This decades-old standby embodies all-inclusive San Francisco at its finest. The beloved dive welcomes a colorful cross-section of the city: gay and straight, young and old. The dog-friendly patio is huge and inviting; inside, you’ll find shuffleboard and pool tables, a trusty old juke box, and an anything-goes dance floor where bands, DJs, burlesque dancers and karaoke kings perform nightly. In warmer months, you’ll find live bands out back—from salsa to bluegrass. Between the casually competitive bar games, chatty patio, and ongoing dance party, introductions happen naturally.
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.
Layer up and head out to the Outer Sunset, where this comfortable, classy bar is serving inventive cocktails for a friendly crowd of artists and surfers. Owned and managed by Matt Lopez and Carlos Yturria—both avid surfers themselves—this spot attracts a contingent of laid-back neighborhood regulars. The space is unfussy, but thoughtfully designed, from the white cubic tiling to the turquoise bar stools and requisite reclaimed wood. Order the mescal-spiked Heat Gun cocktail and snag a seat near the cozy fireplace.
Brass Tacks owners Anthony Healy-London, Josh McAdam, and Matt Conway opened their second bar in spring 2016—the polar opposite of their first. Where Brass Tacks is dark, loud and moody, Anina is bright, airy and summery with Moroccan tiles, a palm-frond mural and a sunny, eight-table patio. Spritzes and aperitivos are designed for pre-dinner sipping, while $46 large format punch bowls are meant to be shared (rather sloppily, by the end).
There’s no better place to sidle up to an attractive stranger than the Doug fir bar at the Snug. The cocktails—courtesy of Alembic alum Jacob Racusin—are conversation-sparking sippers, incorporating house-made ingredients and rare spirits, and 18 taps are loaded with craft beers, wine, and cider. (Try the cask ale.) The two-level spot is bustling, but not rowdy or clubby, featuring various nooks and leather booths for getting acquainted.
For sheer volume, this indoor outdoor bar abutting the Embarcadero is your best bet for meeting young, post-work locals. During happy hour, it’s perpetually slammed with button-down and blazer-clad twenty- and thirty-somethings converging from FiDi, SoMA, and mid-Market. The happy hour specials are solid (cocktails, wine, beer, and apps are all under $10) and the shabby-chic space offers plenty of seating and areas for small groups to mingle. It’s just couple blocks from BART or Muni, conveniently, whether you’re planning on heading home or bar hopping.
This Tenderloin haven is a beer-lover’s mecca with brews for every taste, from fruity and sweet to dark and hoppy. The high-ceilinged, exposed brick bar is industrial-cool, decked with playful murals by Keith Shore. The 40 taps are stocked with interesting ales (particularly sours), and limited-edition collaborations appear on the menu regularly. The 80-seat space is sexy, but laid-back, with plenty of room to circulate between the main bar, front lounge, and downstairs cellar room. But the focal point is the 30-seat, four-sided bar: ideal for scoping out alluring strangers. You’ll find small, slightly secluded seating areas for cozying up or open communal tables for toasting with newcomers.
This low-key, metal-blasting beer bar is one of the best day-drinking patios in the city, in spite of—or maybe because of—its lack of frills. Bikers (cyclists, that is), neighborhood regulars, and hipsters mingle out back, surrounded by wacky murals. The bloody marys are legendary, served at any time of day, and the extensive beer list favors local breweries like Lost Coast, Anchor Steam, Bear Republic, and Russian River Brewing Company.
Sometimes “You got next?” is all the icebreaker you need. At Emporium, an attractive stranger is more likely to challenge you to a game of Skee-Ball than attempt a cheesy pick-up line. Set in the sprawling former space of the historic 1926 Harding Theater—vacant for nearly three decades before this incarnation—the four-story, 12,000-square-foot space is packed with diversions like pinball, air hockey, arcade games, pool, foosball, and more. The appeal is in the high-low balance: The spot retains scattered touches of its original ‘20s glamour, from the crown molding to the intricate carved ceilings, but it’s slinging craft beers and arcade tokens.
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. The impressive selection of whiskey, rye and bourbon, coupled with generous bartenders, helps everyone’s cause.
Lower Nob Hill