The Best Dive Bars in San Francisco

Ask any San Franciscan what his or her favorite dive bar is and you’ll end up with a long list, out of which no two answers will be the same. There are cluttered Chinatown tiki joints, Mexican-themed watering holes and retro Tenderloin lounges, many of which come packing a jukebox, a pool table or both. Where many cities’ dives have begun to decay and shutter, San Francisco’s scene is a vast sea of grimy, cheap, down-and-dirty hideouts from decades gone by.

  • 1

    500 Club

    Original leather booths, unfussy drinks and a jukebox packed with rock and country classics make the 500 Club the Mission’s quintessential dive bar experience. This historic spot is something of a landmark, having remained a constant in an area that's becoming more upscale by the day. Kitsch and memorabilia line the walls, and though the pool table has been lost to time, the space’s convivial atmosphere and propensity for slinging draughts without a touch of pretense soldier on.

    MORE INFO →

    KNOWN FOR

    • jukebox
  • 2

    Casanova Lounge

    Techy youth and older locals  alike are prey to the charms of the Casanova Lounge, with its great DJ nights and dirt cheap happy hour specials. But the real appeal of the Casanova Lounge is exactly as the name suggests: it's a semi-sleazy yet somehow attractive bar with vintage paintings, worn-in velvet and leather seating and vintage lamps that give the space a seedy-seductive quality. Come for a cheap drink, stay for whatever follows.

    MORE INFO →

    KNOWN FOR

    • live music
    • cheap date
    • dive bar
  • 3

    Clooney's Pub

    Clooney’s Pub is one of the few bars that's weathered the Mission's recent development and come out on the other side unscathed. Its circular bar, around which you’ll find many of the area's original tenants (and their dogs), evokes a nostalgia that’s hard to find these days. History is captured in the many photos that adorn the walls, documenting not just the evolution of the space, but the city around it.

    MORE INFO →

    KNOWN FOR

    • historic
    • games
    • dive bar
  • 4

    Li Po Lounge

    A revered dive in San Francisco’s Chinatown, Li Po Lounge has remained relatively unchanged since opening in the 1930s. Considered by many to be the neighborhood's best dive, Li Po tends to draw a diverse crowd—from bewildered tourists to shady locals and everything in between. The space is equally eclectic, comprised of a smattering of traditional Chinese watercolor designs, paper lanterns and a carved Buddha shrine behind the bar. While there are rumors that the bar used to double as an opium den, the only drugs they're slinging these days are remarkably potent (and cheap) Mai Tais.

    MORE INFO →

    KNOWN FOR

    • dancing
    • jukebox
    • live music
  • 5

    The Phone Booth

    The booze-slinging equivalent of a thrift shop, this Mission spot caters to its fair share of the tech hipsters in search of a cheap, stiff drink. But its fan base isn't just limited to the hoodie-d Mission set, drawing in plenty of strays and locals for a game of pool under a chandelier made of naked Barbies or a few turns on the jukebox.

    MORE INFO →

    KNOWN FOR

    • jukebox
    • games
  • 6

    The Gold Cane Cocktail Lounge

    Recalling the true definition of the term “no frills,” the Golden Cane has been a consistent standby for the Haight contingent for decades. Besides the odd tourist, it’s a fairly local crowd, which isn't to say the scene is sleepy; Friday and Saturday nights see a fair number of outsiders looking for a cheap drink and a good time. A lively back porch is a crowd favorite, while a pool table and a few arcade games top off the decor, which has remained the same since the ‘70s.

    MORE INFO →

    KNOWN FOR

    • outdoor / patio
    • games
    • dive bar
  • 7

    The Hi Dive

    An Embarcadero staple for the pre- or post-Giants game crowd, The Hi Dive does not mince words with its exacting title: This is a dive bar through and through. Situated almost beneath the Bay Bridge, a linoleum bar counter and primary colored banquettes lend the bar a hometown atmosphere, and strong drinks keep regulars coming back.

    MORE INFO →

    KNOWN FOR

    • outdoor / patio
    • day drinking
    • full menu
    • dive bar
  • 8

    The Latin American Club

    An old-school Mission dive with graphic piñatas hanging from the rafters, the Latin American Club mixes Mexican kitsch with some of the stiffest drinks in town. A sign that reads, “sin” hangs above the front door, and that’s not a suggestion—it's a promise.

    MORE INFO →

    KNOWN FOR

    • lots of tequila / mezcal
  • 9

    The Page

    Set behind a classic wood-paneled facade just northwest of the Lower Haight dive strip, The Page is the platonic ideal of a neighborhood bar. You may be greeted by a bouncer who very likely is just a regular that never left and it's not hard to understand why. Skilled bartenders serving up classics, 21 beers on tap and a quality pool room scene make this a great neighborhood spot to grab a drink with friends or hang out while waiting for your table at any of the fantastic Divisadero restaurants nearby. Old school leather chairs and memorabilia line the space, and the patrons are a hearty mixture of twentysomethings ...

    MORE INFO →

    KNOWN FOR

    • lots of whiskey
    • games
  • 10

    The Summer Place

    A Tenderloin mainstay, you’ll know you've found The Summer Place the moment you see its craggy exterior. Though not intuitive, a gas fireplace acts as a centerpiece, around which you’ll find more than a few locals nursing a glass. Without a shred of pretense, but with a solid jukebox and retro stylings, The Summer Place is the perfect place to fend off the San Francisco chill.

    MORE INFO →

    KNOWN FOR

    • jukebox
    • classic cocktails
  • 11

    The Tempest

    Occupying a converted warehouse with exposed beams and high ceilings and featuring a number of vintage bicycles suspended above, The Tempest is a low key SOMA spot popular with locals and bike messengers. Throwback lighting, an antique bar and a time-tested pool table adorn the space, which, in its hiding place off of Natoma Street, is successful in maintaining a tourist-evasive atmosphere.

    MORE INFO →

    KNOWN FOR

    • jukebox
    • games
    • live music
  • 12

    Trad'r Sam's

    With roots in the Richmond long before the recent tiki movement, Trad’r Sam’s ignores the call for lavish decor and artisanal rum in favor of lowbrow cheap, sweet island-inspired cocktails. While subtle Polynesian flourishes grace the interior, this is far more dive bar than proper tiki bar, so don't expect much more than a guaranteed hangover.

    MORE INFO →

    KNOWN FOR

    • tiki
    • lots of rum
    • jukebox
  • 13

    Zeitgeist

    Falling somewhere between a beer garden and a biker bar, Zeitgeist is a staple for both Mission natives and the tech crowd alike. Featuring a good selection of fairly priced beers on tap, as well as unexpectedly knowledgeable bartenders and a full kitchen to boot, it’s almost never empty. If the weather’s right, head to the relatively uncrowded back porch and yard, where it's easy to forget you're in the heart of the city.

    MORE INFO →

    KNOWN FOR

    • outdoor / patio
    • games
    • bar food
    • day drinking

Related Articles

FROM AROUND THE WEB