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Cocktails on the bar at Stock in Trade.
Cocktails on the bar at Stock in Trade.
Facebook/Stock in Trade

San Francisco Cheap Cocktails: Where To Drink Up

Because you shouldn't be punished for only want to spend $20 on drinks.

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Cocktails on the bar at Stock in Trade.
| Facebook/Stock in Trade

It's hard to remember exactly when bars in San Francisco started charging $14 or $15 for a drink and even harder to remember when imbibers stopped flinching at their checks. But, while it's true there are some excellent craft cocktails worth the high prices, it's perhaps even more true that sometimes a guy or gal just wants to get a couple of good, stiff drinks for less than twenty bucks. Which is where the bars on this list come in, all of which serve boozy beverages that cost anywhere from $5.50 to $10. And no: you don't have to be there during an obscure happy hour; these bars, which range from divey to less divey to not really that divey at all, serve cheap cocktails on the reg. Great drinks at affordable prices? We'll drink to that.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Bar Basic

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510 Brannan St
San Francisco, CA 94107
(415) 227-0449
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Bar Basic doesn't serve PSLs, froyo, green juice, or air episodes of "The Real Housewives." But it is basic in every other sense. Just your standard bar with plenty of seating, a good juke box, and $7 "Basic Favorites" that include a Moscow Mule, Kentucky Mule, and Mangotini and $9 specialty cocktails. Go during the five hour happy hour (4 to 9 p.m., Monday through Friday) for $5 martinis.

2. Blackbird Bar

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2124 Market St
San Francisco, CA 94114
(415) 503-0630
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Yeah, this popular neighborhood bar has a few drinks on its creative cocktail menu that are $12, but the majority of them will only set you back between $9 and $11, which ain't too shabby, especially considering the happy kick you'll get from the Strong Island (bourbon, rye, pineapple rum, ancho reyes, limoncello, house-cola) and the Cool as Ice (white whiskey, amaro nonino, vanilla, aveze).

3. Doc's Clock

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2575 Mission St
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 824-3627
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It's always "cocktail time" at Doc's Clock, a very laid back bar in the Mission with shuffleboard, a decent board game collection, and a good juke box. Even better? The drinks are strong and cheap, even outside of happy hour (5 to 9 p.m., every single day of the week).

4. El Rio

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3158 Mission St
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 282-3325
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This friendly bar boasts an outside patio, ping pong, pool, shuffleboard, and reasonably priced drinks every single day of the week, but it's seven hour happy hour (1 to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday) is when you'll get the best bang for your buck with $3 well drinks on Mondays and $4 wells Tuesday through Friday.

5. Gold Cane Cocktail Lounge

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1569 Haight St
San Francisco, CA 94117
(415) 626-1112
The Gold Cane is not for everyone, but if you like strong drinks, playing pool, always being able to find a seat, and friendly locals, then you'll be a fan. It's almost shocking that Gold Cane has a legit cocktail menu, but it does and they all run 9 bucks. Booze and a single mixer will cost you even less.

6. Harper & Rye

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1695 Polk St
San Francisco, CA 94109
All of Harper & Rye's highballs and cocktails are ten bucks, which is one more thing to love about this attractively designed Polk Street bar with tons of seating and a pool table in back. Try the Victor & Nancy, a cocktail that pairs mezcal with carrot juice and is not only delicious, but a good way to get your daily dose of vitamin A.

7. Hi-Lo Club

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1434 Polk St
San Francisco, CA 94109
(415) 885-4788
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Hi-Lo Club is an unpretentious neighborhood joint that has a great list of specialty beers, 12 beers on tap that rotate but usually run between $5 and $8, and... the thing you're most excited about: $9 cocktails. Try the Gold Rush (bourbon, fresh lemon, honey syrup) or the Manhattan Project (bourbon, sweet vermouth, genepy des alpes, bitters) or ask the bartender about the cocktail of the week.

8. Holy Water

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309 Cortland Ave
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 555-5555
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Leaving Holy Water off of this list would be a sin due to their extensive craft cocktail menu. Most drinks have three or four ingredients. All of 'em are ten bucks. Favorites include the Mexican Firing Squad (tequila, grenadine, lime) and the Frisco Cocktail (bourbon, benedictine, lemon).

9. R Bar

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1176 Sutter St
San Francisco, CA 94109
(415) 567-7441
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R Bar is probably best known for selling more Fernet Branca than anywhere in the United States, but while it's worth ordering a shot of that ($5), R Bar also serves up $6 well drinks and $7 Sailor Jerry cocktails. For less than twenty bucks, you can get a great buzz that will be easily maintained with the $2 cans of Olympia.

10. Specs' Twelve Adler Museum Cafe

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12 William Saroyan Pl
San Francisco, CA 94133
(415) 421-4112
There are people in SF who mistakenly refer to Specs as a dive bar. While it may have some dive bar characteristics — plenty of characters, dim lighting, cash only — Specs is so much more than that. It's truly an SF institution. BUT, it's an SF institution with cheap drinks (nothing costs over $10 and most drinks will run you $6 or $7; just don't expect anything too fancy), which makes it one of the worthiest additions to this list.

11. Stock in Trade

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2036 Lombard St
San Francisco, CA 94123
(415) 829-3000
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It was a sad day for San Francisco when La Barca closed, but the pain is nothing a few $10 cocktails at Stock in Trade, which took over the cavernous space in 2013, can't cure. The young crowd that hangs out at this (very) Marina bar enjoy La Diabla (tequila, cointreau, jalapeno, agave syrup, lime, paprika) and the Basil Gin Gimlet (Hendrick’s cucumber gin, basil, fresh lime, St. Germaine elderflower liqueur) almost as much as they enjoy the $5 happy hour drinks (Sunday through Tues, 5 - 10 p.m. and Wednesday through Friday, 5 to 7 p.m.) they sip while playing indoor bocce.

12. Trad'r Sam

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6150 Geary Blvd
San Francisco, CA 94121
(415) 221-0773
Trad'r Sam was San Francisco's first Tiki bar. True, it's now got a whole dive bar/sports bar thing going on, but it's still worth a visit to the Outer Richmond if you're in the mood to sip on some very affordable tropical drinks. How affordable? Like $6 to $7 affordable. If it sounds too good to be true, that's because, thanks to the sugar, you'll likely have a headache the next day. Still, with prices like that, you can afford some Advil and a good cup of coffee.

13. Zoe's

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3088 24th St
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 817-1972
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There are a few reasons to love Zoe's. One is the poutine, which is undeniably one of the best drinking foods to exist. Another is the cozy atmosphere. But the thing to love most? The affordable cocktails, many of which are $10, and one of which (the margarita) is only $6. They also have a stellar happy hour (3 to 7 p.m.; and 11 p.m. to 1 a.m., seven days a week).

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1. Bar Basic

510 Brannan St, San Francisco, CA 94107
Bar Basic doesn't serve PSLs, froyo, green juice, or air episodes of "The Real Housewives." But it is basic in every other sense. Just your standard bar with plenty of seating, a good juke box, and $7 "Basic Favorites" that include a Moscow Mule, Kentucky Mule, and Mangotini and $9 specialty cocktails. Go during the five hour happy hour (4 to 9 p.m., Monday through Friday) for $5 martinis.
510 Brannan St
San Francisco, CA 94107

2. Blackbird Bar

2124 Market St, San Francisco, CA 94114
Yeah, this popular neighborhood bar has a few drinks on its creative cocktail menu that are $12, but the majority of them will only set you back between $9 and $11, which ain't too shabby, especially considering the happy kick you'll get from the Strong Island (bourbon, rye, pineapple rum, ancho reyes, limoncello, house-cola) and the Cool as Ice (white whiskey, amaro nonino, vanilla, aveze).
2124 Market St
San Francisco, CA 94114

3. Doc's Clock

2575 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110
It's always "cocktail time" at Doc's Clock, a very laid back bar in the Mission with shuffleboard, a decent board game collection, and a good juke box. Even better? The drinks are strong and cheap, even outside of happy hour (5 to 9 p.m., every single day of the week).
2575 Mission St
San Francisco, CA 94110

4. El Rio

3158 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110
This friendly bar boasts an outside patio, ping pong, pool, shuffleboard, and reasonably priced drinks every single day of the week, but it's seven hour happy hour (1 to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday) is when you'll get the best bang for your buck with $3 well drinks on Mondays and $4 wells Tuesday through Friday.
3158 Mission St
San Francisco, CA 94110

5. Gold Cane Cocktail Lounge

1569 Haight St, San Francisco, CA 94117
The Gold Cane is not for everyone, but if you like strong drinks, playing pool, always being able to find a seat, and friendly locals, then you'll be a fan. It's almost shocking that Gold Cane has a legit cocktail menu, but it does and they all run 9 bucks. Booze and a single mixer will cost you even less.
1569 Haight St
San Francisco, CA 94117

6. Harper & Rye

1695 Polk St, San Francisco, CA 94109
All of Harper & Rye's highballs and cocktails are ten bucks, which is one more thing to love about this attractively designed Polk Street bar with tons of seating and a pool table in back. Try the Victor & Nancy, a cocktail that pairs mezcal with carrot juice and is not only delicious, but a good way to get your daily dose of vitamin A.
1695 Polk St
San Francisco, CA 94109

7. Hi-Lo Club

1434 Polk St, San Francisco, CA 94109
Hi-Lo Club is an unpretentious neighborhood joint that has a great list of specialty beers, 12 beers on tap that rotate but usually run between $5 and $8, and... the thing you're most excited about: $9 cocktails. Try the Gold Rush (bourbon, fresh lemon, honey syrup) or the Manhattan Project (bourbon, sweet vermouth, genepy des alpes, bitters) or ask the bartender about the cocktail of the week.
1434 Polk St
San Francisco, CA 94109

8. Holy Water

309 Cortland Ave, San Francisco, CA 94110
Leaving Holy Water off of this list would be a sin due to their extensive craft cocktail menu. Most drinks have three or four ingredients. All of 'em are ten bucks. Favorites include the Mexican Firing Squad (tequila, grenadine, lime) and the Frisco Cocktail (bourbon, benedictine, lemon).
309 Cortland Ave
San Francisco, CA 94110

9. R Bar

1176 Sutter St, San Francisco, CA 94109
R Bar is probably best known for selling more Fernet Branca than anywhere in the United States, but while it's worth ordering a shot of that ($5), R Bar also serves up $6 well drinks and $7 Sailor Jerry cocktails. For less than twenty bucks, you can get a great buzz that will be easily maintained with the $2 cans of Olympia.
1176 Sutter St
San Francisco, CA 94109

10. Specs' Twelve Adler Museum Cafe

12 William Saroyan Pl, San Francisco, CA 94133
There are people in SF who mistakenly refer to Specs as a dive bar. While it may have some dive bar characteristics — plenty of characters, dim lighting, cash only — Specs is so much more than that. It's truly an SF institution. BUT, it's an SF institution with cheap drinks (nothing costs over $10 and most drinks will run you $6 or $7; just don't expect anything too fancy), which makes it one of the worthiest additions to this list.
12 William Saroyan Pl
San Francisco, CA 94133

11. Stock in Trade

2036 Lombard St, San Francisco, CA 94123
It was a sad day for San Francisco when La Barca closed, but the pain is nothing a few $10 cocktails at Stock in Trade, which took over the cavernous space in 2013, can't cure. The young crowd that hangs out at this (very) Marina bar enjoy La Diabla (tequila, cointreau, jalapeno, agave syrup, lime, paprika) and the Basil Gin Gimlet (Hendrick’s cucumber gin, basil, fresh lime, St. Germaine elderflower liqueur) almost as much as they enjoy the $5 happy hour drinks (Sunday through Tues, 5 - 10 p.m. and Wednesday through Friday, 5 to 7 p.m.) they sip while playing indoor bocce.
2036 Lombard St
San Francisco, CA 94123

12. Trad'r Sam

6150 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94121
Trad'r Sam was San Francisco's first Tiki bar. True, it's now got a whole dive bar/sports bar thing going on, but it's still worth a visit to the Outer Richmond if you're in the mood to sip on some very affordable tropical drinks. How affordable? Like $6 to $7 affordable. If it sounds too good to be true, that's because, thanks to the sugar, you'll likely have a headache the next day. Still, with prices like that, you can afford some Advil and a good cup of coffee.
6150 Geary Blvd
San Francisco, CA 94121

13. Zoe's

3088 24th St, San Francisco, CA 94110
There are a few reasons to love Zoe's. One is the poutine, which is undeniably one of the best drinking foods to exist. Another is the cozy atmosphere. But the thing to love most? The affordable cocktails, many of which are $10, and one of which (the margarita) is only $6. They also have a stellar happy hour (3 to 7 p.m.; and 11 p.m. to 1 a.m., seven days a week).
3088 24th St
San Francisco, CA 94110

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