Food & Drink

25 Bars and Restaurants Hidden Down San Francisco Alleyways

Published On 06/05/2015 Published On 06/05/2015

From otherworldly underground tunnels to gun battery hikes, there’s plenty of awesome stuff to explore in this city, but most of our favorites you’ll find down San Francisco’s alleys -- narrow streets and barely existent courtyards, all seemingly tucked behind skyscrapers and warehouses -- that happen to be home to some of San Francisco's best (and hardest to find) bars and restaurants.

Bix

Bix

Jackson Square
Bix is the kind of alleyway joint that doubles as a time machine taking you back to an era where dudes wore fancy hats, ladies were dames, and a three-martini lunch was a way of life. The Art Deco style, live jazz tunes, and beyond good (and strong!) martinis will bring out the classy gent in you... well, until martini number three. Plus, they have a giant silver tureen of crushed ice in which they chill their martini glasses. Double plus: their burger’s one of the best in town.

15 Romolo

15 Romolo

North Beach
It’s convenient that one of the very best cocktail bars in town has a super-rad alleyway location (right off of strip club row), a misleading sign (that reads Basque Hotel, the bar’s original name), and one of the best jukeboxes in the city (it has a whole mix of covers of “Rich Girl” by Hall and Oates). Did we mention that the cocktails are tops, as is the thoughtful bar menu and its (almost never crowded) Punch Drunk Brunch? Yeah, we’ll probably see you there later.
 

Specs’ Twelve Adler Museum Cafe

North Beach
One of our other very favorite bars in the world is also in an alley in North Beach, but is the polar opposite of trendy, good-looking people-filled 15 Romolo. Spec’s is an OG San Francisco bar, the kind of spot where you’ll find dudes who’ve been drinking there since at least the early ‘50s. The bar itself is as badass as it gets -- the walls are thickly covered with artifacts, letters, taxidermy, and other paraphernalia that your girlfriend would definitely not be cool with you mounting on the living room wall (unless she is literally the coolest). You should be drinking something strong and brown, and you should definitely engage the regulars in conversation. Order a wedge of Gouda with some saltine crackers and cross your fingers that the guy in the fedora starts playing the piano after another drink.

Lauren Sloss/Thrillist

Golden West

Financial District
The only thing better than a sorta-secret alleyway window marked by a golden neon sign is a sorta-secret alleyway window marked by a golden neon sign that serves REALLY, really good sandwiches. Golden West is run by the same guy as The Sentinel and the sandwiches, made on fresh bread and loaded with drippy toppings like short ribs (pictured), pulled pork, and chile paste-laced deviled egg, are just as ridiculously tasty as the more crowded New Montgomery window. Oh, and that neon sign reads Au, not Golden West, which is the symbol on the periodic table for gold. Go on, impress your coworkers with that gem.

Victory Hall & Parlor SF

Little Skillet/Victory Hall & Parlor

SOMA
Remember when Little Skillet opened in that alleyway in SOMA and you were all like, “Bro, let’s go to that fried chicken window for lunch today because IT’S A FRIED CHICKEN WINDOW AND THAT’S ALL THAT MATTERS?” Well, now, you can eat fried chicken in the very same spot that made you badly need fried chicken for lunch today -- the Skillet team has its own counter in the back of Mia Weening's Victory Hall & Parlor, a bar where you can get your drank on and eat more fried chicken. And then go back the next day. Time is a flat circle, amiright?
 

Galette 88

Financial District
Crepes! In a charming and cute alleyway restaurant! Take your ladyfriend on a lunch date here! Because, crepes! In a cute alleyway restaurant!

The Barrel Room

The Barrel Room

Financial District
Drinking wine in an alley is generally a good thing to do, but it’s probably even better when you can do so in a dedicated wine bar/bottle shop/restaurant versus, say, out of a paper bag, in a manner that might get you arrested. Enter: The Barrel Room’s new location on Sansome Street, complete with a bar, shop, annnnnd an underground speakeasy. They also have a food menu that focuses on rotating regional specialities from the likes of Latin America (currently), France, Germany, Italy, etc.

Hops & Hominy

Hops & Hominy

Union Square
It’s like regular Southern food and microbrews, except they’re in an alley. Also, this is a classy restaurant that takes reservations and also serves chicken-fried steak. Life is just great sometimes.

San Francisco Days

Pauline’s Wine Bar

The Mission
Have you been to Pauline’s Pizza in the Mission? It’s great, and has delicious California-style pizza topped with delicious meats and delicious veggies and delicious such. Also, right down the alleyway from the pizzeria’s entrance is ANOTHER Pauline’s: Pauline’s Wine Bar. They’ve got a couple of pizzas, plus delicious things like goat cheese-stuffed dates and baked mac ‘n’ cheese. And wine. Lots and lots of wine here at Pauline’s Wine Bar.

Tempest Bar

Tempest Bar & Box

SOMA
The Tempest has been one of our all-time favorite bars for a while now -- the textbook-perfect dive, tucked back behind the more prominently placed Chieftain, has cold cans of PBR, generously poured shots, and has been known to allow both smoking (eh) and dogs (yay!). We were even known to partake in the free grub (meatloaf!) they’d put out on Fridays out of a kind of whiskey-fueled necessity, until Box Kitchen moved in and changed everything forever. Meet the best drunk food, ever -- we’re talking a burger topped with bacon gastrique and white cheddar, chorizo taquitos, a fried chicken sandwich loaded with Caesar slaw, and potato skins topped with Gouda, pork belly, and quail eggs.
 

Hotel Biron

Hayes Valley
Hey look, it’s a super-charming, cozy wine bar tucked in an alley in Hayes Valley! Come here on dates because... duh?
 

Fig & Thistle

Hayes Valley
See above. Same but different (except for pretty much the same).

Oddjob

Oddjob

SOMA
This stellar cocktail bar from the Big team is mostly on Mission Street, but the hard-to-find entrance is in an alley around the corner, making it a worthy contender for an alley bar and a good way to really confuse someone when you’re meeting for drinks. It’s worth getting lost for, as the cocktails here are consistently excellent, especially whatever they have in the booze robot (ask them about the booze robot), and they have a rad little back room bar that evokes the tiny, bespoke cocktail vibe of Big.
 

Blue Bottle Kiosk

Hayes Valley
One of the first and still one of the best spots to wait in line for delicious New Orleans iced coffee (and other stuff, too). And actually, you don’t even have to wait in line that long... unbelievable, right?

Cafe Bastille

Belden Place/Claude Lane

Financial District
Belden Place and Claude Lane are both so loaded with restaurants and bars and stuff that we almost didn’t include them... at this point, they’re practically full-on streets. Still, Belden can be awfully charming with its rows of outdoor tables and strung-up lights, and Gitane on Claude Lane is, for lack of better words, a damn sexy place to go eat and drink. Our verdict: obvious alleyways are still great in their alleyway-ness.

Romper Room

Romper Room

Union Square
Home to former oh-my-God-so-many-bad choices bar Otis, Romper Room is a technicolor bar-lounge replacement with strong drinks, mellow vibes, red neon lights, and an even MORE hidden upstairs Leopard Lounge (!). Even better, now it's got a daytime coffee operation called Iron Horse (in the grand tradition of Red Door and Special Xtra), featuring Ritual brew and a few booze-spiked options if you’re having that kind of morning.

Hidden Vine

Hidden Vine

Financial District
Another day, another hidden alleyway wine bar, but this one’s got a fireplace and... a bocce court!!!! It's also got a nice selection of cheese, flatbreads, and sliders. And a wine club. And a BOCCE COURT!!!!

Le Colonial

Le Colonial

Tendernob
Colonialism was kind of a big bummer in a lot of ways, but it did lead to some delicious food and kinda awesome cultural mash-ups. We’ll take ours in the form of Le Colonial, an alleyway bar/restaurant/lounge that you probably ended up at that one time in ‘08, and that can be counted on for tasty French-Vietnamese cuisine, live music and/or DJs, strong drinks, and good times.

Cafe Prague of San Francisco

Cafe Prague

Financial District
For those days when only a taste of Old Europe will do, we head to Cafe Prague, cozily hidden away behind the Transamerica Pyramid. Feast on goulash and dumplings and sausage and sauerkraut, drink Czech and German brews by the half-liter, and don’t forget to crown it all with a resounding “Prost!”
 

Bluxome Street Winery

SOMA
At this point, alleyway wine bars might seem like a dime a dozen. But what about a whole WINERY in an alleyway? Meet Bluxome Street, a well-appointed warehouse that makes its own (very good) wine, hosts food truck-filled events, and is a damn good place to throw a party. Post up at the tasting room and pretend you’re in wine country even though you have that 4pm marketing meeting that you probably should get back for.

Anchor & Hope

Anchor & Hope

SOMA
Minna’s one of those streets that may not quite be an alley anymore, but has enough of that back door narrowness going on to make it still count. Particularly in the case of Anchor & Hope, a huge, delicious seafood restaurant that makes you feel like you’re suddenly discovering it, despite the fact that it’s, well, huge. They’ve got an oyster and stout happy hour, too, which sounds like a great idea at every hour.

Montesacro

Montesacro

SOMA
Hidden behind the line for Dottie’s True Blue Cafe on Stevenson Street is Montesacro, our new favorite place for pinsa (an ancient predecessor to pizza) and wine. If you’d like a full-on alleyway Italian food binge you can head over to nearby Mint Plaza which, sure, is more of a plaza than an alleyway, but it does go through to Mint Street, and is home to 54 Mint (the two restaurants are run by the same team), which has a delicious menu of antipasti, pastas, and more.

Benu

Benu

SOMA
Why yes, one of San Francisco’s most prestigious, award-winning restaurants is located in an alleyway across the street from a strip club. No, that does not make the innovative, modern tasting menu any less expensive. Yes, it does make the whole experience even cooler.

Twenty Five Lusk

Twenty Five Lusk

SOMA
Twenty Five Lusk has the distinction of being located in an alley and being underground, meaning you get to go down a slightly empty-looking street and down some stairs to access this trendy bar-lounge-restaurant that put a bunch of benches in some old soot-stained smokestacks behind the downstairs bar. They’ve also got tasty cocktails and a crazy-classy menu of things like caviar, foie gras, and fried burrata (YES). Oh, and did we mention they carved doorways through what used to be four meat-smoking ovens to create an ash-walled, leather-boothed private drinking sanctuary? Because they totally did that, too.
 

Louie’s Bar

SOMA
For those days when you’ve had a little too much caviar and have been to Benu one too many times (right), Louie’s is the spot for your post-work SOMA alleyway revelry. This no-frills neighborhood pub has a solid beer list, great food, and serves both until late -- fortunately, this bit of Stevenson Street is just one-block long, so you probably can’t get too lost if you find yourself here until last call.

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Lauren Sloss will meet you in the alley, provided there’s a bar or restaurant there. She miss any great SF alleyway bars or restaurants? Nope, but pretend she did and tell her on Twitter at @laurensloss.

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1. Bix Restaurant 56 Gold St, San Francisco, CA 94133 (Financial District)

Step back in time and indulge yourself at this '30s-style supper club just minutes from the Embarcadero. Bix is all class, from the white-jacketed bartenders mixing delicious cocktails to the intimate lighting & high ceilings, to the piano player & live jazz. This iconic SF spot serves “modern American” cuisine which includes Dungeness crab rolls, bone marrow, fresh lobster spaghetti, and a black truffle cheeseburger. Co-owners Doug Biederbeck and Bruce Hill are behind other SF staples (Florio, MarketBar, Fog City, and Pizzeria, among others), and Chef Emmanuel Eng previously worked at Boulevard, Maverick, and Aqua.

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2. 15 Romolo 15 Romolo Pl, San Francisco, CA 94133 (Jackson Square)

Located up a steep alley on Strip Club row, 15 Romolo rewards lucky wanderers with superbly crafted cocktails served by well-versed bartenders. Classy wooden barstools accommodate drinkers, while comfortable booths serve weekend diners because -- if you haven't heard -- the brunch menu, featuring tofu báhn mì vie and bone marrow fritters, garners as much praise as the drinks.

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3. Specs' Twelve Adler Museum Cafe 12 William Saroyan Pl, San Francisco, CA 94133 (North Beach)

One of our very favorite bars in the world is in an alley in North Beach, but is the polar opposite of nearby trendy, good-looking-people-filled 15 Romolo. Spec’s is an O.G. San Francisco bar, the kind of spot you’ll find dudes who’ve been drinking there since at least the early ‘50s. The bar itself is as badass as they get -- the walls are thickly covered with artifacts, letters, taxidermy, and other paraphernalia that your girlfriend would definitely not be cool with you mounting on the living room wall (unless she is literally the coolest). You should be drinking something strong and brown, and you should definitely engage the regulars in conversation. Order a wedge of gouda with some saltine crackers and cross your fingers that the guy in the fedora starts playing the piano after another drink.

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4. The Golden West 8 Trinity Pl, San Francisco, CA 94104 (Financial District)

Owned by the same people who run the popular artisan sandwich spot The Sentinel, The Golden West is a hole-in-the-wall located off of an alley by the Montgomery BART stop (it's lit by the neon 'Au' sign). Don’t sweat the long line -- it moves quickly and is there for a reason. Go for the delicious short rib, tri-tip, or pulled pork sandwich and enjoy a cold drink while you wait.

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5. Little Skillet 360 Ritch St, San Francisco, CA 94107 (Soma)

Little Skillet fully operates out of 330 Ritch's kitchen, and is run by the same dudes that opened Farmer Brown. It's a minuscule, alley-bound to-go window that sells crazy-good soul food (including some of SF proper's best chicken & waffles), as well as great brew.

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6. Galette 88 88 Hardie Pl, San Francisco, CA 94104 (Financial District)

Opening today in the alleyway next to Rickhouse, this two-lady-helmed crepery’s Francophiling your FiDi lunching options with 12 savory crepe-like galettes (including a meat-heavy "Lumberjack" option), five sweet crepes, and Four Barrel Coffee. They'll also have Wed-Fri happy hours with hard cider and a French amber ale, so whipping out your "Oui-Oui" is finally acceptable.

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7. The Barrel Room 415 Sansome St, San Francisco, CA 94111 (Financial District)

Go to the Barrel Room for the wine and the food; stay for the secret speakeasy underneath the main floor (it's called The HogsHead Reserve). Seriously though, The Barrel Room is a great Financial District spot to meet friends or colleagues after work because it has a huge range of drinks available. The rotating wine menu focuses on a new region every three months, and wines are served by the glass or as flights. If you prefer something brown, they have flights of whiskey as well. Win/win.

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8. Hops & Hominy 1 Tillman Place, San Francisco, CA 94108 (Union Square)

Tucked away in a hidden alleyway just off Union Square, this underrated Southern spot churns out crisp, juicy country fried steak, homey chicken & dumplings, and tomato-brandy sauced shrimp & grits. In case you couldn't tell by the name, you'll also find a strong beer selection on their eight rotating taps, though if hops aren't your thing you could always opt for a cocktail like the Smoked Bacon Manhattan.

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9. Pauline’s Wine Bar 260 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94103 (The Mission)

Have you been to Pauline’s Pizza in the Mission? It’s great, and has delicious California-style pizza topped with delicious meats and delicious veggies and delicious such. Also, right down the alleyway from the pizzeria’s entrance is ANOTHER Pauline’s: Pauline’s Wine Bar. They’ve got a couple of pizzas, plus delicious things like goat cheese-stuffed dates and baked mac ‘n’ cheese. And wine. Lots and lots of wine here at Pauline’s Wine Bar.

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10. The Tempest Bar & Box Kitchen 431 Natoma St, San Francisco, CA 94103 (Soma)

Equal parts dive bar and comfort foods eatery, Tempest Bar and Kitchen caters to locals looking for a casual drinking spot that can satiate their late-night hungers. Stop by and throw back cheap beers, then order up crispy chicharones with lime and salsa or salsa rojo-topped pork tacos. Then take that order and wash it down with a fifth beer.

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11. Hotel Biron 45 Rose St, San Francisco, CA 94102 (Hayes Valley)

Although not an actual Hotel, Hotel Biron is just as relaxed and cozy, and perfect getaway from the hustle and bustle of San Francisco. This quaint wine bar has a menu categorized by region, handful of great beers, and a menu filled with cheese, charcuterie, and chocolate.

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12. Fig & Thistle 313 Ivy St, San Francisco, CA 94102 (Hayes Valley)

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.

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13. OddJob 1337 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94103 (Soma)

Brought to you by the fellows behind Big and Public Works & Jones, OddJob specializes in making the "working man's cocktail". Head on over to the back bar SRO and get custom cocktails to satisfy your beverage needs.

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14. Blue Bottle Kiosk 315 Linden St, San Francisco, CA 94102 (Hayes Valley)

One of the first and still one of the best spots to wait in line for delicious New Orleans iced coffee (and other stuff, too). And actually, you don’t even have to wait in line that long… unbelievable, right?

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15. Romper Room 25 Maiden Ln, San Francisco, CA 94108 (Union Square)

Tucked away on Union Square’s Maiden Lane (so the tourists won’t find it), Romper Room is a technicolor dream-bar, complete with strong drinks, neon lights, and a promise that your drink will be made in 90 seconds or less. Don’t miss the built-in seats that fold into the wall when it's time to dance, or the super secret upstairs bar -- Leopard Lounge -- complete with a secret menu.

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16. The Hidden Vine 408 Merchant St, San Francisco, CA 94111 (Financial District)

Because nothing complements bocce like 800+ bottles of wine, hit the FiDi's brick-laden wine tavern tucked away in a somewhat hidden alley (get it?) for wine flights, the type of sustenance you'd expect to pair with wine flights (cheese, charcuterie, flatbreads, etc.), and, oh yeah, bocce! Take note: there's a $100 minimum for an hour of bocce time, so arrive hungry and thirsty.

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17. Le Colonial 20 Cosmo Pl, San Francisco, CA 94109

Colonialism was kind of a big bummer in a lot of ways, but it did lead to some delicious food and kinda awesome cultural mash-ups. We’ll take ours in the form of Le Colonial, an alleyway bar/restaurant/lounge that you probably ended up at that one time in ‘08, and that can be counted on for tasty French-Vietnamese cuisine, live music and/or DJs, strong drinks, and good times.

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18. Cafe Prague 424 Merchant St, San Francisco, CA 94111 (Financial District)

Hidden behind the Transamerica Pyramid in FiDi, this Czech pub feels like Old Europe. The menu features everything great about Eastern European cuisine, like grilled bratwursts, goulash and dumplings, and roasted duck. Czech and German beers like Staropramen and Spaten are on draft and in bottle. Leave your credit cards at home though, because Cafe Prague is cash-only.

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19. Bluxome Street Winery 53 Bluxome St, San Francisco, CA 94107 (Soma)

Bluxome Street Winery’s lofty and spacious warehouse near AT&T Park has made it a popular choice for San Francisco weddings, but rest assured that it remains a go-to spot for happy hour and work drinks. Bluxome offers up wine flights, charcuterie platters, and a knowledgeable staff to guide you through it all.

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20. Anchor & Hope 83 Minna St, San Francisco, 94105

An 88-seat resto housed in a century-old mechanic's garage (exposed brick, trestle ceiling, roll-up metal door), Hope represents San Francisco's legendary seafood badassery, as applied to equally storied Eastern Seaboard fare.

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21. Montesacro 510 Stevenson St, San Francisco, CA 94103 (Soma)

Before pizza, there were pinsas. What's a pinsa? It's pizza's lesser-known older brother, a flatbread that was once prepared by peasants outside the imperial walls during the Roman Empire that also happens to be the star of Montesacro, a Roman enoteca in SOMA with high ceilings, exposed brick walls, and ample seating. There are 10 pinsas on the menu (combos like burrata, broccolini, spicy pork sausage, and mozzarella or tomato, artichokes, mushroom, olives, egg, and prosciutto), as well as cheeses, salumi, panini, and an extensive wine and beer list.

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22. Benu 22 Hawthorne St, San Francisco, CA 94105 (Soma)

A meal at Benu is likely to be one of the best in your life. The SOMA restaurant, located in an alleyway across the street from a strip club, has won three Michelin stars for its Korean and Chinese-influenced tasting menu, which includes an infamous faux-shark fin soup with Dungeness crab and Jinhua ham custard. Trust us, Benu is the splurge-worthy dinner you've been dreaming of.

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23. Twenty Five Lusk 25 Lusk St, San Francisco, CA 94107 (Soma)

Housed in a brick and timber SoMa warehouse erected in 1917, Twenty Five Lusk, few San Francisco bars deliver this combination of staggering size and striking beauty, . with 20ft-high ceilings, ample plush leather seating, and, the piece de resistance: stainless steel hanging fireplaces. But avert your eyes from the ambiance for a second, because you'll have to choose from a selection of 250-plus wines and elevated fare like fried burrata or braised rabbit and chevre ravioli.

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24. Louie's Bar 55 Stevenson St, San Francisco, CA 94105 (Soma)

Financial District watering hole Louie’s is something of a grown up dive bar. With exposed brick walls and low lighting, Louie’s creates a relaxed atmosphere ideal for happy hours. Their food, on the other hand, is serious business, with green curry mussels, fried baby artichokes, and pozole rojo going well beyond your typical bar snack options.

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