Top 50 Dive Bars in San Francisco

In our vision of Hell, every surface is sticky and every table needs a shim.

Funny how that applies to more than a few dive bars, which we also consider to be the next best thing to paradise.

In spite of the massive changes the 21st century has wrought on San Francisco, there remains a bright constellation of grimy, crusty joints with inches-thick layers of character, like the tree rings of a sequoia that survived one fire after another. As with the Supreme Court’s you-know-it-when-you-see-it definition of pornography, the exact parameters of what constitutes a dive are contingent and fuzzy. Some are like de facto private clubs, while others serve $12 craft cocktails to keep the lights on. But many are barely known outside their immediate neighborhoods.

If you want standardization, predictability, and good lighting, go to Starbucks. If you want random adventure, affably cantankerous service, and (mostly) cheap beer, wade into S.F.’s glorious ecosystem of dives. To help you — and, maybe, to help them — we offer the 50 that feel the truest to the spirit of this city, and whose loss we would feel the hardest.

Aunt Charlie’s
133 Turk St.

One of only two gay bars left in the once-queer-as-hell Tenderloin, Aunt Charlie’s is also a narrow, carpeted dive where neighborhood regulars gather daily to drink powerful drinks at we-will-not-be-undersold prices. That its few tables are sometimes reserved tickles us to no end, but a shout-out to DJ Bus Station John’s long-running Thursday night party full of disco rarities and Hi-NRG obscurities, The Tubesteak Connection, is in order. Keep your phones in your pockets, boys, lest ye be shamed for that telltale blue glow. On this unlovely block of Turk Street, a perennial blossoms.

The Ave Bar
1607 Ocean Ave.

The Ave is a dive bar with good taste and a much-needed landing spot for locals. Firefighters from the station down Ocean Avenue frequent the joint, as do myriad Ingleside neighbors. A stack of the local paper, The Ingleside-Excelsior Light, is often found on the corner of the bar. But The Ave has more than just great local color; it’s also got a craft beer menu that’s constantly changing, from Hop Dogma to Karl Strauss, Laughing Monk and more, its selection hails from up and down the coast. That’s how The Ave makes sure it keeps up with the times, even if you’re nursing drinks in a neighborhood full of long-time San Franciscans.

El Rio
3158 Mission St.
La Lengua/Mission

“Your Dive” remains the gold standard for day-drinking in the Mission — or anywhere, really. El Rio’s tiered backyard makes it the ultimate place to see and be seen while shaking your moneymaker and maybe eating free oysters on Fridays. Yes, we love the margaritas to death, but a Tecate and lime under the benevolent gaze of Carmen Miranda is the best way to party at Hard French, Daytime Realness, or Mango. And El Rio’s Universal Toilet and Galactic Urinal pioneered single-use, non-gender-specific bathrooms before that was on the national radar. We love them so much we don’t even mind queuing behind a big group of people only waiting to do blow.

Gino & Carlo Cocktail Lounge
548 Green St.
North Beach

When Carol Doda, the topless dancer famous for her silicone-injected 44DDs, died in late 2015, everyone knew where to go to hear the best stories of her toasty good times ­— Gino & Carlo’s. As any good neighborhood dive should be, its bartenders and bar-stool-fixed patrons were a fountain of history. Not just about Doda, but about all the comings and goings of their beloved home. The walls are lined with Herb Caen clippings and photos of larger-than-life patrons past, like Tony Bennett. To knock back whiskey neat at Gino & Carlo’s, then, is to become part of that (drunken) history.

Gold Dust Lounge
165 Jefferson St.
Fisherman’s Wharf

Gold Dust has faced the displacement reaper and survived. San Franciscans have cemented drunken stories at Gold Dust since 1933, but in 2012 its Union Square landlords gave it the boot for a bland lingerie store. All was not lost, however, as an upswell of — sober? drunk? — public support helped the long-time dive find a new home in Fisherman’s Wharf. On the downside, to visit Gold Dust now means braving the tourists. On the upside, everything locals loved about it remains intact: The gaudy carpeting, the red leather seats, the enthusiastic but mostly dependable house band, and that Sistine-Chapel-like ceiling painting replete with nude angel babies. And the $5 happy-hour drinks include a Bloody Mary, Irish coffee, margaritas, and Champagne. Gold Dust may have lost its original digs, but not its old-dive soul.

Ha-Ra Club
875 Geary St.

Opened by a boxer and a fireman named Harry and Ray, this haute dive was long run by a well-read curmudgeon named Carl Kickery. (Eddie Muller, San Francisco’s own Czar of Noir, called him a “crusty fuck.”) Well, that was then, and this is now. On the same block of Geary that’s also home to Castle Club and Whiskey Thieves — with The Outsider right across the street — Ha-Ra stands above its peers for executing possibly the best renovation (in 2015) of any 70-year-old bar around. It’s louche, it’s spacious, and it’s got Goose Island on tap.

Hi Dive
Pier 28 1/2
The Embarcadero

We applaud every bar, no matter how awful, that has a neon sign of a martini glass. Fortunately, this waterfront establishment for watching the Giants from a spot where you can practically hear them is qualified on the merits. Yes, you can get tofu tacos and a Moscow Mule, but there’s also a cocktail called Tip Like a Hooker (basically a margarita, but with pomegranate tequila) and a PBR & J, where the J stands for Jameson. Oh, and the loaded fries-and-onion-rings combo comes with chili, cheddar, and a choice of meat. If you take a physical leap from this high dive into the frigid Bay, we’re pretty sure any one of those things will stave off hypothermia.

High Tide
600 Geary St.

Hi Tide might be cash-only and lack a Happy Hour, but the drinks are cheap — about $7 for a cocktail — plus there are pool tables and a rather stunning portrait behind the bar of a topless brunette shrouded in a white feather boa. Frills, this place has not — unless you count decorative dollar bills plastered to the ceiling — but the bar here is long, which means there’s room for everybody. And depending on the night, you can even bring your dog. For a clandestine tête-à-tête, an after-work drink, or an interview with a TL local, this is the place to go.

Kozy Kar
1548 Polk St.
Polk Gulch

If you can’t think of a good spot for a first date, consider Kozy Kar — it’ll definitely help break the ice (not to mention get you in the mood). You’ve got your choice of seating options at this kitschy, porn-themed bar, from converted hot tubs to a water bed, and you’ll find bras hanging from chandeliers, a mix of ’80s commercials, raunchy, jaw-dropping porn on the TV screens,and vintage naked pics plastered, well, everywhere. It’s a dirty place, in both senses of the word.

Last Call
3988 18th St.

The Castro gay scene has plenty of copycat clubs with generic music, but only one little dive with a jukebox full of gems (and a PSA warning against the clap that features Queen Victoria). We’re pretty sure the bar, which was once known as Men’s Room, only got its new name because Last Call has the same number of letters, which made it easy to update the neon sign outside. Anyway, the place is inviting, it’s dog-friendly, and on warm days, the front window is always worth a lingering cruise. But if you want in, it’s probably that Return to Oz, My Fair Lady, or something of that ilk is on the TV.

McKenzie’s Bar
5320 Geary Blvd.
Outer Richmond

Walking into McKenzie’s is to see a dive bar in its fullest form: cheap booze, flammable furnishings, and drunks of the truest sense perched on its stools. One of the best points in McKenzie’s favor is its role as a quick escape from the Richmond District fog, to warm up with a touch of whiskey. And with a happy hour that runs 1-8 p.m., there’s plenty of time to get toasty. It’s also one of the smaller bars you’ll see in San Francisco — seriously, we’ve seen studio apartments bigger than this. Of course, that just helps you get cozy with the regulars by the fireplace. And the Richmond’s vibe — friendly, down-to-earth, neighborly — is the heart of McKenzie’s.

582 Haight St.
Lower Haight

Molotov’s is a rock ‘n’ roll dive bar in the same vein as Lucky 13, albeit in a more compact size. Always good for a beer-and-shot special, the bar in the Lower Haight is a good spot to hide away in the dark. If there aren’t any sports on one of the two TVs behind the bar, you can expect a random movie, anything from American Psycho to Halloween. It’s dog-friendly and the pool table is always active. There’s a couple pinball machines and a good juke box filled with heavy metal and punk. Cozy up with a group of friends in one of the few booths or grab a window seat to watch the denizens of the Lower Haight as they stumble from the Toronado or Noc Noc into Molotov’s because they’re looking for something stronger than a beer.

(Eric Pratt)
(Eric Pratt)

Mr. Bing’s
201 Columbus Ave.

Going, going … somehow still here? Although it’s demise feels inevitable, the delightfully ghastly triangular hole-in-the-wall Mr. Bing’s soldiers on, and even if it’s snuffed out tomorrow, it would be a crime not to include it in this list. This longshoreman’s haunt acquired top-level street cred over the years, maybe for having only bottled beer, maybe for the pseudonymous name. Regardless, we adore it. And how satisfying it must be to get to hear all your eulogies before you go — including a maudlin encomium from one Anthony Bourdain.

Noc Noc
557 Haight St.
Lower Haight

Though Tim Burton movies nowadays milk nostalgia for a once-original style — hello, Alice in Wonderland — there was a time when the twisted dimensions of the movie Beetlejuice, or Edward Scissorhands offered such deranged, odd, and twisted visuals as to make you cock your head and go, “Huh?” Walking into Noc Noc is like that, in a good way. The walls look molded from clay and the high-backed wooden chairs are practically ripped out of a Dave McKean illustration. With all this visual insanity, one may expect a pretentious staff — but the opposite is true. Walk in on a random slow evening to find someone playing card games with the bartender (think Munchkin, not crazy eights). And like its surrounding neighborhood, the Lower Haight, it’s a bit rambunctious in there, but friendly. (Plus: sake.) As one Yelper put it: “Am I in Mos Eisley Cantina? Nope, it’s Noc Noc.”

Randy’s Place
1101 Ocean Ave.

The faded old sign hanging over Randy’s Place hints at how long the bar has been in the Ingleside — more than 45 years. The drinks are cheap, and the pool table is always in use. But perhaps its most redeeming feature is how close it is to Beep’s Burgers — if you’re not a jerk about it, you can even eat Beep’s at the bar — allowing one to feed that constant cycle: Eat, get drunk, and eat again. Owner Sue Castle has run the place for decades, naming it for her son, who is now deceased. But as long as Randy’s Place stands, you can saunter in and raise a glass to him, and to a neighborhood that remembers its neighbors.

The Sea Star
2289 Third St.

Having been renovated twice in only a few years, it’s possible The Sea Star could look very different at any time. But this longstanding, dog-friendly bar — formerly The Goat — on a stretch of Third Street that’s full of light industry invigorates the classics and puts them right alongside $2 cans of Miller High Life. Take the “Improved Martini,” for instance, made with Luxardo and absinthe. Now pair it with flocked wallpaper, a punched-tin ceiling, and a pool table, and you’ve got yourself a dive.

Specs’ Twelve Adler Museum Cafe
12 William Saroyan Place
North Beach

First off, just call it Specs. Richard Simmons, better known as Specs, was saved from a shipwreck in 1969, just one year after he started this North Beach watering hole. And the vibe of that era is still alive at Specs, a homey dive where the cantankerous and fiery columnist Warren Hinckle belted out many of his San Francisco Examiner screeds, glass in hand. To hang here is to have a foot in San Francisco’s boozy, Beat poet past while mingling with plenty of folks from its present. A “Boycott Coors Beer!” sign hangs, probably from back when Harvey Milk was still carrying his bullhorn. Specs has rabble-roused since before some of San Francisco’s current rabble was born –– and even now, it keeps on kickin’.

(Eric Pratt)
(Eric Pratt)

255 Columbus Ave.
North Beach

Vesuvio is a one-of-a-kind, double-decker bar with tiled floors and stained glass, and it still feels like a Beat hangout from the ’50s. (Jack Kerouac spent a large share of his days here.) The upstairs is a long neck of creaky wood flooring and antique tables overlooking Columbus Street and the infamous Beat Museum. Poets travel from all over the world to this book-lovers’ joint looking for inspiration for their next creative quest. Come in and put your feet up, read a book, and free your mind over a margarita, Kerouac’s favorite drink.

Trad’r Sam
6150 Geary Blvd.
Outer Richmond

Trad’r Sam looks like a Hawaiian shirt exploded onto the walls of a bar, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. The beer is only in bottles, but don’t go to Trad’r Sam for the brews — go for the “Polynesian drinks” of various colors and questionable amounts of ice cream. Scorpion bowls adorned with little umbrellas are de rigeur at this tiki joint, and worry not, they’re served stiff.

Tunnel Top
601 Bush St.
Nob Hill

At first, it has all the makes of a vintage dive — aged interior, noirish location over the Stockton Tunnel, a gallery level where you’d half-expect to see languorous prostitutes fanning themselves — but the Tunnel Top is deceptive. There are barrel-aged boulevardiers and Heretic Evil Twin amber ale, and the Union Square-adjacent location ensures a steady supply of wandering tourists commingling with the regulars who know how good a $2-off-cocktails-until-7:30-p.m. happy hour is. Last time we went, some chatty British women in their 60s drank us under the table. ‘Nuff said.

Wild Side West
424 Cortland Ave.
Bernal Heights

Bored? Have a short attention span? Keen on snooping? Then this is the bar for you! A cross between your grandma’s attic and a museum, Wild Side West is chock full of bizarre relics, like oil paintings of women whose breasts are conveniently exposed, a wall of vintage shoes, and numerous statues speckled about its verdant backyard patio. Not to mention Wild Side West is also rather old — at least by San Francisco gay bar standards — having opened in 1962 by two “proud lesbians.” It’s weird, local, and welcoming — everything you could ask for.

Would You Believe??
4652 Geary Blvd.
Inner Richmond

Whether you’re drinking the Wet Pussy (Midori, sour apple Schnapps, Malibu, raspberry vodka, and cranberry juice) or the Orgy (Kahlua, Bailey’s, Bacardi 151, and vodka), cocktails are the name of the game at Would You Believe?? It doesn’t take itself too seriously, but does take the mission of getting you pissed-drunk incredibly seriously. The real draw though is Thirsty Thursdays — dollar shots that are dangerously enticing. OK, so occasionally you’ve got to brave the preppy, perennially annoying USF students. But no, you didn’t see someone rolling dice. Scouts honor.

Philosophers Club
824 Ulloa St.
West Portal

Hang a left just outside of the West Portal Muni station and you’ll find the neon lights of Philosophers Club. While it’s hard to know for sure, sources tell us the place is a cop bar. Whether it’s frequented by the few boys and girls in blue who actually live in San Francisco doesn’t really matter as it’s got enough room for everyone — and food to spare on special occasions. Above the strange stares and occasional Irish brogue, a ceiling fresco (if we can even call it that) looks down upon the bar’s patrons. Among the famous peering down are Martin Luther King Jr., Sitting Bull, Mahatma Gandhi, and John Lennon. With drinking buddies like that, you’ll always have someone to raise your glass to.

Horseshoe Tavern
2024 Chestnut St.

Not many people like to admit that they go out for drinks in the Marina (and if they do, they’ve got other problems). We say that’s the only way anyone can handle the neighborhood’s humanity. And humanity is what you get at the Horseshoe on Chestnut. The bartenders are nice enough, but if you piss them off, we are sure they’ll have no problem sending you out the door. In fact, our theory is that such approaches to many of their would-be patrons is what keeps them sane and the bar the kind of place we’d recommend you frequent.

(Eric Pratt)
(Eric Pratt)

Columbus Cafe
562 Green St.
North Beach

Established in 1936, this dive has it all: pool table, photo booth, Wi-Fi, full bar, 26 draft beers, a jukebox, and one of the best happy hours in San Francisco. Columbus Cafe has two-for-one drinks every day from 4 to 8 p.m. This is probably the best spot if you want to find a pool game, watch sports or if you feel like banging your head to Iron Maiden at 1 a.m. (Don’t forget to order their famous Moscow Mule.)

598 Fifth Ave.
Inner Richmond

This is the kind of Irish bar — with fiddle music filtering out its door from time to time — where Irish Republican Army collectors must have dropped by once a month not long ago to pick up a contribution for a united Eire. While the struggle in the home country has mostly come to an end, this corner spot still wears its loyalties on its chest. A large poster of Bobby Sands, an IRA prisoner who died from a hunger strike in 1981, is proudly displayed behind the bar. So, be polite and enjoy yourself, but be careful about your Ps and Qs, or at least anything to the with the queen, in this very Republican — but only in the Irish nationalist sense — drinking hole.

Li Po Lounge
916 Grant Ave.

There exists a category of dive bar that needs recognition: the joint that specializes in one drink and one drink alone. In the case of Li Po, a Bourdain-approved L-shaped lounge with high-kitsch lanterns and a cavernlike entrance, it’s the Chinese Mai Tai, a venomous scorpion sting of dark rum, light rum, 151, an unspecified “Chinese liquor,” and pineapple juice. The question “Is it good?” is less important than the question “Are you willing to tolerate being a second-tier San Franciscan by not having one?” (But by the way, it’s good.)

The Stud
399 Ninth St.

After the closure of so many LGBTQ spaces in the last few years, the community was bound to draw a line in the sand eventually. That line encircles The Stud, a near-ancient gay dive that hosts the universally well-regarded Friday night drag show, Club Some Thing. The announcement that the bar’s rent was to be tripled spurred a coalition of drag queens and nightlife impresarios to rally to the Save Our Stud cause, and the future looks (tentatively) bright. It’s dim, the soundsystem is meh, and it has weird flow, but dear Lord if this place isn’t the aorta of mid-2010s queer S.F. Bon chance, Stud. We are truly rooting for you.

199 Valencia St.

The punkiest punk-rock bar under an overpass, Zeitgeist lives up to its name by changing with the times. (The clientele is like an index of what’s doing in the Mission.) It’s got a massive backyard, Simpsons pinball, and 40 beers on tap. But be warned: You can get kicked out for the slightest infraction, including sitting on a picnic table while waiting for your insanely good $8 cheeseburger. But at the same time, we have considered retiring the Best Bloody Mary category in our Best Of issue because, well, we don’t want to keep giving it to Zeitgeist.

806 South Van Ness Ave.

Yes, the menu changed last year. And yes, there are still tater tots (along with fried Oreos and hormone-free house-made dog treats at three for a buck). But from punk shows during Noise Pop to $10 Bulleit-and-Anchor deals, Bender’s has its finger on the pulse of the Mission — or at least the Mission that beats underneath the current Mission that everyone frets about. Pro-tip: Head over on the first night of the week to catch the last of Mojito Mondays (4-8 p.m.) and maintain until Ass-End Happy Hour picks up from 11 p.m. until closing. Note: We are not responsible for your contributions to the gross domestic product on Tuesday.

The Cinch
1723 Polk St.
Polk Gulch

Yep, that’s a drawing of a dude getting mounted by a lion. Beneath the rainbow-hued Tibetan peace flags is a long bar — the second-oldest surviving gay bar in the city, and a monument to what Polk Street used to be. Fourth Sundays are given over to the drag show Let’s Have a Kiki, but The Cinch is well-known for celebrating Star Wars Day on May 4, along with its annual chili cook-off. Go throw back a few pints and make some new friends. Or just make out in the booth.

3139 16th St.

This bar always feels slightly underappreciated to us, what with its dark back room that probably has a history we can only speculate about. (There’s lots of good hip-hop back there, though.) But “Service for the Sick” is a great motto, and when we’re feeling under the weather, it’s dollar drafts that nurse us back to health. Also: $3 mystery shots. And let us praise what has to be the most thoroughly graffitied-over urinals in San Francisco.

The Phone Booth
1398 South Van Ness Ave.

All right, the ability to smoke in here has gone the way of actual phone booths. (That was only a matter of time.) But after the tobacco clouds cleared, and we realized just how small this place was and how much fun is packed into every square foot, we learned to appreciate this islet of divey weirdness — hello, Barbie doll chandelier — on a dismal stretch of South Van Ness, a solid nominee for S.F.’s dreariest street. Give this phone a buzz, and get your buzz on.

The Uptown
200 Capp St.

When longtime owner Scott Ellsworth died in early 2014, The Uptown’s future looked grim. But a consortium of patrons and friends managed to keep things going, and today, the 110-year-old bar — which has only been called The Uptown since the mid-1980s or so — remains in good hands. Come for the couches, stay for the under-$5 pints. And the art in this bar is so freaking terrible that it’s probably priceless.

500 Club
500 Guerrero St.

If you judge a dive bar by its neon sign, then the 500 Club’s gaudy marquee — as electrifying as any single-screen movie palace’s blade — is a winner. But if books are not to be judged by their covers then bars are not to be evaluated on their exteriors, although the branded window bars are pretty snazzy, too. It does not in fact open at 6 a.m., but 11 a.m. — and 10 a.m. on Sundays — but on the inside, the 500 Club has a photo booth, a velvet painting of a weepy Elvis, $3 Fernet on Mondays, and it’s a stop on the Tamale Lady’s circuit.

3200 16th St.

A bar that salutes the golden hydrant that saved the city from burning down completely in 1906 is a bar that wears its history on its sleeve, and if you can believe it, this address had already been a saloon for 48 years before the earthquake. Genteel in spite of the framed ads for early-1900s laxatives, Elixir is a dive bar with an active calendar, rotating its cocktail menu with the seasons and celebrating Negroni Week — and the collection of more than 400 whiskeys from around the world doesn’t hurt, either.

(Eric Pratt)
(Eric Pratt)

Casanova Lounge
527 Valencia St.

The most art-directed bars in San Francisco are places like Whitechapel, The Interval, and Pagan Idol — they’re delightful, no doubt, but dives they ain’t. Casanova, though, betrays a certain panache: Velvet paintings are common enough, but this naked lady gets her own proscenium arch, and the grape-bunch light fixtures are wonderfully bizarre. Like everything within a few blocks of 16th and Valencia streets, it’s loud and crowded on weekends, plus the cocktails can be hit-or-miss, but Casanova remains a lodestar for a good time in the Mission.

Bow Bow Lounge
1155 Grant Ave.

Part of a trio of Chinatown dives — its partners in crime being Li Po and Buddha Lounge, to which we award honorable-mention status — Bow Bow Lounge is known for two things that go hand-in-hand: karaoke and Mama Candy. Here, you can sing to your heart’s content among stray North Beach visitors and Cantonese crooners as long as you have the patience to scroll through the poorly organized song lists and don’t mind a little feedback. Meanwhile, the tough-love-administering Mama, wearing sequins and with flowers in her hair, buys you shots and refills the bowls of nuts.

(Eric Pratt)
(Eric Pratt)

3160 16th St.

Let’s be honest: There are many places to get wasted on this stretch of 16th Street. Very few of them have weekend happy hours that run into the evening the way Kilowatt’s does, though. A punk bar that became a sports bar whose atmosphere can get a little macho at times, this is a resolutely no-frills place in a neighborhood that has gotten frillier. Jillian’s it isn’t, but we respect any joint that has pool, pinball, and darts. It took 1.21 jigawatts to power a time-traveling DeLorean, but one kilowatt can keep us charged all Sunday afternoon and into the evening.

Pissed-Off Pete’s
4528 Mission St.

It’s got a shamrock on the sign — another neon gem, for those keeping score — but Pissed-Off Pete’s caters to more than just the Sons (and Daughters) of Hibernia. With reggae parties, a kitchen that puts out chicharrones, and karaoke nights, it draws in locals from one of the more diverse neighborhoods in San Francisco. Bars of any stripe grow rarer as you move beyond the Bernal Cut, but few are as guaranteed to bring you out of a rage as this place, angry nomenclature notwithstanding. Don’t miss the Butterbutt pizza, made with butternut squash and braised pork butt.

(Eric Pratt)
(Eric Pratt)

The Saloon
1232 Grant Ave.
North Beach

In a city that struggled to create a jazz district, the continued existence of a blues- and jazz-centric dive in 2016 should be cause for celebration. Legendarily the oldest bar in San Francisco, it supposedly survived the earthquake and inferno because the fire department wants to make sure the prostitutes upstairs were spared. Don’t stare too hard at Alan Streets’ mural of the neighborhood, or it’ll suck you right in.

The Knockout
3223 Mission St.
Bernal Heights

Booty Bassment hip-hop, oldies dance parties, punk vinyl night, and — of course — karaoke populate The Knockout’s social calendar. You want a Bud? You got it. A Hamm’s? A PBR? Those, too. Maybe you want to bring tacos in, or get some sushi? You can have it all. One of the last true rock ‘n’ roll bars standing, The Knockout is where you throw back a tall boy with your friends before entering the happiest form of oblivion.

547 Haight St.
Lower Haight

One hundred beers is a lot of beer, and Toronado works its industry connections to get score some rarities. Granted, there can be — ahem — issues with staff attitude, but if you’re polite and know what you want to order when the bartender acknowledges you, you should be fine. Like a fungus and bacteria combining into a lichen, Toronado exists in symbiosis with Rosamunde Sausage Grill, combining beers and brats to great effect. Just grab a napkin; Toronado is coasters-only.

3349 20th St.

Clara Jeffery of Mother Jones called it the Platonic ideal of a bar, but don’t let the synchronicity of the name fool you. Pub quizzes, pool, and low-ABV drinks are what keep Shotwell’s in business. (There is no hard liquor.) But 125 years after the first drinking establishment opened at this address, and three years after becoming a hot zone in the brief war against Glassholes, Shotwell’s draws a relaxed and dare-we-say erudite crowd with its approachable vibe — and the distance between it and the madding hordes of 16th Street.

St. Mary’s Pub
3845 Mission St.
Bernal Heights

Some bars are quintessential neighborhood joints, others are in liminal zones yet make the neighborhood come to them. Curiously situated on the downslope of Mission Street as it exits the better-traversed half of the city, this “Holiest Place to Fall From Grace” isn’t particularly sinful — but it does have a solid Bloody Mary bar on Sundays as well as a Bulleit-and-Fernet cocktail called the San Francisco. It’s so pretty and full of light in here that St. Mary’s is almost not a dive.

The Peaks
1316 Castro St.
Noe Valley

Not to be confused with another bar on Castro Street with the word “Peaks” in its name — the slightly more upscale Twin Peaks, at Market and 17th streets — The Peaks is Noe Valley’s own hole in the wall. It might look like it’s ready to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day every night of the year, but Taco Tuesdays are the bigger draw. And check out that antique cash register.

Doc’s Clock
2575 Mission St.
Soon to be 2417 Mission St.

Another Lazarus story, Doc’s Clock’s timer appeared to have counted down to zero but good timing and the intervention of San Francisco’s new Legacy Business Registry helped it secure a new home up the block from its current digs. Expect a relocation in 2017, and don’t panic, either: That extraordinary neon marquee is likely to make the move intact, as well. (We cannot wait to watch it migrate up the block.) For now, drink away. And play shuffleboard!

Broken Record
1166 Geneva Ave.

There are only a few places in this town with 300 or more whiskeys, but none of them are near the Broken Record. Together with the soul food in the back coming from Hood Grub, this dive represents one of the best food-and-drink menus in town — and yeah, it’s practically in Daly City. Grumble all you want, but you’re only justifying the regulars’ beliefs about your dumb snobbery. We defy you to find beer-battered Nutella-stuffed French toast of this caliber anywhere else.

Lucky 13
2140 Market St.
Duboce Triangle/Castro

Near the funky red building that houses Lucky 13 — next to an empty parking lot on Market Street — new condos are everywhere. Everywhere. Does the site where the Lucky 13 now sits hold that same fate? Let’s hope not. The perennial rock ‘n’ roll dive bar with a punk jukebox has been a welcoming spot in the Castro and Duboce Triangle for 22 years, with murals of a dog and cat drinking together and a spider in a spider web. The back patio is a great place for some outdoor drinking, and in the summers, Lucky 13 does free BBQ every Saturday.

It would truly be a shame if this bar were to go away — and not just because it’s been a favorite for SF Weekly staffers on many Tuesday nights after we go to press. In an interview with Hoodline last year, manager Marin Kraenkel addressed the rumors about the building’s being razed to make room for more condos.

“We are a historical landmark. When you look at the front of the building, it says ‘W.O.W 1906,’ which stands for Woodmen of the World, a fraternal benefit society during the turn of the century for woodworkers. They still exist, but there used to be 18 clubhouses in San Francisco, and this is the last remaining one,” Kraenkel said.

So, with the historical designation and the support of the community, Lucky 13 should still be with us for a bit while longer — if we’re lucky. But, as Kraenkel told Hoodline, if the bar does close, it’s going to be “one hell of a going-away party.” A few more things to know about Lucky 13: It’s dog-friendly, the bathrooms are toward the front, and there’s always free popcorn!

(Eric Pratt)
(Eric Pratt)

Elbo Room
647 Valencia St.

The lighting is set to vampire, the cocktails are under $10, and the location couldn’t be better. But like a cancer scare, the threat of bars going condo hovers over many a dive in an ever-trendier neighborhood. Late last year, the Elbo Room, which had the Grim Reaper sharpening his scythe behind it for ages, renewed its lease through the end of 2017. We don’t know what’ll happen after that, but that’s 400-plus nights of inebriation ahead of us — and in the meantime, reggae party Dub Mission just celebrated its 20th anniversary here.

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