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Help me find the right beer bars: I’m rather particular

My husband and I will be visiting SF this weekend and I wanted to get some good suggestions for beer bars that I might have missed hearing about. If we make it to The Haight I think we’ll definitely check out both Magnolia and Toronado. I’m looking for a place with a decent number of taps that’s going to have a good selection of microbrews that I can’t get here in Boston.

I do not care about the following; it’s fine if a bar has them, but it’s not what I’m looking for so it won’t impress me:

-Macro brews (that’s a given)
-Awesome beer from the East Coast (I can get that at home)

I’ve looked at the list from St. Vincent and it’s definitely along the lines of what I’m looking for, so any suggestions for similar lists would be great.

Thanks a lot!

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  1. I think Toronado and City Beer are tops for those criteria. Maybe Rogue.


    Magnolia's beers usually aren't all that exciting unless like me you're a big fan of hand pumps, of which they have five. Though even then I've usually found one that was a standout and the others were just meh by comparison.


    3 Replies
    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      We are fans of English Bitters and cask beer in general, so that's why Magnolia looks particularly interesting to me. But based on what you and others are saying, I won't feel too bad if we don't make it there.

      Thanks for reminding me about Rogue; it's not too far from where we're staying.

      1. re: PiBerry

        If you do go to Magnolia, I suggest starting with little tasters of all the hand-pumped beers. If you like that style, it's definitely worth a detour.

        1. re: PiBerry

          It's pretty hard to find a good cask-conditioned English bitter in SF. I'll definitely check it out!

        1. Here are my tasting notes to a beer crawl

          I did not enjoy Magnolia, I would suggest Social Kitchen instead.

          Many of our better beers are globally distributed. The right place to send you is Portland, where there are a large number of beers that are not distributed to the east coast.

          And make sure you try Linden St somewhere. I'm very happy with what they're doing, not super-hoppy --- good and interesting balance --- and they're new enough that they haven't been distributed much.

          3 Replies
          1. re: bbulkow

            I have hit the "recommend" button and will also chime in with a seconding of Linden Street appreciation. I see you're looking to stick in SF, so here's a couple of SF bars that serve Linden along with the kind they had last time I was in:

            Barbacco (Common Lager)
            House of Shields (Black Lager)

            If you do by some chance make it back over to Oakland, the new Tribune Tavern is offering cask-conditioned Common Lager and it's outstanding. Right at 12th Street so BART is close too.

            1. re: bbulkow

              The notes in your beer crawl don't make we want to go to any of those places!

              I don't find Linden Street's beers terribly interesting. Their black lager is food-friendly but I wouldn't go out of my way to drink it.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                On the whole, I have to agree about Linden Street's stuff - I quite like their Biere de Tartine (brewed with Tartine's bread yeast), and flat-out love the variation with apricots, but find much of the other stuff somewhat dull. As far as black lagers go, I don't think anyone can touch Moonlight's Death and Taxes.

            2. Not in SF, but just over the Bay Bridge in Oakland - Beer Revolution and its next-door neighbor offshoot, Olde Depot both have a large proportion of their taps (40-something at Rev, 30-something at Depot) devoted to West Coast (usually NorCal) breweries. The atmosphere at Beer Rev can most charitably be described as "dive bar for beer nerds", but if you're contemplating a Toronado stopover, then obviously (lack of) decor won't dissuade you! Olde Depot's only been open a few months, and is much shinier-new as a result. They've also got a vegan kitchen, if that's your thing - it's most certainly not mine, but to each their own.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Spatlese

                I have been to Beer Revolution! I kinda dug the atmosphere, especially after a couple beers ;)

                We came out last year and only really did Berkeley and Oakland, but this time we're trying to stay within SF.

                1. re: PiBerry

                  If you're willing to come to Oakland, Commonwealth has a very locally focused tap list (plus a couple British beers) and a hand pump.

              2. The new tap room at Speakeasy is nice, but it's kind of in the middle of nowhere, and you'd be limited to their brews, which are good, but available elsewhere in the area.

                1. These are most of my local favorites, do you get them on tap at home?

                  Bear Republic
                  Mad River
                  North Coast
                  Russian River

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    The only one I know I can get on tap around here is Lagunitas. I know we get Bear Republic in bottles.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      I'll give a +1 for Drake's, Moonlight, North Coast, and Russian River. I would add Firestone Walker (not exactly local, but close enough, I think) as another brewery to look for, if their beers aren't available on the East Coast.

                      I think Linden Street's beer are worth checking out while you're here, and if you like the English styles, look for Dying Vines beers, which are brewed at Linden Street. Deez Mild and Old Brick Bitter in particular.

                    2. If you go to St. Vincent you might as well make a crawl out it and tack on Pi Bar and Rosamunde, both of which have good CA-heavy tap lists. If you head back towards 16th on Mission the Sycamore will also have a couple of good local offerings.

                      Although, in my opinion, nothing beats Beer Rev. Also if you find Pacific Brewing Lab Squid Ink anywhere, try it!

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: oniontears

                        Actually, we did Monk's Kettle, Abbott's Cellar and St. Vincent in one night. A bit of a walk, but not bad when you could use a fresh air break from all that beer. I love all those places, but see them as less focused on West Coast-only beers, and more on interesting and hard to find selections nation- and world-wide.

                        I just don't think any place in SF is going to have the unique, number and often highly localized taps of Beer Revolution. I love City Beer, but I still think of it as a good place to get a mix of bottles and tap. Toronado is the only one close. If you are a real beer geek, Toronado is almost required just to say you have been there.

                        Local-wise, I think you need to seek out Russian River and Moonlight, only because they don't get out of CA that often (RR) or at all (Moonlight), and the styles are pretty amazing. Also, as a unique SF brewer, Almanac is simply fantastic and should be sought out (their pale ale and saison are all over the place on tap right now, but I would suggest breaking your no bottle rule and seek out one of their seasonal specials). But what else to seek out would depend upon your beer preferences. Personally, I still don't think any East Coast maker or nationally available brewer has a West Coast-style IPA on par with Ballast Point Sculpin or, or course, RR Pliny the Elder (thought, aren't you getting Pliny now in Boston?). If IPAs aren't your thing, I agree that the new wave of diferent lagers from Linden Street and others are of interest and can be food-friendly.

                      2. City Beer should be on your list for sure. They have a small selection of handles, but there is almost always something rare or notable on draft that you don't normally see. They also have a huge selection of bottles that you can pay $2 corkage to consume on premises. It's near Una Pizza Napoletana, which is another plus.

                        I notice nobody mentioned Zeitgeist, but to me that is the best SF beer bar for its combination of beer and atmosphere. Great beer selection, heavy on the locals, and a festive outdoor beer garden with long tables and lots of colorful folks. Since it's outdoors it doesn't get too loud, and there's a lot less attitude than you'll sometimes get at Toronado. It's a short walk from Toronado (about 15-20 minutes) so is definitely worth your time. From there you can walk to tons of great food places in the Mission.

                        Toronado is a place that you should definitely go since it's one of the few places in the city you'll reliably find certain beers (Russian River) on draft. That said, I don't always enjoy going there. It can be extremely loud, extremely crowded, and some of the bartenders take delight in being rude jerks (but not all, some of their bartenders are very nice and helpful). I usually find I'm good for a max of 2 beers there before I want to split.

                        Magnolia makes some good beers, but their house style is kind of specific. Very, very British. I used to go there any time I visited, but now that I live here I haven't gone once.

                        Lastly I think the Rogue Public House in North Beach is worth a visit. They have an enormous selection of their own beers, including many that you'll never find in a bottle, plus other left coast beers. Not every beer there is a winner, but some of them are delicious.

                        7 Replies
                        1. re: Josh

                          My sister-in-law had suggested Zeitgeist, but the yelp reviews all focused on the Bloody Marys so I figured it might not be anything special beer-wise. I just took a look at what's on their website, and based on that it definitely looks like it's worth a visit.

                          1. re: PiBerry

                            Yelp is not very helpful.

                            The focus of Zeitgeist is beer (and burgers). It becomes a Scene on a sunny afternoon like today. They have a patio with 20-ish full size picknick tables, as well as some indoor space, but the best idea is to colonize a table with a bunch of your close friends and drink steadily through the afternoon. What's great about Z besides the atmosphere is the beer is _FRESH_ when the place is crowded. They do so much beer that they're tapping new kegs constantly.

                            I don't recommend it to tourists much because it's a neighborhood place to really relax and have a beer. It's not the kind of place you should stop in to have a quick few, taste the locals, and get out.

                            1. re: bbulkow

                              The beer is fresh at Zeitgeist. The Scene is not. The Scene is utterly ridiculous and as An Outsider I will never again attempt to venture into it. If you would like to go there to taste the locals, you should be warned that most are crusty, sinewy, and a little bland. Cannot recommend.

                              1. re: lakemerritter

                                Great description. You won't make friends there. BYOS.

                          2. re: Josh

                            City Beer has expanded and has a lot more taps.

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              I go to City Beer frequently. They have 15 handles. To me that's a small selection, especially compared with the bigger beer bars like Toronado and Zeitgeist.

                              1. re: Josh

                                Three times as many as they used to have but yeah, Toronado and Zeitgeist have over 40.

                          3. Amsterdam on Geary has about 20 beers on tap and about 200 in bottles. Correction — about 350, according to their website.

                            1. Another important consideration concerning comfort is service and attitude. For this reason, I really like Monk's Kettle and Rogue, as well as brewpubs like 21st Amendment, Magnolia, and others like them. I find that the hostile attitude of some places that seem to wish they were biker bars can really ruin the enjoyment of great beers.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Tripeler

                                One man's comfort is another man's obsequity.

                              2. Zeitgeist
                                Social Kitchen
                                Pi bar
                                Monks Kettle
                                and Ill throw this out there: Boxing room

                                  1. re: hungree

                                    Yes, thanks for getting this thread going, Piberry. I've been meaning to do better beer research for the SO and keep getting distracted by food :-).

                                    On our recent trips, we've checked out Monk's Kettle, Toronado, Magnolia, House of Shields and City Beer plus he's been to the newer place the Monk's Kettle folks opened, name escapes me.

                                    I liked Toronado the best of that diverse lot. We went during the day, though, and it was not crowded or loud, plus our 'tender couldn't have been nicer to non-beery-me, directing me to a cider and a sour that were both great. Uber-cheap drinking during daylight hours too which didn't hurt.

                                    Have a great time and do report back on your adventures!

                                    1. re: grayelf

                                      Why does everyone skip Social Kitchen and go to Magnolia? SK has better beer and better food.

                                      1. re: bbulkow

                                        Magnolia's one of the few places around here that does British-style hand-pumped ale, and I'll go out of my way to drink that. The food has gone up and down as chefs have come and gone.

                                        1. re: bbulkow

                                          I would say SK and Magnolia's beers are equally good. Both offer competently made beer, but I wouldn't really go out of my way for either.

                                          1. re: bbulkow

                                            I feel like a bit of a maroon because somehow I have not cottoned onto the existence of Social Kitchen previously. Will have a look for sure!

                                          2. re: grayelf

                                            I have to say, when I have been able to do so, spending an afternoon at Toronado is pretty fantastic.

                                        2. You should look at The Dark Horse Inn on Geneva. They pour a lot of big west coast brews. You can find what they are pouring now on http://www.beermenus.com, a really good website that shows current beer lists for lots of places in SF (and other cities.)

                                          1. Thanks for the suggestions everyone! Last night we stopped at Rogue and had two of their beers; a dry hopped red which was excellent and some kind of special rye which was good but I didn't like as much as some other rye beers.

                                            Today we swung by Pi bar where I had a Death and Taxes. It was good, but not my favorite style.