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Favorite Dive Bar in SF..

Heading into town late next week for 3 days and LOVE a good dive bar.. we always go to Lefty's in Union Square but would like to know what some of your fav's are..

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  1. Li Po in Chinatown on Grant.

    Li PO
    916 Grant Ave, San Francisco, CA 94108

    1. Back in the days when I still patronized bars, my favorite dive bar was probably 1232 Grant Ave., a.k.a. The Saloon, in North Beach. It may have succumbed to radical chic by now, for all I know. Likewise Gino and Carlo, and Northstar Cafe. I can vouch for the divey-ness of Vieni Vieni on Stockton (also in North Beach), because I walk by there frequently and peek in just to make sure it's holding its own against progress. Ditto Red's Place on Jackson in Chinatown. I used to love the Buddha Bar in Chinatown, but it's been discovered by the Yuppies (not even Chuppies). LI Po in Chinatown looks still divey, though usually empty.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Xiao Yang

        The Saloon is still an honest dive. Great bar and one of the best blues clubs in the area.

        1232 Grant Ave, San Francisco, CA

      2. The Dogpatch Saloon in the dogpatch neighborhood. Free chili nights, some live music, great drinks.

        1 Reply
        1. re: annabana

          I second this one. Top notch jazz jam session and free (very good) chili on Sunday early evenings.

        2. The Abbey Tavern on Geary was a good hangout for the neighborhood. Sometimes they had music.

          A friend of mine could usually be found at the Persian aub zam zam on Haight.

          And let us not forget LaRocca's Corner on Columbus. I spent many a happy hour hanging out there with a jolly crew.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Sharuf

            Those places still exist, though the Abbey and LaRocca's are sports bars, and the Persian Aub Zam Zam is sort of a hipster bar.

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              LaRocca is sometimes a de facto sports bar when European soccer is on the tube, but I wouldn't really characterize it as a sports bar; I don't think the bar's characrter has changed much in the 30-some years I have lived near it. History will note it was the actual hangout of George Wendt (Norm Peterson on "Cheers") who lived in San Francisco when he wasn't filming the sit-com.

          2. Specs, Latin American, The Palm (not really a dive but it fits)

            1. Place Pigalle in Hayes Valley. They have a great assortment of beers on tap. Low key vibe and a pool table in back.

              1. And I thank ya folks. Jersey Shore native who's looking forward to his visit in 4 weeks as this provides a nice counterpoint to the wineries/tastings, etc that will be part of our trip up to the RRV.

                As someone who loves dive barz, be it the wierd Cameo Bar in nearby Asbury Park (like walking onto the set of Blue Velvet), Lucy's on the westside of Manhattan, or the actual Dive Bar on the upper west side (Broadway/95th?), this string is sincerely appreciated, especially so since we'll be parked in North Beach for three days.

                Again, thanks gang.

                  1. re: nagalist

                    Love the website and will be slinging back a few with Bigfoot..the elusive one..
                    Saloon looks great and being a drummer, might be fun to jam with.
                    They all look great!

                    1. re: nagalist

                      No way on Bigfoot Lodge. A dive bar comes about organically. Bigfoot is slick and manufactured. They come off like a chain.

                      1. re: Atomica

                        Wow.. "A dive bar comes about organically"
                        so well stated Atomica..

                        1. re: Atomica

                          Ha ha, dive bars don't have websites. I think by definition. The Bigfoot
                          website includes "Visit our L.A. Location" down at the bottom.

                          I don't know anything about Bigfoot but the Doug Fir Lounge up in Portland is
                          a pretty great place and the Bigfoot picture looks like a unapologetic ripoff.

                          1. re: Chuckles the Clone

                            dive bars don't have websites..excellent point Chuck!

                            1. re: Beach Chick

                              Is this a * dive bar exception to the website rule? Obviously not in San Francisco.

                              *edited out tourist trap as it really is historic at least as much as Wolf House, no relation.

                              1. re: wolfe

                                always exceptions to the rule.
                                cool historic place wolfe.

                                1. re: Beach Chick

                                  Just selected as 1 of the 10 most legendary bars in the world on a list with Harry's, The White Horse and Raffles Long Bar by Virtual Tourist.com and still a dive.

                                2. re: wolfe

                                  Heinolds is as divey a bar as I have ever been to... maybe not worth a trip to Oakland, but it having a website definitely does not exclude it from being a dive.

                                  1. re: lamlex

                                    Next time you're at Heinolds, walk a bit east to Merchant's and
                                    see if your divey detector doesn't hit a new low: corner of 2nd and
                                    Franklin. Easy to miss even if you're standing right outside the
                                    front door. Not that that would be a bad thing. Famous for its "the
                                    bar is also the urinal" fixture.

                                    1. re: Chuckles the Clone

                                      i thought "opens at 6am" and "smells like urine" were two of the
                                      necessary ... and possibly sufficient ... criteria for true rather than
                                      faux [valencia/mission st] dives.

                                      1. re: psb

                                        PSB, go to Clooney's @ 25th and Valencia. There's nothing faux there. Report back if you survive. Also, have lunch and you are officially a diver..................

                                        1. re: NoeMan

                                          Clooney's is OK but the Dovre Club on Valencia between 25th & 26th is even better for a dive bar.

                                          1. re: NoeMan

                                            NMan: ok fair enough, Clooney's has pretty good "dive cred" ...
                                            certainly there is an exception for stuff in the Lower [sic] Mission
                                            and perhaps for these nameless [as far as i know] ethnic bars
                                            devoid of Yelpers and CHers.

                                            But as you know there are a lot of faux dives which "merely" are
                                            a little less than spic and span, but are still filled with a large number
                                            of yelpers with a history of good dental care ... i think it takes more
                                            than a $3.50 whiskey sour over a $6 one to make it a dive ...
                                            [e.g. say the Gold Cane on Haight, Zeitgeist, Tunnel Top, 101,
                                            Kennedy's Abysmal Indian Food House, Specs, Kiilowatt,
                                            Luck 13, El Rio aka "your dive"... dives? come on].

                                          2. re: psb

                                            I don't mean Merchant's smells like urine. It doesn't. What I mean is that sometime in the past, the bar owner decided to make things even more convenient for patrons and installed a bar fixture which is, in my experience, completely unique. It is no longer functioning, but the spirit lives on.

                                          3. re: Chuckles the Clone

                                            I haven't been to Heinolds, but Merchant's has been a true dive for a long time. They used to have music in there, too. I understand it's been bought by some younger types, glad to hear it's keeping its spirit.

                                            1. re: bbulkow

                                              Merchant's gets the crown in my book.

                              2. Little Shamrock at 9th and Lincoln, or Route 101 at 1332 Van Ness - a couple of the best neighborhood bars in the city.

                                1. There's a fine line these days between a dive bar and a hipster bar

                                  If you like music, last night I was at the Rite Spot, 17th and Folsom. Kind of packed, but Annie slings a mean manhattan, the music was peculiar (Sinatra's my way performed on a 3/8" flexi-fit), and it's loud but not *too* loud.

                                  And The Attic on 24th near Mission is a favorite.

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: bbulkow

                                    The Attic is much better after the last BART train leaves; and while cheap, the drinks are pretty abysmal.

                                    Rite Spot is great. It has the advantage of always looking closed.

                                    1. re: Windy

                                      As far as the drinks, I would call them passable. The actual alcohol selection is mid-tier and the mixology is simply average - but they will mix a drink - about like most dive bars. I certainly don't go there when I want a *good* drink. They don't seem to mind when I bring a big plate of nachos from el faralito. Pepper lemon drop and a plate of el faralito's finest - am I so crazy as to like the place?

                                      Speaking also of mixology, I finally had a question answered. What's a decent way to serve absinthe quickly in a crowded bar? The DNA lounge has a new, mini absinthe bar off to the side on the ground floor. They had the normal set (Kubler, Lucid, St George, and that one in a ceramic bottle). I ordered the Kubler, and the barkeep did an abbreviated version of the prague flaming sugar cube, which is arguably gauche for a swiss/german absinthe, then took a small bottle of water he had among the ice and did a passably slow louche. He was measuring ingredients - a measured shot, and a line on a glass - so got excellent proportions without a fountain fairly quickly. He then transferred from glass to plastic for bar consumption, and it was all good.

                                      BTW, everyone see the NYT's "36 hours in the mission" this weekend? They mention the Social Club as a favorite, and Doc's Clock got a mention, as well as dinner at Foreign Cinema, and late night at Baobab.

                                      1. re: Windy

                                        Yeah I have to agree. It's rare I ever notice a drink is really bad if it's got the right booze in it, but wow, these were bad. The interior reminds of a set from a high school play. Something about the walls don't seem permanent to me. Maybe it's the balconey and the raised booths? Either way the appeal has always been lost on me, and it gets far too crowded in there for it's own good.

                                        Too bad people started going inside Mission Bar again.

                                    2. An old/new dive bar is 15 Romolo (or Hotel Romolo) in North Beach. It was just taken over by this fantastic bartender who is fairly well-known around the Bay Area. It's a hidden gem, not super divey in the sense that that it could be easily jam-packed and the drinks are fun and unusual as well as great beer and your standards...but it breaks the mold in a great way!

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: Doodleboomer

                                        did he used to tend bar at Adolph's in North Beach back in the day?

                                        1. re: Beach Chick

                                          no, he bartended at Coco500 and at Cesar in Berkeley before that

                                      2. Dive is a relative term...Noc Noc in the lower Haight is my favorite bar (and nothing like I've seen anywhere else since I started going over 15 years ago) but I would recommend searching the dive bars on Yelp.com...

                                        1. "Dive" is sort of a loaded word with no actual concrete meaning. It can
                                          carry connotations of gentrification, classism, and, well, all those things
                                          Pulp mentioned a decade or so back: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uhUrN5...
                                          Personally, I try to avoid it.

                                          What are you -really- looking for? Stinky on the edge of danger (but
                                          not actually in it)? The Uptown, at 17th and Capp. You can sometimes
                                          see actual hookers through the large side window.

                                          Dark, plenty of local color, seems to have a bit of history, no sports
                                          or frat boys except on weekends? Specs, down the little alley off Columbus
                                          just downhill from Broadway.

                                          Grotty, tiny little place with a couple of trannies at the bar and your friends have
                                          almost certainly not been there? Old Rick's Gold Room, on Geary just west
                                          of Larkin.

                                          "Your Dive"? That would be El Rio, on Mission a block or so south of CChavez.

                                          If you're in Union Square, instead of touristic Lefty's head north on Stockton. When
                                          the street goes into the tunnel climb the (ooh! spooky!) stairway to the Tunnel Top
                                          bar. You're a half block east of Burritt Alley which sports a plaque commemorating
                                          the spot where Miles Archer was "done in". Dive-o-rama.

                                          Lots of people who are just like you only they look a trifle more dangerous and cool
                                          that you are, thereby making you feel accordingly cooler and more dangerous? I'd
                                          try Zeitgeist in the Mission or Edinburgh Castle in the Tenderloin. Zeitgeist has
                                          decent grilled bar food and the closest thing to an genuine Beirgarten I've been to
                                          this side of the Atlantic. At the Edinburgh, the bartender will run around the corner
                                          to the not-very-good fish and chips place and bring an order back for you. How
                                          divey is that!

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: Chuckles the Clone

                                            Thanks Chuckles.. ; )
                                            gosh, with all this fussing over dive bars you would think I was halfway through the doors at the Betty Ford Clinic..
                                            hitting up Bigfoot, Saloon and Lefty's..try and sit in for drums at Saloon.
                                            Boulevard,Tadich, McCormicks & Kuleto's (free) then off to Napa for 3 days.
                                            Should be a frigging blast!

                                          2. Mission Bar at 23rd and Mission. the sign just says "Bar".
                                            Dovre Club, 26th and Valencia
                                            both have pool tables.
                                            Dovre frequented by rowdy irish. Mission Bar by the unhip hipsters of the Mission.

                                            10 Replies
                                            1. re: mariacarmen

                                              In the Mission, my general favorites are Latin American Club (22nd near Valencia) and Uptown (17th & Capp). Uptown is pretty much the perfect dive and drinks are very cheap. I no longer have patience for Casanova--it's really fine in the afternoon, but at night it's awful (crowded with jerks and painfully loud).

                                              When I'm in the Tenderloin/Civic Center area, my absolute favorite dive bar is Hemlock Tavern. Go. I promise you will not be disappointed. There is no link in the database for Hemlock and it wouldn't let me create one. It's at 1131 Polk St. But sorry folks, it does have a website. Yes, hipsters can be found here, but it's also very dark and varying degrees of unsavory.

                                              A great and really relaxing place in the Haight with odd and wonderful decor is Noc Noc (557 Haight).

                                              Wild Side West (in Bernal Heights neighborhood, on Cortland) -- definitely divey and pretty much the best beer garden I've ever seen. Excellent mix of people. The bartenders tend to suck (slow moving, usually kind of plastered themselves).

                                              Our "local" is a decent dive called 3300 Club (Mission & 29th). Excellent bartenders--if Zoe is working, she is a martini drinker and makes a great one. If Owen is working (and he usually is), he does a fantastic job and is a wonderful raconteur.

                                              1. re: Atomica

                                                That is a fine, fine list. The Hemlock has music too, interesting bookings.

                                                1. re: Atomica

                                                  Is Wild Side West in BH a legacy of the one-time Wild Side West on Broadway in North Beach? The latter was one of the first identifiably lesbian bars (going back to the 70's), as opposed to truly mixed bars like The Anxious Asp.

                                                  1. re: Xiao Yang

                                                    Yes, and I never knew it had been in North Beach. Thanks for the tip. Here's a blurb from the Chron:

                                                    "This 1867 building was a grocery, then a child-care center. The joint is named for the film "Walk on the Wild Side" (Barbara Stanwyck as madam of a lesbian brothel), which premiered in 1961, a few months after Wild Side opened in Oakland. Around '64, the biz becomes Wild Side West when it moved across the Bay to Broadway. Moved to Bernal Heights in 1976, one of the pioneer lesbian business in the neighborhood."

                                                    1. re: Atomica

                                                      For the record, WSW was not on the sleazy end of Broadway, but up near the Broadway tunnel, (I think it was where Rosewood is now).

                                                    2. re: Xiao Yang

                                                      Almost certainly, based on that description.

                                                      One good test of a dive bar in this town is if there's anyone over 30.

                                                      1. re: Xiao Yang

                                                        While I don't know if there is a direct connection, I do know that Wild Side West in Bernal Heights is identified primarily as a lesbian bar. Shockingly, in such an LGBT-friendly city, Wild Side West and the Lexington Club (at 19th Street and Lexington, between Mission and Valencia) are currently the only two lesbian-identified bars in the City. There are other places, like Mecca, that have regular nights targeted to women. But for lesbian bars, there are only those two. Seems wrong, somehow. Of course, in this liberal, open-minded city, I've never encountered a bar where lesbians would actually be thrown out (or where anybody would be thrown out, assuming they weren't too rowdy). One of my favorite lesbian bartenders (and friends) has certainly worked at some of the diviest places in the City. :-)

                                                        1. re: weem

                                                          Wild Side West serves both as a lesbian bar and a Bernal Heights locals place.

                                                          1. re: Calvinist

                                                            "Wild Side West serves both as a lesbian bar and a Bernal Heights locals place."

                                                            Yes, very much so. And I don't want to belabor any points, but gay bars for men always outnumber the dyke bars in any city by a giant margin.

                                                          2. re: weem

                                                            Heh. I have been kicked out twice from the lexington. Once for reprimanding a bartender for blatantly/inconceivably ignoring a customer who was clearly waiting in line. The other was for not being "Lesbian PC" enough in a discussion/argument with another patron about men being present in the bar. Ridiculous.

                                                    3. Specs Bar ( Really cool place, with good vibe. make sure to order the "fancy" cheese plate : )

                                                      Bender's Bar ( cool bar, although I was disappointed with the fried pickles ;( but we weren't really there to eat ;)

                                                      Casanova Lounge: cool vibe, good jukebox, strong drinks and dark inside!

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: rdstargrl

                                                        My conversation with (sweet but very inexperienced) baby biker bartender at Bender's:

                                                        Me: I'll have a martini.
                                                        Him: What goes in a martini again?
                                                        Me: Mm . . . I'll have an Anchor Steam.

                                                      2. Clooney's aka Looney's at 25th & Valencia. Day shift only, too dangerous at night. That this hasn't been mentioned yet is because I may be the only regular with a computer !

                                                        1. I love Kilowatt on 16th near Valencia.

                                                          1. Gold Cane and Murios in Upper Haight. The Knockout and Kilowatt in the Mission.

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: lanersg

                                                              I'd classify The Knockout as hipster, and Kilowatt as Rock and Roll.

                                                              The Knockout has a very stylish website, although I don't go there much out of tribute to the old Odeon.

                                                            2. Go with the numbers: 3300 Club in the Mission, 540 Club in the Inner Richmond.

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: Kenois

                                                                540 Club was one of my favorites when I lived in the Inner Richmond.

                                                                540 Club
                                                                San Francisco, CA, San Francisco, CA

                                                              2. The Silver Spur on Irving around 21st.
                                                                Doc's Clock on Mission around 20th.

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: rhubarb

                                                                  Doc's Clock is more old and well worn then divey. Nice bar.

                                                                2. Try the Black Magic Voodoo Lounge. Corner of Van Ness and Lombard or the Route 101 at Van Ness and Bush. Both divey, and usually full of local color.

                                                                    1. re: Atomica

                                                                      so little time with so many great dives in SF..
                                                                      Went to a place in FW with an Irish/Indian theme called Kennedy's..very funky dive..held court at Lefty's and then closed down Buena Vista with too many Irish coffee's last night..not a dive but a great bar.
                                                                      I'm in Napa now but plan to be back in SF for the Christmas holidays and want to start working on the dive list.
                                                                      Thanks everyone!

                                                                      1. re: Beach Chick

                                                                        Just found this on a current thread. Not is SF but if you have a GPS device you might find Bolinas and Smiley's

                                                                        1. re: wolfe

                                                                          good point about finding Bolinas - if you see a sign for it, don't believe it.

                                                                          surely some post-hippie hacker has figured out how to mess with the GPS coordinates by now...

                                                                          1. re: hill food

                                                                            I thought of that but such a valuable talent could lead to a good job with the government. Oops, job, government, Bolinas, how silly of me.
                                                                            Or as Maynard G. Krebs would say "WORK".

                                                                    2. I always wanted to do a Tenderloin pub crawl that starts at 6 AM.

                                                                      and I don't get all the Tunnel Top refs, I lived across the street from '97 to 2000 when they were always out of everything, the floor stank, if you could sneak upstairs it was full of sleeper sofas and karaoke equipment and I suspected there was a secret stairway to the "Green Door" massage parlor downstairs - never found it. Now? some set designer's idea of hip trash.

                                                                      is the Motherlode still around? now that was creepy.

                                                                      go on Xmas Eve after burgers at the Civic Center Wendy's on Market or the nearest Happy Donut amidst the teenage hustlers, humming to yourself "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"

                                                                      Tom Waits would piss himself in envy.