There was a time when San Franciscans would only happen upon a Peninsula bar when their commuter van broke down on the way to Silicon Valley. No longer. A broad range of craft cocktail lounges, wine cafes, and beer bars are popping up all along 101. Here are 17 worth the stop on the way home from work.
Right next door to The Refuge is this shockingly next-level beer bar from a former beer bro at Devil's Canyon. The long, narrow space hosts regular tap takeovers from some of the country's best brew makers and routinely scores kegs of hard-to-get beers from around the world. If Toronado is the best beer bar in SF, Ale Arsenal is the best beer bar South of it.
Despite Alpine Inn being the official name of this roadhouse (changed from Rossotti’s decades ago, when new management took over), local outcry was so intense over the new name, that the owners were forced to include the old name on the sign as well -- so don’t call it anything but Rossotti’s (or, even better, Zott’s).
With only six tables and a small bar, this cozy Euro-style wine and tapas spot fills up quickly, so plan your date night accordingly. An international selection of wines pairs perfectly with the exemplary small plates, made with simple ingredients and local vegetables. For double the love, Amour Amour’s happy hour from 4 to 6pm Monday through Thursday offers excellent prices on wine and nibbles.
The go-to move for Stanford nerds (of-age!) who want to drink more than zero beers, the Nut has one of the Peninsula's best early happy hours ($3 16oz margs until 3pm), a bunch of arcade games (Big Buck Hunter! Pirates of the Caribbean pinball!), and the sagest of sage advice posted in the bathroom: "Please do not throw cigarette butts in the urinal; it makes them soggy and hard to light."
This wine cafe has a wide selection of California and international offerings and slashes glass prices by half during happy hour. You won’t be hard-pressed to find a delicious $5 glass of wine alongside equally tasty Italian-inspired tapas. People go wild for the bruschetta with combinations like beets and goat cheese, as well as prosciutto and fig. Pop a bottle and enjoy live jazz music Wednesday through Saturday evenings at this top-notch date spot.
This bar's hours are terrrrrrible, but only because it isn't a bar -- Devil's Canyon is a San Carlos brewery that opens its tap handles to the public for Beer Fridays, a sort of back-of-the-brewery beer garden party from 4-9pm, plus Off the Grid is there and it's kid/dog friendly.
Serving cheap pitchers of beer in a residential Menlo Park neighborhood since 1966, the Goose has "quintessential neighborhood bar" written all over it, in addition to half-a-century's worth of carvings in the tables and walls. Post up in back -- there's a heated outdoor patio with its own full bar (the "Duck Blind") -- and make sure to get an order (or a tray if you're gonna get after it) of spicy deviled eggs.
G&G is a small, neighborhood craft beer and wine bar with a huge and wide-ranging selection of beer. Size doesn’t matter there -- the cozy bar offers eight drafts and 80-plus bottles, as well as nearly 30 wines available by the glass. Food options are fairly limited, but who’s looking to eat when there are so many beers to sample? Board games and arcades are the only distractions from the minimalist decor.
Hidden between a German market and an always-packed parking lot, this real deal stein-ery pours legit Deutschland beer options while baking pretzels the size of your torso -- both of which you can enjoy in a cozy interior or on a narrow beer garden in back. Just try not to lose any iPhone prototypes while you're there.
Scotch-slinging gastropub Martin's West has so much whiskey behind the bar, they need a damn library ladder to get to it all. In addition to the serious amount of Scotch, Martin’s also has an extensive beer menu full of seasonal and cellar ales, as well as a lengthy wine list with European and Sonoma County wines. If you’re hungry after all those libations, the seasonal and from-scratch menu ain’t bad either.
This apothecary-themed bar is squeezed in behind the Indian fast-food restaurant Curry Up Now. Happy hours feature $2 off beers and $5 glasses of wine, but the real draw is the selection of strong cocktails which includes M&P’s namesake drink, a refreshing julep-esque bourbon concoction.
This San Carlos super dive serves cheap beer and booze 18 hours a day (8am to 2am), and, thanks to a loophole in the law, can actually legally allow smoking inside (classy!). But wait, there's more, like a microwave -- in case you need something heated -- or a shuffleboard table with a working old-timey scoreboard.
One of the best sports bars in the entire Bay, this NFL Sunday Super Fan's paradise is equipped with ginormongous flat screens, towering beer... towers, a mechanical bull, and a two-way mirror in the men's bathroom in case you want to see what the urinal situation is from your seat.
Make "staying late at the office" suck way less by doing it at this not-actually-an-office bar. Savor some of the perks you might find at a major company nearby, and make your way through a ridiculously long beer list on a huge covered patio with fire pits, baseball stadium seating, and a bocce ball court.
This beer hall resembles a German airplane hanger and has more than 30 drafts stored in a see-through fridge in front. Try one of its rotating taps, a house staple like the Clown Shoes Space Cake double IPA, or opt for a beer flight based on flavor palate (fruit, dark, or light). You’ll also find a six-keg kegerator on Steins’ outdoor patio, which you can -- make that "will definitely" -- rent out.
A favorite of SF Chronicle food dude Michael Bauer, this temple of pastrami doubles as a Belgian beer bar, which means you can wash down fries covered in 'strami and cheese sauce with a Kwak strong ale served in a coachman's glass. The Refuge offers more than 100 mostly Belgian beers with 18 rotating taps, and the Menlo Park location has a reserved bottled beer list.
South San Francisco
First off, yes, there is a good bar in South San Francisco. A family-owned affair since 1945, this neighborhood dive (which boasts some serious regulars) offers up a snapshot of 50+ years of Bay Area sports on its walls -- be sure to check out the framed letter from former Niners owner Eddie J DeBartolo, Jr. If you're lucky there'll be free Costco pizza, and if you're extra lucky, there'll be room in the 49ers-adorned drinking den, a cozy little corner of the bar with leather couches and a fireplace.
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1. Amour Amour305 E 4th Ave, San Mateo
2. B Street & Vine320 S B St, San Mateo
3. Grape & Grain227 S San Mateo Dr, San Mateo
4. Mortar & Pestle130 Main St, San Mateo
5. Orchid Room678 Laurel St, San Carlos
6. The Office1748 El Camino Real, San Carlos
7. Steins Beer Garden895 Villa St, Mountain View
8. The Refuge963 Laurel St, San Carlos
9. Martin's West Pub831 Main St, Redwood City
10. Ale Arsenal971 Laurel St, San Carlos
11. Alpine Inn3915 Alpine Rd, Portola Valley
12. Antonio's Nut House321 S California Ave, Palo Alto
13. Devil's Canyon Brewing Company935 Washington St, San Carlos
14. The Dutch Goose3567 Alameda de Las Pulgas, Menlo Park
15. Gourmet Haus Staudt2615 Broadway St, Redwood City
16. The Old Pro541 Ramona St, Palo Alto
17. The Topper249 Grand Ave, South San Francisco
Don't be fooled by the size of Amour Amour, which contains no more than a handful of tables and a tiny bar -- this cozy Euro-style cafe offers an impressive selection of wine, tapas, coffee, and tea that stretches around the world. The small plates-centric menu features a vibrant range of hot and cold dishes, from goat cheese and prosciutto pockets and Spanish meatballs to roasted quail and foie gras imported from Canada. In true European fashion, Amour Amour encourages you to slow down your meal, so by all means, extend your dinner with a cappuccino and chocolate soufflé.
If you're looking to impress a date, bring them to this bright San Mateo wine bar, where they'll be wowed by the extensive international wine selection and the nearly 20 (yes, 20) different varieties of bruschetta served among warm yellow walls dotted with colorful paintings. A couple of fan-favorite bruschetta plates are the beets & goat cheese and the prosciutto & fig. There are plenty of other Italian-inspired dishes on the menu as well, including a long list of paninis, salads, and soups. And no date here is complete without a helping of bread pudding for dessert.
G&G is a cozy, unpretentious craft beer and wine bar offering San Mateo eight drafts and more than 80 bottles of domestic and international brews, as well as nearly 30 wines by the glass. The food menu is fairly limited -- it features snacks such as cheese & charcuterie plates, Greek olives, and "crack corn" (an addictive cross between popcorn and corn nuts) -- but your hands will be too busy playing classic board games like Scrabble and Connect Four to worry about that anyway.
Located in the back of Downtown San Mateo’s Curry Up Now (and under the same ownership), Mortar & Pestle provides a full menu of spicy snacks from the Indian fast-food restaurant to pair with its selection of strong, handcrafted cocktails. Instead of standard (read: snooze-worthy) bar bites like French fries or assorted nuts, you're in for top-notch Indian street food, such as a chicken tikki masala bowl, samosas, and vada pav (a mashed potato fritter sandwiched on a buttery bun with garlic chutney). The servers behind the industrial-chic onyx bar even infuse the cocktails with Indian ingredients like kaffir lime and garam masala. M&P’s namesake drink is a favorite: a refreshing, julep-style mix of Old Forester bourbon, honey, orange, grapefruit, rosemary, green cardamon, and Bolivar bitters.
This classic dive in San Carlos serves cheap beers on tap and strong cocktails all day, and, because of a loophole in the law, actually allows smoking inside (don't say you and your clothes weren't warned). To get the most bang for your buck, go for a gimlet, which is really just gin with a pinch of lime here, and pick up a game at the old-school shuffleboard table. If it's already occupied by some of the OR's many regulars, you can kick back and relax with the sounds of the jukebox.
Owners Steve Hicks and Dave Parks pulled a move most people would only dream of when they transformed their real estate office into this hopping San Carlos watering hole, which boasts a huge covered patio with fire pits, baseball stadium seating, bocce ball, a full bar, and a food menu with specialty burgers, sandwiches, and salads. Despite the name, the vibe at the Office is nothing like, well, an actual office, enlivened by Peninsula locals catching up over imported and domestic craft brews (or an office-themed cocktail, like the tequila-based "Interview From Hell") while they watch the big game on one of the many flat-screens.
Steins Beer Garden in Mountain View is part American tavern, part German biergarten. The bar has 31 taps of craft and imported beer, plus four kinds of flights and gluten-free brews. Open for lunch and dinner, the menu features upscale staples like a lamb trio entree with garlic mashed potatoes, house-cut fries, and a seriously good burger made from a house-ground blend of dry-aged short rib, brisket, and sirloin. The space includes an indoor dining room with private tables and communal seating plus an outdoor patio.
Not only does Refuge in San Carlos serve one of the most beloved pastrami sandwiches in the Bay Area -- thanks to its tedious process of brining, spice-rubbing, smoking, and steaming -- but it also doubles as a Belgian beer bar, which means you can pair your sandwich with a Kwak strong ale served in a coachman's glass. The casual and friendly pub offers more than 100 mostly-Belgian beers with 18 rotating taps, and, if for some reason you didn't come here for the pastrami, a selection of hearty burgers, too.
Redwood City’s Martins West is a gastropub that offers refined Scottish fare in a spacious yet cozy setting. Guests can nestle into leather booths near the kitchen or perch themselves at high-tops or tables near the front of the space that’s enclosed by powder blue walls and colorful paintings. Scottish pub bites boast selections like quail eggs, asparagus with sweet pea avocado hummus, and a blood sausage roll with whiskey mustard. Standout larger plates include the succulent lamb burger with fennel pickle and arugula and the bone barrow with pastrami spice glaze, thyme soldiers, pickled celery, and parsley salad. Balance your hearty dishes with light cocktails, like the Scalawag.
With 25 rotating craft beers on tap (including cask and nitro taps), plus 100 rotating bottles you can sip in-house or take home, Ale Arsenal in Downtown San Carlos more than lives up to its name. It's a beer lover's paradise here, but novices have nothing to fear: the cheery bartenders at this homey, laid-back pub are beer whizzes, and are more than happy to help you navigate the roster of domestic and international brews so you can find your new favorite.
Built in the 1850s when California was just becoming a state, the Alpine Inn Beer Garden has withstood the test of time, serving alternately as a gambling house directed by a San Jose mayor, a meeting spot for workers constructing Stanford University, and a booze den during Prohibition. In its current iteration, the bar and outdoor beer garden boast greasy treats like the scrumptious Alpine burger or the sirloin steak sandwiches. Join the tens of Stanford students, bicyclists, motorcyclists, and horse riders who stop at Alpine Inn during the weekend as they munch and drink a couple of brews on the sunny patio.
Most people associate Antonio’s Nut House with the sound of peanut shells crunching beneath their feet, the byproduct of a bottomless bucket of free unshelled nuts guarded by a fake gorilla being wielded to patrons while they await their food and drinks. Open-face tacos and enchiladas rule Antonio’s snack roost, while beer pours are cheap and margaritas are served in a pint glass with a slice of lime and a salted rim. And in case you needed reminding, signs plastered on the bar’s walls will inform you that you need to be 21 years of age and be wearing shoes and a top in order to enter.
This San Carlos brewery only opens its tap handles to the public on Fridays, when it throws a back-of-the-brewery beer garden party with live music (pssst: it's kid- and dog-friendly). Devil's Canyon has a core of six beers, featuring Scotch, amber, and blonde ales, a couple of IPAs, and a sparkling, celebratory brew with champagne yeast. Keep an eye out for its unique seasonal brews on limited runs and, of course, its fan-favorite handcrafted root beer, made with local honey and agave nectar. If you haven't tried it in a root beer float, what are you waiting for?
The Dutch Goose has been a Menlo Park staple since 1966, and much of its menu and décor have remained the same since those first glory days. The bar is perhaps best known for its signature mildly spicy deviled eggs, and though the recipe is kept hush-hush, we can make out paprika, pepper, and mayo in the diminutive yolky cups. Lamps with red Budweiser shades illuminate the tables emblazoned with names of customers (and some profanities) that have been carved into every square inch and the peanut shells that litter the floor. You’ll order standouts like the cheeseburger with goop (the Goose’s special sauce) from the chalkboard menu. But two of the best Goose items are actually nowhere to be found; thankfully you’re in the know, so you’ll make sure to inquire about the burger on garlic bread and the grilled cheese with chicken tenders inside.
Gourmet Haus Staudt is at once a German specialty store and beer garden in Redwood City. The building’s exterior is modeled after a German haus, with stark white paint, shuttered windows with planter-filled windowsills, and German floral designs adoring the walls. Once you enter, you’ll be surrounded by shelves of German food, spices, over 100 beers, and products from Haribo, Ricola, and Toblerone. The beer garden in the back offers a selection of 10 German beers on tap, three rotating guest taps, and a food menu of traditional open-faced sandwiches, bratwurst, and laberkase, a Bavarian pork dinner loaf, served with sauerkraut, two eggs, and German potato salad.
This sports bar is dotted with flat-screens and touts a substantial menu of American comfort food, including a baby kale-romaine Caesar and other salads, and snacks like crispy calamari, nachos, a smoked chicken quesadillas, house pizzas, and burgers with gruyere-grilled mushrooms, pulled pork, and house pimento cheese. The drinks menu encompasses a thoughtful list of local craft beers, seasonal cocktails, and notable California wines. Favorite specialty cocktails include a fruity raspberry-jalapeno margarita with agave and a blackberry and sage old-fashioned.
Topper is a neighborhood dive bar that can be found in South San Francisco, as well-known for its wall of Frisco sports memorabilia as its Topper Stix, which are breadsticks made with handmade dough topped with cheese and garlic butter. In addition to the Stix varieties available (they come in “cinnamonstix,” “berrystix,” “baconstix,” “pepperonistix,” and “tacostix”), other bar fare includes quesadillas, toasted grinders, wings, and a selection of house pizzas and customizable pizzas. While you’re sipping on one of Topper’s inexpensive cocktails, strike up a conversation with a fellow bar-goer; the place is teeming with regulars.