THE KEY ELEMENTS OF A DIVE BAR
The Photo Booth
A key element of any dive bar, a photo booth provides a) a way to commemorate an evening you might otherwise not remember, b) a place to make out with your one-night-only love interest and c) a place to hide when the going gets rough.
Frequently stale, dive-bar snacks range from the pedestrian (salty snack mix) to the inspired (the free bacon served Monday night at Pop's) to the just plain weird (a block of cream cheese doused in Worcestershire sauce at the Hearth, in the Richmond).
The best among them can help you through a breakup or a breakdown, tell you when to say "when" and bellow, "Last call!" at an alarming volume. These are people you want on your side.
Essential: cans of Tecate, PBR or Oly, along with bottom-shelf whiskey and Fernet. Optional: Jägermeister dispenser, weak 6-hour-old coffee turning to mud and a local brew on draft.
Dim lighting is a must; random sports memorabilia and old beer ads (see the ZZ Top poster above) are to be expected. And stuffed wildlife, family photographs behind the bar and random tchotchkes? True marks of a fine dive bar.
Frequently holding down "their" corner of the bar from happy hour on, true regulars always order the same thing (and nothing that's made in a shaker, thanks) and know the name of every bartender on every shift. When friends are looking for them, they call the bar first.
A fireplace falls into the "not mandatory but welcome" category, along with hooks under the bar, Naugahyde booths, garage-sale paintings and, of course, electronic games of poker and nudie match-up.
The best dive bars look as if they might catch fire or collapse in on themselves at any moment. Faulty wiring, year-round Christmas lights and low, sagging ceilings are all markers of the best of the worst.
Long before there were iPod playlists, there were jukeboxes. The best juxtapose Neil Diamond's "Cracklin' Rosie" alongside Guns n' Roses' "November Rain," and each gets equal airtime.
7 BARS TO DIVE FOR
A drag–queen hangout with free pool on Wednesday nights and a Friday–night drag show hosted by Ms. Tranny Shack 2005. 1723 Polk St., 415-776-4162
Opened in 1947 by pro heavyweight boxer Ralph Figari and pro wrestler Hank Hanastead, the Ha-Ra Club stands the test of time. 875 Geary St., 415-673-3148
Li Po Cocktail Lounge
We head to this dimly lit former opium den in Chinatown to check out bands playing nightly in the basement. 916 Grant Ave., 415-982-0072
Strong drinks, a photo booth, a jukebox and pool table and, best of all, free bacon on Monday nights. What else do you need to know? 2800 24th St., 415-401-7677
We come to this bar, located in the outermost reaches of the Outer Richmond, to play Ping–Pong, darts and Ms. Pac–Man. 3129 Clement St., 415-752-5439
We like the patio and country-music Sundays at Thee Parkside, which bills itself as "San Francisco's premier dive venue." 1600 17th St., 415-252-1300
Put a couple of quarters into the jukebox, sink into one of Uptown's couches and let the sweet sounds of Dusty Springfield wash over you. 200 Capp St., 415-861-8231