Is San Francisco Boozier Than We Think?

A new survey claims San Franciscans drink more than almost anyone in the country.

When Garrett Camp first came up with the idea for Uber, nightlife in San Francisco was front of mind. Most public transit lines stopped running before midnight, much like they do now, and yellow cabs were hard to come by. Black car services were expensive, if one could even stick to a schedule well enough to use them. Closing down any bar that was not within walking distance of home was a hassle in San Francisco.

There are many lessons to be learned from the story of Uber’s rise to fame. This one, however, is often overlooked: San Francisco’s public transit system doesn’t make enjoying nightlife responsibly any easier. Perhaps this is because — unlike metros like Las Vegas and Miami, which actively promote themselves as places to come for a big night out — the powers that be in San Francisco don’t consider the city as a national nightlife destination.

Or, to put it another way: “How could you have a party town if nothing works in this city?” asked Jesse Carpenter, who recently spoke to the Weekly over an ice cold beer. 

Well… a new study suggests that we’re doing just fine when it comes to imbibing, thank you very much.

The Online Betting Guide (OLBG), a company from the United Kingdom, which aggregates betting sites and tips for online sports betters, ranked San Francisco the second most heavily-drinking city in America, after surveying the 35 most populated cities in the United States. According to OLBG, the only place boozier is Denver.

To arrive at the rankings, OLBG counted the number of stripclubs, casinos, and nightlife attractions per 100,000 people. They also used previously collected data from County Health Rankings & Roadmaps and the website city-data.com to evaluate the percentage of residents who binge drink, use cannabis, or use cocaine. According to these numbers, San Francisco has the highest number of binge drinkers. The rankings for other categories seem less suspect: Portland, for example, is the “most stoned” city because it has the highest rates of cannabis consumption while Las Vegas is the “wildest,” because it was ranked first for several categories, including the number of stripclubs.

If you find it surprising that San Francisco ranks higher than well-known drinking capitals like Las Vegas and New Orleans, you’re not alone. The Weekly chatted with over 10 separate individuals enjoying a cold one on Labor Day at McLaren Park, and all of them were a bit perplexed. The only thing more surprising was that Denver, of all places, drank even more than we do — though perhaps it shouldn’t be too shocking that the home of Molson Coors Brewing Co. and the former stomping ground of Jack Kerouac is something of a soggy town.

“I feel like in the past year, with COVID, the level of stress that people have gone under has probably affected drinking habits,” suggests another park goer named Kate. That’s not just a ‘feeling’ — a survey published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that 60 percent of respondents were drinking more than they had before last March, while 45 percent said they were drinking to combat stress. Another survey from the American Psychological Association said 25 percent of American adults were drinking more to manage pandemic pressures.

But then again, San Francisco has also become a hub for the low alcohol and non-alcoholic cocktail trend in the past year. The trend which took off worldwide found several fans here in the Bay Area: For example St. Hildie’s Botanica, a trendy new canned cocktail brand focused on botanics that alleviate the day-after hangover, mirrors the Mill Valley “wellness woman” culture it’s born from. The low-alcohol cocktail menu at Red Window in North Beach, on the other hand, has earned acclaim from local and national publications alike. 

For what it’s worth, the OLBG says we don’t have to have the most nightlife attractions to rank on the list of wildest cities. San Francisco had 36 nightlife experiences per every 100,000 people, while Las Vegas had over 58. We just have the heaviest drinking adults: According to the survey, 25 percent of San Franciscans either binge drink or drink heavily. “Binge drinking” was defined as having more than 4 drinks in a 2-hour session for women and more than 5 drinks in a 2-hour session for men, while “heavy drinking” was defined by women drinking more than one alcoholic beverage per day on average, and men drinking two. 

In other words, the problem the Uber founders tried to solve still persists — San Franciscans are prepared to party, and it’s our city’s infrastructure that can’t keep pace. Perhaps that’s also why it was only during a pandemic year, in which the most popular drinking destination was the living room couch, that our boozy habits soared to new heights. 

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