The Happiest Hours

We do the legwork to find you 30 of the most satisfying places to sip and snack.

It's not easy picking San Francisco's 50 best happy hours, but somebody had to do it. After consulting experts in the field; talking to hundreds of bartenders; visiting a variety of saloons, pubs, cocktail lounges, and dive bars; and scouring the vaunted Internet, 76 establishments were selected based on bargain pricing, snack selection, and (to a lesser extent) general ambience and geographical location. After further meditation, these were whittled down to the 50 that will appear in our new Happy Hour phone app (see sidebar). Of these, 30 of the finest are listed below in print.

In the course of our research, we ate too much, drank a lot, made some friends, composed a haiku, pounded the asphalt from the Ferry Building to the Sunset District and many points in between, and in at least one case were threatened with arrest and imprisonment (a San Francisco bar story for later). Here's hoping the same happens to you.

Blue Fin Sushi
1814 Clement (at 19th Ave.), 387-2441, www.bluefinsushisf.com
4–7 p.m. daily

This maroon-and-midnight-blue lounge is one of the Richmond's sleeker watering holes, with its amber box lighting, planked-wood objets d'art, red globe lanterns, and marble-topped bar. You can nosh on chicken yakitori, grilled eggplant, spring rolls, and fried peppers for $3 per order during happy hour. $4 will fetch you smoked salmon, crab Rangoon, Buffalo wings, or calamari, and even the $4 wells are expertly crafted (the old-fashioned with orange bitters is a must). Domestic drafts (Anchor, Fat Tire, and Lagunitas IPA among them) are $3 per pint, so drink up.

Beer and arrow at Epic Roasthouse.
Matthew Stafford
Beer and arrow at Epic Roasthouse.
Join the party at El Rio.
Matthew Stafford
Join the party at El Rio.
A Manhattan at Blowfish.
Eartha Goodwin
A Manhattan at Blowfish.
Shaking things up, Alembic style.
Matthew Stafford
Shaking things up, Alembic style.
Tonga Room’s transcendent tiki.
Matthew Stafford
Tonga Room’s transcendent tiki.
Martini and Marilyn at Joe DiMaggio’s.
Matthew Stafford
Martini and Marilyn at Joe DiMaggio’s.
Tall-ceilinged darkness at the Ambassador.
Eartha Goodwin
Tall-ceilinged darkness at the Ambassador.

The Cellar
685 Sutter (at Taylor), 441-5678, www.cellarsf.com
5–9 p.m. Mon.–Fri.
This subterranean retreat (vaulted brick ceiling and all) features a pool table, Ms. Pac-Man, a sparkly red bar, a dancefloor with three disco balls, and impressive happy hour deals that change with the day of the week. Monday features $3 beers, well drinks, and pizzas; Tuesday, $1 tacos and $3 Coronas and tequila shots; Wednesday, $1 wells (!), $3 beers, and miniature corn dogs; Thursday, $4 sliders and $6 PBR buckets; and Friday, $4 chili cheese nachos and $6 Jack Daniel's shots. DJs provide throbbing postwork rhythms.

Hyde Street Seafood House and Raw Bar
1509 Hyde (at Jackson), 931-3474, www.hydestseafoodhouse.com
5–7 p.m. daily
A glistening platter of oysters on the half shell, a glass of Anchor Steam, and a sidewalk table a few feet from the Hyde Street cable car line: What better way to celebrate the city as it greets a new evening? A dozen oysters are just $12 during happy hour at this friendly Russian Hill bistro, and beer is only $2.50 per pint, so sip, slurp, and relax to the thrum of the cable.

Kyo-Ya
2 New Montgomery (at Market, in the Palace Hotel), 546-5090, www.kyo-ya-restaurant.com
5–7 p.m. Mon.–Fri.

For the price of a $3 Sapporo, you can relax in the sumptuous lounge of the city's most elegant Japanese restaurant, snacking on complimentary spring rolls, grilled chicken, and edamame or selections from the $3 happy hour sushi cart. (The 10-piece $20 sushi combo is a great deal, too.) Cocktail specials ($6) include lychee and Asian pear martinis and a refreshing sake mojito. With its comfy armchairs, fresh flowers, artsy decor, and a flatscreen TV, this is a friendly, tranquil place to catch the game in well-fed comfort.

McCormick and Kuleto's
900 Northpoint (at Larkin, in Ghirardelli Square), 929-1730, www.mccormickandkuletos.com
3-6 p.m. Mon.-Fri.
The north bay vistas are lovely at this Pat Kuleto–designed Ghirardelli Square hangout, where the cocktails are impeccable and the happy hour menu is unrivaled. Fried-chicken-and-biscuit sliders with jalapeño-honey mayo are $1.95. A terrific half-pound cheeseburger with a tangle of tasty fries is $2.95. $3.95 will fetch you pork wontons, chicken wings, or stuffed jalapeño poppers, and for an extra buck, there are steamed or fried clams, shrimp ceviche, and a trio of miniature hot dogs. The $7 cocktails include mojitos, melontinis, and passionfruit cosmos.

Nook
1500 Hyde (at Jackson), 447-4100, www.cafenook.com
5–7 p.m. daily
Nook is a classic cozy San Francisco coffeehouse, a converted Victorian in gold and burgundy with big windows, fresh flowers, a warm and groovy atmosphere, and an enviable location at the convergence of two cable car lines on the western slopes of Russian Hill. It's pleasant indeed to sit out on one of the sidewalk tables during happy hour, sipping a $1.50 PBR or $3 glass of wine while munching on one of the $6 gourmet pita pizzas (shrimp; pesto; ham, mango, and pineapple; or our favorite, grape, apple, gorgonzola, and fontina). There are delicious $4 peach, ginger, and cranberry sake cocktails, too.

Roots Restaurant
466 Bush (at Grant, in the Orchard Hotel), 659-0349, www.therootsrestaurant.com
4–7 p.m. daily
During happy hour, the Orchard Hotel's all-organic restaurant offers a free dinner appetizer with the purchase of a glass of wine or specialty cocktail. Among the snacking options are farmers' market soup; hand-cut garlic frites with Parmesan and truffle oil; and a bountiful salad of fennel, fingerling potatoes, house-made pickles, and lots of creamy smoked trout. Cocktails cost $10 to $14; choose from among a strawberry mojito, cucumber gimlet, Ginger Leaf with tequila, and a Zentini (Skyy Passion vodka with green tea liqueur). Healthful and happy are not mutually exclusive.

Charanga
2351 Mission (at 19th St.), 282-1813, www.charangasf.com
4–7 p.m. daily
Charanga's peach-apple-lemon sangria is tasty, potent, and refreshing, especially at happy hour, when it costs only $2 a glass and comes with crisp, delicate chips and a light, fresh salsa. Other attractions include $3 beers (among them Anchor Steam, Peru's Cusqueña, and Costa Rica's Imperial) and $5 fish tacos, chicken fajitas, and one of the city's finer Cuban sandwiches. The place itself is hip yet friendly, with colorful folklorico, sidewalk seating, and a snug six-seat wine bar.

El Rio
3158 Mission (at Precita), 282-3325, www.elriosf.com
5–9 p.m. Tue.-Fri., 1–3 p.m. Sat.-Sun.
Three bucks for wells and drafts and a $5 16-ounce Bloody Mary are impressive enough, but what makes El Rio a fantastic happy hour option is its free Friday oyster feeds and Friday and Sunday barbecues. Head out to the lovely back patio with its arbors, palm trees, picnic tables, and Christmas lights, and join the party. The chicken is on the barbecue, the oyster man is a-shucking, and the inclusive, all-ages crowd is laughing, drinking, and listening to the music: a very San Francisco canvas.

Tsunami Mission Bay
301 King (entrance at Berry and Fourth St.), 284-0111, www.dajanigroup.net
5–8 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 6–9p.m. Sat.
Tsunami offers a different daily happy hour half-off sushi special: spider or tekka (Monday), hamachi or tempura shrimp (Tuesday), California or rock 'n' roll (Wednesday), New York or spicy tuna (Thursday), California or spider (Friday), and hand rolls (Saturday). Monday through Friday, all sake bottles are half off, 20-ounce Sapporos are $5, and the $5 cocktail of the day just might be the Spring Green (lime, chartreuse, and one of the bar's four dozen premium gins, up). On Saturday, the daily cocktail is only $4, or opt for the half-off sake or an 11-ounce Suntory Premium Malt for $4. Attractive brick, glass, and blond-wood setting.

Palio d'Asti
640 Sacramento (at Montgomery), 395-9800, www.paliodasti.com
4–7 p.m. Mon.–Fri.
Lots of places offer pizza at happy hour, but none of them are as delicious and sophisticated as Palio d'Asti's creations. These thin-crusted, top-quality pies burst with hot, bubbly flavor: shaved asparagus, thyme, and fontina Val D'Aosta; wild mushrooms with arugula and asiago; fennel sausage, fire-roasted peppers, and smoked mozzarella; or the Capricciosa, a heady blend of artichoke hearts, capers, and prosciutto. The price is right, too: free with the purchase of two drinks. Eight beers ($6 each), 17 wines by the glass ($8-$16), and several house cocktails ($7-$9) present plenty of possibilities.

Sugar Lounge
377 Hayes (at Gough), 255-7144
4:30–7:30 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 4:30–11:30 p.m. Sun.
There's more to Sugar than the candy dishes of complimentary Hershey's Kisses, miniature Mr. Goodbars, and other sweet treats. A free buffet of lumpia, crudités, chips and salsa, veggie tempura, chicken tenders, and whatever else strikes the chef's fancy is available during the venue's mellow happy hour. What's more, the potent well drinks are $3; there's an intimate first-come, first-served private lounge in back; and the shadowy black-and-red ambience is casually cool and elegant.

5A5 Steak Lounge
244 Jackson (at Front), 989-2539, www.5a5stk.com
5–7:30 p.m. Mon.-Fri.
San Francisco's newest moving-and-shaking power spot is all dark wood, dramatic lighting, and sensually curvy lounge seating, but what we like most is its 5@5 happy hour. Opt for the $4 shishito peppers, the $5 chicken yakitori, the $2.50 sashimi shooters (the oyster with watermelon and shiso is a good choice), or one of the daily specials: $2 ceviche shooters (Monday), $2 beef kebabs with aioli (Tuesday), $1 oysters (Wednesday and Thursday), or $2 lobster dumplings (Friday). Beer, wine, champagne, and well drinks are $5, and among the specialty cocktails are mango mojitos, pomegranate fizzes, and ginger sidecars.

Blowfish Sushi to Die For
2170 Bryant (at 20th St.), 285-3848, www.blowfishsushi.com
5–7 p.m. Mon.–Fri.
The Mission's grooviest sushi joint serves up delectable noshing options for a mere $3 apiece during happy hour: crisp chicken potstickers, irresistible pistachio tempura, and half a dozen top-quality hand rolls (the spicy salmon is particularly enticing). Drafts and well drinks are also $3, as are several skillfully prepared sake cocktails. The anime-tastic setting in concrete, pale wood, and blood-red wainscoting is striking indeed.

The Alembic
1725 Haight (at Cole), 666-0822, www.alembicbar.com
4–6 p.m. Mon.–Fri.
This cool, lively Upper Haight rendezvous is best known for its dazzling selection of whiskeys and carefully crafted cocktails, but at happy hour the focus shifts to its menu of upscale bar bites, all of them half price. Pickled quail eggs ($1), marinated olives ($1.50), honey-cumin-glazed nuts ($2), shishito peppers with smoked salt ($2.50), jerk-spiced duck hearts with pickled pineapple ($2.50), and a platter of four artisan cheeses ($7.50) are a few of the munching possibilities available. The Manhattans and mint juleps are worth investigating as well.

El Toro Taqueria
598 Valencia (at 17th St.), 431-3351, www.panchovillasf.com/page/o5x2/El_Toro.html
3–5 p.m. Mon.–Fri.
Made-to-order tacos and a bottle of beer: What more do you need at the end of the workday? Especially when the beer is $2 and the tacos are a buck apiece. El Toro's stuffing options are equally generous: steak, carnitas, tofu, barbecued pork, or grilled or spicy chicken, with mild or spicy salsa and black, pinto, or refried beans. Beer choices include Pacifico, Modelo, and Corona, and to accompany your complimentary chips, there are eight kinds of salsa and two varieties of fire-roasted chiles. ¡Fantástico!

Mojito
1337 Grant (at Green), 398-1120, www.mojitosf.com
5–7 p.m. daily
The tall, refreshing $5 mojito is of course the star of happy hour, but the lusty $1 guacamole-laced tacos in steak, pork, or chicken are mighty tasty as well. If you aren't in a mojito mood, there's Tecate for $2 and well drinks for $4. This venerable North Beach saloon is all weathered wood with splashes of colorful artwork, and live flamenco is performed on the tiny stage every Saturday from 5 to 7 p.m.

Hing Lung Restaurant
674 Broadway (at Stockton), 398-8838
3–6 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 4–6 p.m. Sat.–Sun.
Chinatown's premier jook house offers an amazing (and amazingly substantial) 56 dishes at only $3 apiece during its daily happy hour. In addition to the many varieties of rice porridge, there's shrimp dumpling soup, lemongrass beef, tripe with ginger, anchovy omelet, fried bitter melon, squid with spicy salt, pork belly with broccoli, fried pumpkin cake, and on and on. For an extra buck, you can get Hong Kong–style milk tea; papaya smoothies are $1.50, while low-priced bottled beers are also available. Don't forget the Chinese herb Jell-O ($2.50) for dessert.

Umami
2909 Webster (at Filbert), 346-3431, www.umamisf.com
5:30–7 p.m. daily
Umami's cool retro brick-backed laminated-burl bar is one of Cow Hollow's comfier sipping venues, and at "Sumo Hour," the mood is fun and festive. Nibble on edamame hummus ($4); chicken-shiitake potstickers ($5); corn, scallion, and asparagus tempura ($6); Wagyu sliders with shallot aioli ($8); or nine varieties of sushi rolls, including salmon skin, spicy scallop, and tempura shrimp. In addition, all wine bottles ($32 to $225) are half off at happy hour, so you can enjoy that Krug Grand Cuvée for a mere $112.50. There's a nice (nondiscounted) beer, sake, and cocktail selection too.

Blur
1121 Polk (at Post), 567-1918, www.blursf.com
4–6 p.m. daily
The great thing about Blur's two-for-one happy hour deal is that it's two of anything for the price of one, not just cheap-ass well drinks or watery drafts. That means double your Hennessys, Veuve Clicquots, and Johnnie Walker Greens at half the price (not to mention those $3 beers and cocktails). This hip little red-plush saloon also offers discount pizzas and chicken wings to accompany your two-fer tippling.

Amarena
2162 Larkin (at Green), 447-0441, www.amarenarestaurant.com
6–9:30 p.m. Thu.
Once a week, Amarena sets up a marvelous complimentary buffet of Italian comfort food in its tiny bar area. Spring greens; penne with tomato sauce; cheesy focaccia; green lasagna with pesto; rice with zucchini, carrots, and mozzarella — it's all hearty and delicious. The wine bar features seven reds, five whites, and two sparklers for $7 to $15 per glass, alongside Peroni for $7 and a glass of sangria for $9. With its wine racks, sponged peach walls, and hardwood floors, the place is reminiscent of a friendly Tuscan hangout.

Kennedy's Irish Pub and Curry House
1040 Columbus (at Chestnut), 441-8855, www.kennedyscurry.com
5–7 p.m. and 11–11:30 p.m. daily
This low-slung shack in North Beach features an astounding 42 beers on tap, and during happy hour thirsty suds-lovers can enjoy two of them for the price of one. In addition to a dozen California microbrews, there are several robust Belgians and a fine selection of British ales, and did we mention the $2 pints of Guinness? Two pool tables, three foosball tables, eight flatscreen TVs, and an attached Indian restaurant offer something for everyone.

Maya
303 Second St. (at Folsom), 543-2928, www.mayasf.com
4:30–10 p.m. Tue.–Sat., 4:30–9 p.m. Sun.–Mon.
One of the city's classiest Mexican restaurants serves free botanas (appetizers) until 7 p.m. and a variety of treats until closing time, including high-end $2 tacos with your choice of snapper, carnitas, carne asada, cactus, or pork belly with ancho-habanero salsa. Sipping options include $3 wells, house wines, sangria, Cuba Libres, four types of caipirinha, and eight varieties of mojito, while margaritas in guava, mango, hibiscus, tamarind, and pomelo will run you $5 apiece. The handsome earth-toned bar is a fun place to unwind with a group of friends.

Tonga Room
950 Mason (at California, in the Fairmont Hotel), 772-5278, www.tongaroom.com
5–7 p.m. Wed.–Fri.
The Fairmont's exuberant, excessive tiki bar lays out an all-you-can-eat $10 buffet of quasi-island delicacies, some good, some not so much: spring rolls, won-tons, crudités, chow mein, cheese and crackers, and so on. The real reason to come here is for the delectable, elaborate umbrella-festooned cocktails and the Jungle Cruise ambience that goes with them: the palm fronds, totem poles, thatched-roof booths, even thunder-and-lightning tropical downpours.

Joe DiMaggio's
601 Union (at Stockton), 421-5633, www.joedimaggiosrestaurant.com
3–7 p.m.
>This dark, classy, Rat Pack-y hangout offers up five antipasti, five pizzas, and five classic cocktails at $5 apiece during happy hour. Nothing could be swankier than enjoying an icy martini and a seafood-veggie fritto misto amid all that burnished mahogany, burgundy drapes, and Joltin' Joe memorabilia. Other snacks include calzones, Caesar salad, and fava bean bruschette. And the Lemon Drop is pretty scrumptious, too.

Epic Roasthouse
369 Embarcadero (at Harrison), 369-9955, www.epicroasthousesf.com
3–6:30 p.m. Mon.–Fri.
The waterfront views are lovely from Epic's Quiver Bar (named for the Cupid's Span sculpture just outside), but the happy hour deals are pretty sweet, too — potato curls with herbs de Provence, fleur de sel, and arugula pesto ($3); smoked chicken drummettes with corn relish ($5); and soft, house-made breadsticks ($3). Every day there's a different premium bottled beer for $3, and house wines and cocktails are $5. Fun, festive atmosphere with comfortable chairs, industrial-chic accents, and a view of the Bay Bridge through the floor-to-ceiling windows.

City Tavern
3200 Fillmore (at Greenwich), 567-0918, www.themenupage.com/citytavern.html
3–7 p.m. Mon.–Fri.
The best place to get a happy hour sip and nibble in Cow Hollow's Bermuda Triangle is City Tavern, where you can enjoy a generous cheeseburger, pizza, Caesar salad, chicken wings, or a splendid helping of pasta pomodoro for a mere $2. To wash it down, there's $2 draft Fat Tire, Trumer Pils, Gordon Biersch, and Hoegaarden, and for an extra dollar you can have a glass of the house wine or a shot of Svedka vodka in a variety of fruity flavors. Sunny, airy, and comfortably casual, this is a popular place to end the workday or kick off the evening.

Uva Enoteca
568 Haight (at Steiner), 829-2024, www.uvaenoteca.com
5–6:30 p.m. Sun.–Thu.
This Lower Haight storefront is a trim, tidy hangout with exposed brick, abstract art, and an attractive marble-topped wine bar where you can enjoy a Peroni for a buck-fifty and a few choice nibbles during happy hour: orange lentils with herbs and croutons ($4), cacio e pepe pasta ($8), or cracker-thin pizza topped with mozzarella and Zoe's artisan salami ($6). A glass of the house red is $4, or opt for the Ultra cocktail ($4), blond beer with ginger beer, lime, lemongrass, and tarragon.

Acme Burgerhaus
559 Divisadero (at Hayes), 346-3212
3–10 p.m. daily
There's nothing like a thick, juicy burger at the end of the working day (especially if it has cilantro, feta, pine nuts, or sumak mixed in), and Acme's gourmet creations fit the bill. They're especially fulfilling with tall, cold glasses of suds, and during happy hour you can get a pint of Anchor, Sierra Nevada, Blue Moon, Fat Tire, or 21st Amendment IPA for only $1.95. The burgers are made from chicken, turkey, lamb, buffalo, ostrich, or Niman Ranch beef, and might come accented with mint, allspice, Italian sausage, sun-dried tomatoes, or kalamata olives. The bright-red, pale-green, and dark-chocolate setting is casual, the mood brisk and professional.

The Ambassador
673 Geary (at Leavenworth), 563-8192, www.ambassador415.com
6 p.m.–midnight Tue.
Beyond the unremarkable Tenderloin threshold is a fabulous tall-ceilinged bar with high-backed leather booths and candles glowing in the darkness. But the $2 Tuesday happy hour would be a bargain in any setting, with sliders, bruschette, Tater Tots, chicken wings, quesadillas, Caesar salad, and something called a soup'wich available for a mere two hundred pennies. Well drinks are also $2, as are 10 bottled beers and draft Anchor, Stella, Fat Tire, and Blue Moon. The clientele is stylish yet boisterous.

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