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Stefanie Tuder

22 SF Dive Bars for Your No-BS Drinking Needs

Dive bars are that special egalitarian breed of bar for anyone and everyone

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| Photo by Stefanie Tuder

There for you when you need them — even at 6 a.m. — dive bars are that special egalitarian breed of bar for anyone and everyone. They are mostly dark, still on the cheaper side, and always filled with at least a character or two.

Unfortunately, though, dive bars are a dying breed in San Francisco, where rising rents and demand for the next big thing are forcing many long-time, beloved establishments to shutter. But that just makes the ones that are still around all the more special, and special they certainly are. North Beach, with its old-school charm, seems to be ground zero for dive bars, but there are others scattered throughout the city, too, that are very worthy of a visit.

From one with metal undertones, to a place that will kick you out for unwelcome romantic advancements, these San Francisco dive bars are essential to this fine city’s fabric.

Note: bars are listed alphabetically, not geographically.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. The Saloon

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1232 Grant Ave
San Francisco, CA 94133
(415) 989-7666
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This North Beach dive has seen everything over the years. Cheap beers, live blues, sticky floors, and the stench of stale beer are only part of the reasons to visit The Saloon.

2. Specs' Twelve Adler Museum Cafe

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12 William Saroyan Pl
San Francisco, CA 94133
(415) 421-4112

Specs' Twelve Adler Museum Cafe hides in a little alley way off of Columbus Avenue. But if you know, you go, to this heavily-decorated, no-bullshit bar where the priciest drink rings in at $10. The decor is virtually unchanged since it opened in 1968, and unionized bartenders receive benefits and retirement, can refuse to make a drink they don't want to, kick anyone out for any reason they deem worthy, and hand out business cards letting men or women know to back off someone they're chatting up.

3. Li Po Cocktail Lounge

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916 Grant Ave
San Francisco, CA 94108
(415) 982-0072
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Though Li Po rocketed to fame when Anthony Bourdain deigned to grace it with his presence, it's always been a shabby, boozy establishment worthy of a special trip to Chinatown. Make sure you get one of its famous Chinese mai tais.

4. Cinch Saloon

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1723 Polk St
San Francisco, CA 94109
(415) 776-4162
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Still here, still queer, the Cinch is a relic of the Polk corridor’s long career as a gay nightlife neighborhood in the years before the community coalesced in the Castro. Day in, day out, the Cinch continues to draw a smattering of hard-drinkers, and its gallery of gay-themed art, including a notable depiction of a lion and a man in some sort of romantic position, is worth a visit alone.

5. Ha-Ra Club

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875 Geary St
San Francisco, CA 94109
(415) 673-3148
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This somewhat civilized Tenderloin dive bar has keg tables. Those are tables with kegs underneath, that you can reserve and drink with your friends. So gather the troops, and head over for some poor decision making, as a group.

6. Tempest

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431 Natoma St
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 495-1863
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Tempest lurks on a backstreet in the middle of a particularly gnarly stretch of SoMa. However, it's a great place to grab a beer, eat a burger from the Box Kitchen window next door, and even watch a sports event on TV. Tall ceilings and rather generous seating set it apart from others, but it can get a bit crowded during the after work hours.

7. Trad'r Sam's

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6150 Geary Blvd
San Francisco, CA 94121
(415) 221-0773

Inside this Richmond watering hole is a tropical oasis, from the drinks to the worn rattan furniture. Knowing bartenders will provide seafarers with drinks like scorpion bowls, sugary mai tais, and Miller Lites, while old dudes at the bar scream at the Giants game. It's dark, it's divey, and it's perfect for any occasion.

8. The Page

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298 Divisadero St
San Francisco, CA 94117
(415) 255-6101
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Weirdly carpeted and dimly lit, the Page is the neighborhood curmudgeon who's invited you over for a Miller High Life. It has a great jukebox, foosball, torn up leather stools, and the ghosts of many beers past, kind of like a basement man cave from the late 70s. In other words, it's a national treasure.

9. Molotov's

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582 Haight St
San Francisco, CA 94117
(415) 558-8019

Low ceilings, close quarters, and PBRs are part of the dive-appeal at this Haight bar. Dogs are allowed here, too, as is food from Rosamunde's Sausage Grill down the street. Punk on the juke box, a pool table, and stiff drinks are part of the charm (or appealing lack thereof) here.

10. Zeitgeist

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199 Valencia St
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 255-7505
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Zeitgeist won't put up with your BS, so just leave it at home. This bar is cash only, has big pitchers of beers, and a big patio. There are also great bloody marys, if your drinking needs to start/continue in the morning.

11. Thieves' Tavern

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496 14th St
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 252-9082
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This Mission dive attracts a diverse slice of locals, from skater kids to olds out for a pint. There's a brightly lit area to play pool, as well as several more intimate and dark booths for sulking, or drinking in peace.

12. Lucky 13

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2140 Market St
San Francisco, CA 94114
(415) 487-1313

This dive bar with good beers and a punk-leaning juke box is one of the good ones. And though there's a cat on the sign, pups are welcome to hang out while their owners slug PBR and craft brews.

13. Thee Parkside

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1600 17th St
San Francisco, CA 94107
(415) 252-1330
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A dive bar with a great patio, food, and metal bands on rotation. Hang in the back for a more "au natural" dive experience, or sidle up to the shadowy inside bar for a pint and a shot. Dogs are welcome here. There's also a cute little coffee window facing the street, providing the uppers to the bar's downers.

14. Kilowatt

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3160 16th St
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 861-2595
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Drink beer, play darts and Pac Man, and generally luxuriate in Kilowatt's low-key surroundings. It's not romantic, and it's ready for your black heart to listen to metal all night long. Decent beers on tap and a full bar don't hurt.

Local WIKI

15. The 500 Club

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500 Guerrero St
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 861-2500
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The 500 Club’s neon sign — with flickering lights glittering like bubbles in a glass — gives patrons a warm, fuzzy feeling. So do the drinks. The company, though not necessarily warm or fuzzy, is great, too: The bar has been a longtime favorite of bike messengers and longtime Missionites, and it still gathers to it a great collection of locals.

Lynn Friedman

16. Bender's Bar & Grill

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806 S Van Ness Ave
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 824-1800
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Classic dive bar with a metal undertone, Bender's has your shot and a beer situation on lock. Plus, it's loud, it's got tater tots, and it allows your dog friends to hang there, too.

17. Shotwell’s

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3349 20th St
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 648-4104
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A true neighborhood saloon, Shotwell's has a residential feel in the middle of the Mission. Inside you'll find a pool table, tables, TVs, a full bar, and lots of locals: All the makings of a true neighborhood dive.

18. Doc's Clock

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2417 Mission St
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 824-3627
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Though the San Francisco institution has just moved to a new location blocks from its original spot, it maintains all its divey charm. Wander to the end of the narrow bar and back again in search of love, or just grab a seat at the bar and order bourbon on the rocks. Either way, Doc's has the medicine you need.

Caleb Pershan

19. Lone Palm

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3394 22nd St
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 648-0109

Lone Palm deserves more hype than it gets — this off-the-beaten-path Mission dive boasts elegant white tablecloths, a killer dirty martini, and a crowd that isn’t your normal scene. However it's still going to give you a headache, and it's still sticky to the touch. Highly recommended.

20. Clooney's Pub

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1401 Valencia St
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 826-4988

Clooney’s opens, frighteningly, at 6 a.m., the earliest it can in accordance with local liquor law. That’s theoretically to serve folks getting off their night shift, and it’s also, in practice, to serve those whose main vocation is drinking at Clooney’s. There is no nobler calling.

21. St. Mary's Pub

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3845 Mission St
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 529-1325

1948-founded and reborn with a less dingy, still dive-y vibe in 2011, St. Mary’s is a godsend to local drinkers, if not a particularly holy place. Popcorn, cool music, pool tables, and stiff drinks are the chief reasons that St. Mary’s has drawn such a fervent flock of regulars.

22. Glen Park Station

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2901 Diamond St
San Francisco, CA 94131
(415) 989-2278
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It’s really the only bar for the Glen Park neighborhood, but when you have Glen Park Station, you don’t need anywhere else. There’s a fireplace, few lights to speak of, cheap beer, and a general musk that’s somehow pleasant.

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1. The Saloon

1232 Grant Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

This North Beach dive has seen everything over the years. Cheap beers, live blues, sticky floors, and the stench of stale beer are only part of the reasons to visit The Saloon.

1232 Grant Ave
San Francisco, CA 94133

2. Specs' Twelve Adler Museum Cafe

12 William Saroyan Pl, San Francisco, CA 94133

Specs' Twelve Adler Museum Cafe hides in a little alley way off of Columbus Avenue. But if you know, you go, to this heavily-decorated, no-bullshit bar where the priciest drink rings in at $10. The decor is virtually unchanged since it opened in 1968, and unionized bartenders receive benefits and retirement, can refuse to make a drink they don't want to, kick anyone out for any reason they deem worthy, and hand out business cards letting men or women know to back off someone they're chatting up.

12 William Saroyan Pl
San Francisco, CA 94133

3. Li Po Cocktail Lounge

916 Grant Ave, San Francisco, CA 94108

Though Li Po rocketed to fame when Anthony Bourdain deigned to grace it with his presence, it's always been a shabby, boozy establishment worthy of a special trip to Chinatown. Make sure you get one of its famous Chinese mai tais.

916 Grant Ave
San Francisco, CA 94108

4. Cinch Saloon

1723 Polk St, San Francisco, CA 94109

Still here, still queer, the Cinch is a relic of the Polk corridor’s long career as a gay nightlife neighborhood in the years before the community coalesced in the Castro. Day in, day out, the Cinch continues to draw a smattering of hard-drinkers, and its gallery of gay-themed art, including a notable depiction of a lion and a man in some sort of romantic position, is worth a visit alone.

1723 Polk St
San Francisco, CA 94109

5. Ha-Ra Club

875 Geary St, San Francisco, CA 94109

This somewhat civilized Tenderloin dive bar has keg tables. Those are tables with kegs underneath, that you can reserve and drink with your friends. So gather the troops, and head over for some poor decision making, as a group.

875 Geary St
San Francisco, CA 94109

6. Tempest

431 Natoma St, San Francisco, CA 94103

Tempest lurks on a backstreet in the middle of a particularly gnarly stretch of SoMa. However, it's a great place to grab a beer, eat a burger from the Box Kitchen window next door, and even watch a sports event on TV. Tall ceilings and rather generous seating set it apart from others, but it can get a bit crowded during the after work hours.

431 Natoma St
San Francisco, CA 94103

7. Trad'r Sam's

6150 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94121

Inside this Richmond watering hole is a tropical oasis, from the drinks to the worn rattan furniture. Knowing bartenders will provide seafarers with drinks like scorpion bowls, sugary mai tais, and Miller Lites, while old dudes at the bar scream at the Giants game. It's dark, it's divey, and it's perfect for any occasion.

6150 Geary Blvd
San Francisco, CA 94121

8. The Page

298 Divisadero St, San Francisco, CA 94117

Weirdly carpeted and dimly lit, the Page is the neighborhood curmudgeon who's invited you over for a Miller High Life. It has a great jukebox, foosball, torn up leather stools, and the ghosts of many beers past, kind of like a basement man cave from the late 70s. In other words, it's a national treasure.

298 Divisadero St
San Francisco, CA 94117

9. Molotov's

582 Haight St, San Francisco, CA 94117

Low ceilings, close quarters, and PBRs are part of the dive-appeal at this Haight bar. Dogs are allowed here, too, as is food from Rosamunde's Sausage Grill down the street. Punk on the juke box, a pool table, and stiff drinks are part of the charm (or appealing lack thereof) here.

582 Haight St
San Francisco, CA 94117

10. Zeitgeist

199 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94103

Zeitgeist won't put up with your BS, so just leave it at home. This bar is cash only, has big pitchers of beers, and a big patio. There are also great bloody marys, if your drinking needs to start/continue in the morning.

199 Valencia St
San Francisco, CA 94103

11. Thieves' Tavern

496 14th St, San Francisco, CA 94103

This Mission dive attracts a diverse slice of locals, from skater kids to olds out for a pint. There's a brightly lit area to play pool, as well as several more intimate and dark booths for sulking, or drinking in peace.

496 14th St
San Francisco, CA 94103

12. Lucky 13

2140 Market St, San Francisco, CA 94114

This dive bar with good beers and a punk-leaning juke box is one of the good ones. And though there's a cat on the sign, pups are welcome to hang out while their owners slug PBR and craft brews.

2140 Market St
San Francisco, CA 94114

13. Thee Parkside

1600 17th St, San Francisco, CA 94107

A dive bar with a great patio, food, and metal bands on rotation. Hang in the back for a more "au natural" dive experience, or sidle up to the shadowy inside bar for a pint and a shot. Dogs are welcome here. There's also a cute little coffee window facing the street, providing the uppers to the bar's downers.

1600 17th St
San Francisco, CA 94107

14. Kilowatt

3160 16th St, San Francisco, CA 94103
Local WIKI

Drink beer, play darts and Pac Man, and generally luxuriate in Kilowatt's low-key surroundings. It's not romantic, and it's ready for your black heart to listen to metal all night long. Decent beers on tap and a full bar don't hurt.

3160 16th St
San Francisco, CA 94103

15. The 500 Club

500 Guerrero St, San Francisco, CA 94110
Lynn Friedman

The 500 Club’s neon sign — with flickering lights glittering like bubbles in a glass — gives patrons a warm, fuzzy feeling. So do the drinks. The company, though not necessarily warm or fuzzy, is great, too: The bar has been a longtime favorite of bike messengers and longtime Missionites, and it still gathers to it a great collection of locals.

500 Guerrero St
San Francisco, CA 94110

Related Maps

16. Bender's Bar & Grill

806 S Van Ness Ave, San Francisco, CA 94110

Classic dive bar with a metal undertone, Bender's has your shot and a beer situation on lock. Plus, it's loud, it's got tater tots, and it allows your dog friends to hang there, too.

806 S Van Ness Ave
San Francisco, CA 94110

17. Shotwell’s

3349 20th St, San Francisco, CA 94110

A true neighborhood saloon, Shotwell's has a residential feel in the middle of the Mission. Inside you'll find a pool table, tables, TVs, a full bar, and lots of locals: All the makings of a true neighborhood dive.

3349 20th St
San Francisco, CA 94110

18. Doc's Clock

2417 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110
Caleb Pershan

Though the San Francisco institution has just moved to a new location blocks from its original spot, it maintains all its divey charm. Wander to the end of the narrow bar and back again in search of love, or just grab a seat at the bar and order bourbon on the rocks. Either way, Doc's has the medicine you need.

2417 Mission St
San Francisco, CA 94110

19. Lone Palm

3394 22nd St, San Francisco, CA 94110

Lone Palm deserves more hype than it gets — this off-the-beaten-path Mission dive boasts elegant white tablecloths, a killer dirty martini, and a crowd that isn’t your normal scene. However it's still going to give you a headache, and it's still sticky to the touch. Highly recommended.

3394 22nd St
San Francisco, CA 94110

20. Clooney's Pub

1401 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94110

Clooney’s opens, frighteningly, at 6 a.m., the earliest it can in accordance with local liquor law. That’s theoretically to serve folks getting off their night shift, and it’s also, in practice, to serve those whose main vocation is drinking at Clooney’s. There is no nobler calling.

1401 Valencia St
San Francisco, CA 94110

21. St. Mary's Pub

3845 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

1948-founded and reborn with a less dingy, still dive-y vibe in 2011, St. Mary’s is a godsend to local drinkers, if not a particularly holy place. Popcorn, cool music, pool tables, and stiff drinks are the chief reasons that St. Mary’s has drawn such a fervent flock of regulars.

3845 Mission St
San Francisco, CA 94110

22. Glen Park Station

2901 Diamond St, San Francisco, CA 94131

It’s really the only bar for the Glen Park neighborhood, but when you have Glen Park Station, you don’t need anywhere else. There’s a fireplace, few lights to speak of, cheap beer, and a general musk that’s somehow pleasant.

2901 Diamond St
San Francisco, CA 94131

Related Maps