11 Quintessential Dive Bars in San Francisco
Bring a roll of bills to catch live blues and drinks at The Saloon. (Courtesy of @tommasomonaldi)

11 Quintessential Dive Bars in San Francisco


When it's weeknight drinks we want, nothing gets us like the dilapidated charm and cheap drinks at our neighborhood watering holes.

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

Cheers, gang.

Li Po Cocktail Lounge

(Courtesy of @lipo_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 Knockout

(Courtesy of @theknockoutsf)

The Knockout houses DJ dance parties, live punk bands, bingo and karaoke nights, happy hour shows, and an all around no-frill dive bar experience. Knockout's Sweater Funk Superfly dance parties (every first Saturday) are 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 striking a pose in the photo booth. // 3223 Mission St. (Bernal Heights), theknockoutsf.com

Kozy Kar Bar

One of our favorite NSFW watering holes, Kozy Kar harkens back to the carefree '70s. The drinks are, as you'd expect, remarkably cheap for SF, and the ambiance is whatever you call a mashup of custom vans, eight track players, CB radios, waterbeds, and shag carpets. Leave any semblance of prudence at home, please. // 1548 Polk St. (Polk Gulch), kozykar.com


(Courtesy of @zeitgeist_sf)

The award for the most beloved of San Francisco dive bars probably has to go to Zeitgeist because, let's be honest, this is where we go for cheap drinks (preferably bloody marys) once we'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

The Cinch Saloon

(Courtesy of @jonathanegreenwood)

A haven for button-up gays in flannel and billiards enthusiasts, The Cinch exudes old-school dive bar vibes from every one 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 on their Facebook page for updates on drag shows, community potlucks, and more. // 1723 Polk St. (Polk Gulch), facebook.com/thecinchsaloon

Aces Bar

(Courtesy of @daxlorax)

Sports fans know Aces as home base for NY Giants and Wisconsin Badgers game. Everyone else comes to the no-frills Polk Gulch hub for the friendly bartenders and the slurpee machine that stirs a frappuccino-like Irish coffee available from 6am to noon, making for a left-of-center morning coffee run. Inexpensive, straightforward cocktails fill the menu, and there's a keg table that can be reserved in advance. Jukebox tunes reverberate off the red walls round the clock. // 998 Sutter St., (Polk Gulch) acesbarsf.com

Hi Dive Bar

(Courtesy of @_badoc)

Waterfront views and nautical decor serve are a diving off point for bar bites and cheap(ish) libations. Brunch at Hi Dive (10am to 2pm weekends) centers around the famous spicy bloody mary, which pairs great with Mission huevos, chorizo scrambles, and more. Take your shot at the pool table in between drinks. // 28 Pier (Embarcadero), hidivesf.com

Zam Zam

(Courtesy of @zamzambarsf)

One of the oldest, best loved bars in SF, Zam Zam has been quenching thirsts in the Haight since 1941—even Bourdain's been sloshed here. The Persian-inspired bar recognizable for its back bar mural specializes in the martinis of yesteryear. Take note, it's cash only. // Open daily; 1633 Haight St. (Haight-Ashbury), facebook.com

Louie's Bar

(Courtesy of @louiesbar)

Louie's Bar is a bit more unassuming than its sister Pour Guys–owned watering hole Tempest. But behind the bar's bashful, brick facade is a former whalers' drinking establishment with roots dating to the 1930s. Louie's Bar splays its daily round of cocktails, mocktails, and other drinks across chalkboards. Upscale pub grub includes pork belly tacos, vegan cauliflower burger, you name it. // Open daily; 55 Stevenson St. (SoMa), pourguys.com

Tempest Bar & Box

It's been around forever and it's still crazy popular: Tempest is a go-to for frugal drinks and live music with a bit of a vintage vibe and free WiFi. Don't miss bites from the Box Kitchen like mac 'n' cheese eggrolls, fried pickles, and burgers. // Open daily, 431 Natoma St. (FiDi), pourguys.com/tempest-bar

The Saloon

(Courtesy of @mitchpolzak)

Late-1800s vibes loom in The Saloon, which is really a sort of window into old-school SF when drinking dens weren't so high-strung. Regulars come for daily live blues and a diverse crowd. Bring cash. // 1232 Grant Ave. (North Beach), sfblues.net/saloon

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