No bigger than a suburban home’s garage and maybe even smaller than your impossibly tiny, converted-closet bedroom (that we know you’re paying $2000 rent for), these 10 San Francisco bars are the city’s smallest watering holes. Yet, snag a stool and you just might be pulling up a seat at one of SF’s best craft beer bars or sipping a cocktail at one of our favorite neighborhood haunts.
And that’s why, even though they could all fit together inside the holiday ice skating rink in Union Square (trust us, we did the math), it’s time you start stalking out a spot at one of these teensy bars.
Primarily known for the cocktails (a few good beers on tap, too), this cozy space packs it in. Window and table seating line the walk up to the bar and a micro kitchen, built-for-one, shares the space in the back. Surely thousands have missed this bar walking down Hayes, more focused on getting some new kicks or a winter scarf than a drink. Look this place up, it’s a good find.
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The Black Horse is well on its way to becoming legendary: the claw foot bathtub behind this six-stool bar has served as the icebox for their half-dozen bottled beers since 1996. The fire department thinks the max occupancy at this dive is 22, but you know they pack them in like sardines in this teensy dive.
F&T occupies a warm and inviting space on Ivy St, far from the hustle and bustle of Hayes. This place has range, known by locals as a good spot for first dates or a quick drink before hitting one of the 20 restaurants in the area. BTW: you can really drink local here... it’s pretty much all California on this bar's menu.
You don’t go to Phone Booth looking for the latest craft beer offering; this place is straight-up standard fare. But who doesn’t like a neighborhood joint known for stiff, cheap drinks? It’s all good when the jukebox starts spittin’... plus you might catch the bartender cutting up the six-pack rings before tossing them in the recycling bin. An environmentally conscious dive: be still our little hearts.
Wood paneling and a vintage '70s fire pit in the corner... this is one fantastically dated dive. It’s also a bit of a Rorschach test: some patrons think it’s Irish themed, others say Swiss. Whatever your take, you’ll be hard pressed find a friendlier small bar (and cleaner, for that matter... you could almost eat off those freaking floors -- but, you know, don’t).
At 750sqft, this is the largest bar in the bunch: and the truth is, it hardly feels small, given its 18ft ceilings and monster wall of whiskeys (there are literally hundreds of them). Hard Water is a great place to people-watch as you make your way through the endless drink menu.
A couple of booths near the door, a dozen stools at the bar, and some extra seating in back... otherwise this place is pretty tight on space. This eight-year-old neighborhood bar has some of the best beer on tap in the city, and a great mix of locals and passersby.
This former small record store turned bar is sandwiched between Valencia and Mission, and it’s well worth visiting. It can be a little tough to stand out in this trendy district, but 20 Spot doesn’t seem to be having a problem. Good wines and food push this place more towards being a restaurant, but it has a good bar feel.
In the spirit of the Hideout at Dalva, or the other bars-within-bars across the city, SRO is one tiny space where you can let the bartender be your guide. Born out of the famed and now defunct Big (bar), SRO brings the same tiny space approach to SoMa.
This neighborhood bar doesn’t have a website, there aren’t many photos online, and even the phone number can be hard to track down, but that’s all part of what makes this a legendary dive bar kinda legendary. Pop in for a quick, cheap drink, or linger 'til 2am listening to stories about the good old days in the city.
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Seann Rooney is a food and beer freak from the Bay Area and now based in the Sacramento Delta. He has organized festivals, hosted food events, consulted with restaurants, and written about food and beer for almost two decades. Follow him on Twitter @RooneySeann.
1. Black Horse London Pub1514 Union St, San Francisco
2. Fig & Thistle313 Ivy St, San Francisco
3. The Phone Booth1398 S Van Ness Ave, San Francisco
4. Last Call3988 18th St, San Francisco
5. Hard WaterPier 3, San Francisco
6. Mini Bar837 Divisadero St, San Francisco
7. 20 Spot3565 20th St, San Francisco
8. Two Sisters Bar and Books579 Hayes St, San Francisco
9. SRO1337 Mission St, San Francisco
10. Geary Club768 Geary St, San Francisco
Cow Hollow's Black Horse London Pub is the smallest bar in San Francisco at 19ft x 7ft and has enough character to be one of the best bars in California. All of the beers are bottled and kept in an ice-filled, claw-footed porcelain tub squeezed behind the bar, and the selection rotates based on whatever owner James "Big Dawg" King picks up at the grocery store. Aside from the tub of beer, there's a dart board that mostly decorative. Note: Black Horse is cash-only.
Clocking in at 475sqft, Fig & Thistle is a cozy wine and craft beer bar in Hayes Valley. Locals know it as a good spot for a first date or for a quick drink before hitting one of the 20 restaurants in the area. Pretty much all of the wine and beer (on draft and bottled) are from California.
This Mission dive is where you go for straight up standard beer, not the latest craft brew. The tiny space (it’s about 700sqft) has a pool table, a jukebox, and generally kitschy decor. It’s always packed with a local crowd, and Mark Zuckerberg has been seen there at least once.
Last Call is part neighborhood dive, part Castro gay bar. Something about the wood paneling and vintage 1970s fire pit make it feel like a hybrid Swiss chalet-Irish pub. Either way, it's fun, friendly, and the drinks are cheap, especially at happy hour, which runs from noon to 7pm every day.
When you step into this gorgeous Embarcadero bar, you’ll be greeted by a massive wall of every kind of whiskey imaginable. The space may be small, but you’ll be blown away by the selection of hard-to-find bourbons. Sip flights of the rare stuff (ranging from $22 to $125) as you chow down on New Orleans-inspired cuisine, like plates of crispy fried chicken, oysters, pimento cheese dip, and hush puppies.
This Divisadero neighborhood bar is literally a mini bar -- at 600sqft, it includes a couple of booths near the door, a dozen stools at the bar, and some extra seating in the back. It's got solid classic cocktails and some of the best beer on tap in the city. It feels like a total local hang, due in no small part to the local artwork on display.
This record store-turned-bar in the Mission focuses on good food and good wine. The wine list is balanced between whites and reds from California and Europe, and includes a few dessert and bubbly pours. The elevated bar fare is excellent enough to make 20 Spot feel more like a restaurant than a bar, so no wonder it’s a dinner date destination.
Two Sisters is a vintage-looking drinkery-meets-book shop in Hayes Valley known for its craft cocktails, European-inspired menu, and Intelligentsia espresso. Lived-in dark hardwood floors, an 1895 bronze cash register, and a take-one-leave-one reading library curated by the owner's sister make this intimate bar stand out. Two Sisters also hosts regular cocktail classes and book club gatherings.
Found inside SoMa’s Oddjob, SRO is a classy cocktail bar-within-a-bar. When you walk into Oddjob, you’ll find the main bar to your right and SRO to your left. Each drink is made from house-made infusions, juices, and over 50 different liquors and spirits. Let the bartender be your guide and remember, it’s cash-only.
This Tenderloin bar doesn't have a website, there aren't many photos online, and even the phone number can be hard to track down, but that's all part of what makes the neighborhood dive so legendary. There aren't fancy cocktails, just committed regulars slinging cheap drinks and telling stories about the good old days.