All dogs go to Zam Zam. (Courtesy of @alexjgeraldo)

11 Quintessential Dive Bars in San Francisco

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When it comes to weeknight drinks, nothing gets us like the dilapidated charm of cheap neighborhood watering holes.

For no-frills drinks, greasy bar bites, quirky decor, graffiti-scribbled bathrooms, analog photo booths, and jukeboxes, these are San Francisco's most beloved dive bars.


Kozy Kar Bar

One of our favorite NSFW-skewed watering holes—porn, straight and gay, plays on the wall-mounted televisions when the sun goes down—Kozy Kar harkens back to the care-free 70s. The drinks are, as you'd expect, remarkably cheap for SF, and the ambiance is, say, That-70s-Show-meets-the-HGTV's-roster-of-home-decorating-shows. (Custom vans, eight track players, CB radios, waterbeds, chain steering wheels, shag carpets, oh my!) Leave any semblance of prudence at home, please. // 1548 Polk St. (Polk Gulch), kozykar.com

Li Po Cocktail Lounge

Nestled on the edge of Chinatown, Li Po Cocktail Lounge exists as a dimly lit former opium den, where, instead of illicit drugs, now live bands and potent drinks fill the halls and basement. Their signature Chinese mai tais are the go-to libations here, which you can sip seated alongside the wraparound bar or atop a "well-loved" red leather booth. Ubiquitous, traditional Chinese lanterns hang from the celings for decoration and practicality. On your way out, feel free to send a silent offering to the gold-plated Buddha statue near the door. // 916 Grant Ave. (Chinatown), lipolounge.com

The Saloon

Set in a late-1800s atmosphere, The Saloon presents itself as a window into a simpler, less high-strung way of drinking in the city. Live music is a daily calendar event, where relaxed vibes and a diverse crowds intersect across the bartop; The Saloon, above all else, is an ode to an SF of past, one you can see, hear, and even smell when walking through their single narrow entryway. Cash is the preferred payment method here, so make sure you've got some bills on you, beforehand. // 1232 Grant Ave. (Jackson Square), sfblues.net/saloon

The Cinch Saloon

A haven for button-up gays in flannel and billiards enthusiasts, The Cinch exudes old-school dive bar vibes from everyone of its weathered corners, albeit with a hella homo twist. The drinks are effusively slung and quite strong; the outside patio is intimate, and also smoke-friendly; pool and pinball machines fill the narrow lounge. Keep an eye out on their Facebook Events Page for updates on drag shows, community potlucks, and more. // 1723 Polk St. (Polk Gulch), cinchsf.com

Hi Dive Bar

Postcard-lined walls, waterfront views, and pier-inspired decor serve as the diving platforms for bar bites and cheap(ish) libations. Brunch at Hi Dive pedestals their famous Bloody Mary, served saddle-side with such staples lake Mission Huevos, French toasts, and more. Take your shot at the pool table in between drinks. And don't worry, you're not going crazy: There really is a bike hanging from above the bartop. // 28 Pier (Embarcadero), hidivesf.com

Aces Bar

Friendly, conversational bartenders and barbacks populate this no-frills Polk Gulch hub. A slurpee machine that, instead of churning scary froaths, stirs a frappuccino-like Irish Coffee available from 6 am to noon, making for a potentially left-of-center morning coffee run. Inexpensive, straightforward cocktails fill the menu, as well as a Keg Table, which can be reserved in advance. Jukebox playings revibrate off the red-painted walls, essentially all hours they're open. // 998 Sutter St., (Polk Gulch) acesbarsf.com

Zam Zam

One of the oldest, most beloved bars in San Francisco, Zam Zam has been Haight-Ashbury fulcrum for quenching a thirst since 1941. A Persian bar—with like-culture interior paraphernalia, including a drop-dead gorgeous back bar muralling—specializes in the martinis of yesteryear. Suffice to say that this cash-only (and prior Anthony Bourdain approved watering hole) is a must for locals and tourists, alike. // 1633 Haight St. (Haight-Ashbury), facebook.com

Louie's Bar

Louie's Bar is a bit more unassuming than its sister Pour Guys-owned watering hole, Tempest...to say the least. But it's this bar's bashful, brick-faced facade that makes is all the more worthwhile to checkout. A former whalers drinking establishment, with roots back to the 1930s, Louie's Bar splays its daily round of cocktails, mocktails, and other drinks across chalkboards. Upscale pub grub include such morsels like a killer grilled cheese, vegan cauliflower burger, you name it. // 55 Stevenson St. (SoMa), pourguys.com

The Knockout

Akin to Beauty Bar's SF installment, sans the obvious nightclub chain normalities, the Knockout houses DJ dance parties, live punk band playings, bingo nights, and an all around no-frill dive bar experience. Knockout's weekly Sweater Funk Superfly dance party is reason enough to bob and weave to Motown and Soul anthems after downing a bit of liquid courage. A word to the wise: Don't leave without signing a pose in the photo booth. // 3223 Mission St. (Bernal Heights), theknockoutsf.com

Tempest Bar & Box

The long-standing and undoubtedly most popular dive bar in San Francisco, Tempest is the brick-exposed, rustic mecca for frugal drinks and live music. The bar, itself, maintains some of its old vintage 50's-era fixtures, mixed in with modern-day technologies and convienes. (Free WiFi!). The Tempest, too, doubles as a culinary playground for Box Kitchen; the pork belly potato skins are, alone, worth the after-work-day wait. // 431 Natoma St. (FiDi), pourguys.com/tempest-bar

Zeitgeist

The award for the diviest and most beloved of San Francisco bars probably has to go to Zeitgeist—because let's be honest, this is where you go for cheap drinks (preferably bloody marys) once you're already drunk enough to eat one of their greasy-ass burgers. And there's just nothing better, especially when you and your gang can crowd in at a picnic table on a sunny day to get sloshed. // 199 Valencia St. (Mission), instagram.com/zeitgeist_sf

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