm that, fine, only has one requirement: an exceptional beer list with a mix of craft beers you’ve never tried before (maybe never even heard of before), as well as a few classic favorites. However, in times of COVID, we’ve had to expand those requirements a little, as well as make a few exceptions, as now, not only does a contender need to have a quality selection of ales, it also needs to serve food and have outdoor seating if one wants to enjoy their beer on the premises. And since that criteria rules out some of our favorites (sorry, Mikkeller Bar), we allowed for a little leniency with our requirements and included one spot that only has beer to-go and another that only serves its own beer. These times require a little flexibility from all of us, even when it’s about something as important as this.
It’s not a “Best Beer Bars in SF” list if the bar that basically introduced the city to the craft beer movement isn’t on it, and thankfully Toronado has a new outdoor parklet and food menu, so we didn’t have to make that happen. Frequented by locals and tourists (though the two do not always mesh), this Lower Haight beer haven is known for its surly bartenders who really don’t want to describe the beers for you, but with such a great, affordable selection, a little attitude and googling is a small price to pay. Right now, if you want to sit down in the parklet (first-come, first-served) to enjoy your beer, you’ll have to pair it with a sausage or two from Rosamunde replacement Berliner Berliner and wear a mask when you’re not eating or drinking. The parklet (which is actually two parklets) seats a max of 24 people and, like at all outdoor dining establishments, groups can’t be larger than six. If you prefer to drink your beer at home, you can also get a large selection of beers to take with you. Worried about pissing off your server? The best thing you can do is read the online version of “the board,” which unlike the physical board has descriptions of the 45+ beers on tap, something we hope Toronado keeps even when we’re allowed to drink inside again.
At the beginning of COVID, Monk’s Kettle transitioned to become a temporary bottle shop and to-go restaurant. You can still pick up over 50 bottles, as well as food, to enjoy at home, but the upscale tavern also has a couple of tables available for outdoor dining and imbibing. There are usually 28 beers on draft, but the list is a little smaller right now to ensure proper freshness considering the sizable loss of customers. Don’t worry: There’s still something for every palate. Want to expand your beer horizons? The servers are all very knowledgeable and, unlike some other places on this list, are happy to do a little hand holding when it comes to helping you figure out what you want. As city rules stipulate, if you want to drink beer outside at a restaurant, you’ve also got to order food; luckily, Monk’s Kettle has some of the best elevated pub fare in SF, so that mandate is a pleasure, not a punishment. We order the pretzel knot with beer cheese fondue and the burger every single time, but the entire menu is worth exploring.
How to make reservations: Reservations for dining at the restaurant are highly recommended and can be made on Yelp Reservations. Pickup and delivery orders can be placed on ChowNow. Both are available every day from noon to 10pm.
The Crafty Fox Ale House
This unassuming, clean, and comfortable pub on the border of the Mission and SoMa would probably stay fairly under-the-radar if not for the fact that it has one of the best beer selections in the city. There are usually 36 beers on tap, most of which are between $8 and $12, and though the selection is always changing, you can be sure you’ll be able to find something you like whether it’s local or national. Right now, the Crafty Fox is open for outdoor dining in the form of a bunch of socially distanced tables for different party sizes on the sidewalk, which is the perfect excuse to pair your pint with a fried chicken sandwich. Prefer to chill at home? You can also get food, bottles, and crowlers delivered and to-go. Both are available Wednesday through Sunday from noon to 8pm.
City Beer Store
This beer bar/bottle shop has 26 beers on tap (plus a few wines) and hundreds of harder-to-find bottles and cans to buy and take home or enjoy at one of the outdoor tables, as well as a “snack” menu with options ranging from chocolate bars to potato chips to a double cheeseburger. Right now the folks at City Beer Store hope that if you’re enjoying a beer and a snack on the patio, you’re also browsing the online bottle shop to see if there are any beers you want to buy and take home. There probably will be since City Beer Store always has beers you won’t find anywhere else, as well as NorCal staples, like Pliny the Elder in a bottle, on draft, and in crowlers. Hours are a little wonky, so you might want to call and check, but supposedly the patio is open from Thursday to Saturday from 3pm to 7pm, and the to-go shop is open Monday through Saturday from noon to 7pm.
If you thought Zeitgeist’s patio was popular before the pandemic, you can only imagine what it’s like now that we aren’t allowed to eat or drink at indoor bars and restaurants. Other than the fact that the beer list has been cut in half from 45 beers on tap to 22 beers on tap, most things are pretty much the same at this dive bar/beer garden, including a list of rules that, if broken, will get you kicked out quicker than you can say “coronavirus” (more on that later), bartenders and bouncers who aren’t likely to win a congeniality award any time soon, a full bar with a killer Bloody Mary, a simple menu with burgers and grilled cheese, and an enormous beer garden (now with picnic table “booths” divided by plexiglass) that is the perfect place to raise a pint. Especially on a sunny day. About those rules: Everyone knows you’ll get the boot if you take photos or stand on the tables, but now there are even more rules to follow, including one that says if you get your food and can’t find a seat at the first-come, first-served tables (with a one hour limit), you better take the exit path out of there pronto. That makes going there a bit of a gamble (assuming you don’t want to eat your food standing up on the sidewalk). That’s a bummer, but it’s worth noting that thanks to the fact that no one wants to touch anyone else or anyone else’s stuff right now, the notorious cash-only rule is gone and bartenders now actually prefer you pay with a credit card. The times they are a-changin’ indeed.
Okay, we almost left this spot off of the list since it’s not open for outdoor drinking since it doesn’t offer food, but since so many people are drinking at home right now (and we want to support a beer business), we thought it was worth mentioning that you can pick up a huge selection of beer at the bar’s front door Wednesday through Sunday from 2pm to 8pm. The selection is enormous. Sour beer, hoppy beer, light beer, Belgian beer, dark and malty beer, they’ve got it all, plus you can get draft beer and cider in 16oz and 32oz mason jars.
Fort Point Lower Haight
Okay, so we wouldn’t normally include a bar that only serves its own beer on a list like this, but “normally” is not a thing that exists any more and this new-ish spot has space for 24 people at its socially distanced outdoor tables and five kinds of hot dogs, and when you combine those things with beer, it makes us very happy. (Plus, regular dogs are welcome, which is great since our dogs no longer understand how to be apart from us.) You can get seven of the San Francisco beer empire’s beers on tap, plus six more in six packs, which are perfect for grabbing and taking to the Duboce Park if seats aren’t available.