Food & Drink

The 18 Oldest Bars in SF

Published On 02/27/2015 Published On 02/27/2015
flickr/gazeronly
Redwood Room
Flickr/david.dames
Flickr/Ethan Kan
Grant Marek/Thrillist
Grant Marek/Thrillist
Northstar Cafe
Grant Marek/Thrillist
Grant Marek/Thrillist
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1. Twin Peaks Tavern 401 Castro St, San Francisco, CA 94114 (The Castro)

Predominately known throughout the city as SF's first-ever gay bar, Twin Peaks is adorned with beautiful, front-facing windows (for those who were comfortable enough back then to show the world their sexual orientation). Beyond the historical value, the drinks are strong, the company is amazing, and the music is a constant throwback to simpler (or, not-so-simpler) times.

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2. Horseshoe Tavern 2024 Chestnut St, San Francisco, CA 94123 (The Marina)

The Horseshoe Tavern on Chestnut has been whetting whistles since 1934. Distinctly billing themselves as “the non-Marina” for their neighborhood bar vibe and barstools full of regulars, The Horseshoe is a no-nonsense classic dive with cold brews, TVs broadcasting the game, and clearly stated pool rules bolted to the wall.

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3. La Rocca's Corner 957 Columbus Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133 (North Beach)

In the '40s and '50s, local mobsters got together at La Rocca’s to decide on who next to drown in the Bay over cheap, stiff drinks next to Joe DiMaggio, who was a regular. And while the mobsters/Yankee Clipper are no longer around (today you’ll spot local and visiting comedians doing shots after shows at next-door Cobb’s Comedy Club), the spot is still classic San Francisco with a nod to its older days with sports posters and mugs shots of Al Capone and other historical Alcatraz tenants on the walls and since the cheap, stiff drinks remain, you can pretend you're in another era.

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4. Redwood Room 495 Geary St, San Francisco, CA 94102 (Union Square)

Located in the swanky Clift Hotel and opened in 1934, the Redwood Room is one of the oldest bars in the city. High ceilings, a stunning bar made from a 2,000-year-old Redwood, and an Art Deco feel give the space elements of elegance and glamour. The bar stays modern with a rotation of digital artwork and bottle service offerings that attract a club-going clientele.

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5. Tony Nik's Cafe 1534 Stockton St, San Francisco, CA 94133 (North Beach)

Don’t be fooled by the “café” sign out front -- one of the oldest signs in North Beach -- this cocktail spot doesn’t actually serve food, but has kept its original moniker as a relic from its roots when bars had to have a kitchen in order to get a liquor license. One of the first bars to open after Prohibition (and in North Beach period), this classic has had plenty of time to perfect its cocktail-slinging craft. Today the vibe feels frozen in the '60s with wood paneling on the walls, and sleek low booths, making it the perfect place to order a Manhattan.

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6. Dogpatch Saloon 2496 3rd St, San Francisco, CA 94107 (Dogpatch)

An 100yr-old cocktailery from the dudes behind SOMA's 83 Proof.

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7. Buena Vista Cafe 2765 Hyde St, San Francisco, CA 94109 (Fishermans Wharf)

It’s a rite of passage as a San Franciscan (or tourist, for that matter) to crowd up to the bar at Buena Vista mid-morning and sip on a piping hot Irish Coffee. It’s the birthplace of the boozy beverage (in America), after all, and these bartenders have been mixing them up assembly line-style since 1916. Sure, it’s inconveniently located in Fisherman’s Wharf, but it’s worth the trek for that signature mix of Irish whiskey, coffee, sugar, and cream in those delicate vintage glasses.

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8. House of Shields 39 New Montgomery St, San Francisco, CA 94105 (Soma)

A former gentlemen's club where women were not allowed (unless they were prostitutes) until 1976, House of Shields also operated as an actual speakeasy during Prohibition, with an underground passageway connecting it to the Palace Hotel. Presidential side note: Warren Harding was known to go super hard here. Today the lack of TVs/clocks make this the ultimate FiDi bar for happy hour drinks that turn into nightcaps.

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9. Gangway 841 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94109 (The Tenderloin)

One of the oldest gay bars in the city and the only one with a big-ass ship sticking out of it, Gangway experienced an anti-gay raid the same year it opened. That didn’t stop it from being a refuge for the gay community then, and ever since, even during Prohibition when it renamed itself The Larkin Street Grill and housed a speakeasy in the basement.

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10. Hotel Utah Saloon 500 4th St, San Francisco, CA 94107 (Soma)

Before the Bay Bridge, before Prohibition, when South of Market was just a dusty strip of San Francisco’s waterfront, Hotel Utah was a refuge for gold-seekers, opium users, politicians, and gamblers in search of a Belgian brew brought in by horse and carriage from Utah. Rumor has it, Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio would frequent the saloon whenever they were in town, and stay in the hotel upstairs, and Whoopi Goldberg and Robin Williams both performed on open mic nights, which are still the longest running of their kind in the city.

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11. Homestead 2301 Folsom St, San Francisco, CA 94110 (The Mission)

Harkening back to its Prohibition-era glory, this storied Mission bar is still armed with infamously strong cocktails like, an excellent whiskey selection, and peanuts -- the scattered shells of which will crunch under your feet. It's easy to get cozy inside Homestead's Victorian-style parlor, which sports a pressed tin ceiling, giant nude paintings, and (best of all) a small, snuggle-worthy fireplace tucked in the back of the low-lit space. The bar is dog-friendly, too, so even your pup can become a regular.

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12. Bus Stop Saloon 1901 Union St, San Francisco, CA 94123

Bus Stop is the best place to hit up a great viewing of the Giants dominating every single team in the MLB... or, ya know, to kick back and have a few beers & shots.

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13. Shotwell’s 3349 20th St, San Francisco, CA 94110 (The Mission)

The German immigrants who ran this bar as a grocery store cemented it as the place to get a good beer via a back room grog shop, and the reputation holds true to this day, minus the back room grog shop thing, and plus a regular bar in place of the grocery store. Shotwell's has a wide selection of local and international ales at the bar, which also sports a wide selection of never-filled bullet holes from back in the day.

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14. Little Shamrock 807 Lincoln Way, San Francisco, CA 94122 (Inner Sunset)

The Sunset's oldest business period, there's some debate about what year exactly Little Shamrock opened in the 1890s, but there's no denying its place in SF drinking history. This place hasn’t changed much since it opened in 1890, save a couple crucial additions: TVs, every board game you can think of, and a backgammon table.

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15. Northstar Cafe 1560 Powell St, San Francisco, CA 94133 (North Beach)

The Northstar Café captures the essence of your favorite dive bars with free pool and popcorn, a six-hour happy hour every weekday, and Christmas lights, but the Bay Area pride covering the walls and its over a century-long tenure (it opened in 1882!) make the spot quintessential San Francisco.

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16. The Saloon 1232 Grant Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133 (North Beach)

Somehow, through technicalities we don’t quite understand, The Saloon gets the proud title of San Francisco’s Oldest Bar, even though there were spots serving booze since before its 1861 opening. With nightly live blues for a reasonable cover, this is a down-home alternative to other North Beach haunts. The vibe is strong and sound is fierce, but no less is expected from an old place that lives to tell the tales of the 1906 earthquake.

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17. Elixir 3200 16th St, San Francisco, CA 94103 (The Mission)

Home to 350+ whiskies, Elixir, which opened in 1858, is the second oldest saloon in the city. The space feels like a combination of a pub, sports bar, and cocktail lounge, which accounts for their amazing diverse drink menu. Come for happy hour and stay until it transforms into a velvety candle-lit party, because why not?

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18. Old Ship Saloon 298 Pacific Ave, San Francisco, CA 94111 (Financial District)

For a bit of history with your beer, sail into this saloon constructed from pieces of The Arkansas, a three-masted ship that ran aground in 1849. Part locals’ bar, part after-work hangout with good beers on tap, Old Ship Saloon is also known for its great burger menu.

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