The best pick-up bars in San Francisco
This decades-old standby embodies colorful, gritty, all-inclusive San Francisco at its finest. Sick of stilted small talk? Take a spin around El Rio. There’s a dog-friendly patio strung with colorful lights, shuffleboard and pool tables for facing off, a trusty old juke box, and an anything-goes dance floor where bands, DJs, burlesque dancers and karaoke kings perform nightly. It’s a roving, friendly crowd that spans all ages, ethnicities and sexual orientations. Between the casually competitive bar games, chatty back patio and ongoing dance party, introductions happen naturally.
With 10,000 square feet of bar space spanning two levels, this machine shop-turned-brewery is known as a go-to destination for large groups. The long communal tables, both inside and out on the heated patio, make mixing in with an attractive stranger's birthday party or office outing seamless. A soundtrack of forgotten '90s and early '00s gems puts everyone in an upbeat (read: approachable) mood. Dogs, a.k.a. the ultimate wingmen, are welcome on the patio.
Situated in a former newspaper printing room in the belly of the Hearst Building, this 1950s-styled cocktail lounge evokes quick-quipping His Girl Friday fantasies. That the Market Street entrance is easy to miss (look for the glowing clock) gives the basement-level lounge an exclusive feel—that is, until you join the boisterous throng lining the bar. Strong, newspaper-themed cocktails (the Masthead, the Rosebud) take the edge off the wait. Stake out one of the dark corners decked with antique typewriters or bust out your swing moves when the live jazz band strikes up a tune.
Gay or straight, you’ll find someone to ogle at this Castro cocktail joint. A long, red leather booth lines the wall facing the bar—a convenient vantage point for inconspicuously scoping out prospects beneath the dangling pendant bulbs. The bar is stylish, yet not scene-y, and is far enough down Market Street to offer a break from the tech scene. The cocktails, which incorporate ingredients like tobacco bitters, chicory tincture, and house-made root beer, are conversation starters in and of themselves.
This old-timey cocktail bar offers a welcome reprieve from the typical collegiate-tinged watering holes along Polk Street. It’s charming without feeling precious; busy, yet not overcrowded. Distressed concrete walls, flickering candles and pressed tin ceilings lend the impression of romantic decay, and single-bulb light fixtures evoking Parisian lampposts arch over each table. The bar starts filling up around 10pm, when gussied-up singles arrive in groups. Should you hit it off, the booths (built from old cable car benches) make cozy nooks for getting acquainted.
We know what you’re thinking. No, a dank punk bar with surly service isn’t the most promising meet-cute backdrop. (True story: One time, a guy proposed here. The happy couple got booted out.) However, there’s something about the sun-drenched, biker-beloved beer garden out back that makes connections with minimal effort. Maybe it’s the giant, communal picnic tables. Could be the idyllic summertime vibe. Or maybe it’s just the infamous, free-flowing Bloody Marys. Whatever the reason, sidling up to strangers is practically a given at Zeitgeist.
This loft-like speakeasy is where the SoMa start-up crowd unwinds after-hours. Expect button-down- and blazer-clad business types in the evening and a preponderance of Mission plaid as the night wears on. The space is sleek yet unintimidating; dudes in hoodies lounge on tufted leather sofas and coworkers sip scotch-infused cocktails while facing off at the shuffleboard table. Want to scope out the scene? Climb the stairs to the second-level lounge for a birds-eye view.
This Cali-focused beer mecca strikes an ideal middle ground between a sports bar and a cocktail lounge: design savvy, but not pretentious; popular, but low pressure. (Bonus: You won’t be shelling out for $12 drinks.) You’ll find 31 California beers on tap, ranging from ciders and IPAs to stouts and hard-to-find sour ales. The long wraparound bar on the main floor is well-situated for casual mingling, while the booths upstairs are open seating.
This low-lit, two-level saloon is perennially packed with young professionals. Grab a seat at the bar before the towering wall of booze (accessed by a rolling library ladder) for a prime spot amid the post-work revelry. Walls and ceilings are paneled in reclaimed barrel wood, candlelit corners invite canoodling, and the skilled, 1920s-attired bartenders make cocktails that are boozy yet refined. (The multi-person punch bowls are popular.) Stick around: Inhibitions fade after 10pm, when the music gets louder and the lounge-y scene evolves into a late-night dance party.
This Tenderloin cocktail bar is where pretty people come to guzzle basil gimlets. The candlelight flickering off the dark wood bar casts everyone in a flattering glow, and the soundtrack—which spans old-school hip-hop to indie rock—feels more dance-y than date-y. To escape the crowds, pop out to the patio for a smoke or a smooch. The impressive selection of whiskey, rye, and bourbon—coupled with generous bartenders—helps everyone’s cause.