5 San Francisco Bars You Didn’t Know Existed

Updated: Apr 07, 2022 10:53
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Guest post by Chris Luecke

It’s hard think of anything in today’s San Francisco as undiscovered, especially bars. But even in an era where Zeitgeist is more of a millennial beer garden than a rough-and-tumble biker bar, The City still has plenty of watering holes that really do feel local and underrated. Whether you’ve stumbled into some of these joints yet or not, here are 5 bars that, at the very least, always have an open seat waiting for you inside:

Finnegans Wake

The back patio at Finnegan’s Wake. Mural by Sam Flores. Photo by Chris Luecke

For the average San Francisco resident, a visit to Cole Valley usually occurs around 11am on a weekend to brave the massive brunch lines at Zazie or Padrecito. Finnegans Wake, however, is a place that can be enjoyed at any time during the day, without the wait. While this unsuspecting neighborhood bar is a friendly spot to shoot some pool, chat up the bartenders, or catch a Giants game with the regulars, the real surprise is outside. Out the back door is a spacious, oft-overlooked patio with ping pong and awesome graffiti art that was basically built for day-drinking. And that whole brunch thing? These guys have caught on to that too! Finnegans Wake boasts one of the best Bloody Marys in San Francisco, and is open early on weekends so you have something to distract you while the rest of your party stands in the brunch line.

Church Key

The bar at Church Key. Photo by The City Lane.

San Francisco is home to plenty of popular beer bars that are destinations for beer nerds near and far. So while spots like Toronado attract the masses, it’s nice to have lower-key haunts like Church Key that have an equally-impressive beer selection. Located in North Beach, you’ll be able to pick out this narrow joint by the illuminated skeleton key above the front door. Once inside, consult the bartender on the type of beer you’d like (they’ll take the time to help you pick out a brew that fits your taste), then head upstairs to the bar’s lounge area and sip slowly under the red hue of the bar lights (Pro tip: Church Key doesn’t serve food, but you can bring your own, and Golden Boy Pizza is just half a block away).

The Little Shamrock

120+ years old and still going strong! Photo by Yelp.

This appropriately-named Irish bar has been serving drinks to San Francisco locals for well over 100 years, and it still feels like a well-preserved slice of the city’s past. Walk inside and you’re greeted by a cornucopia of antique chandeliers and equally eclectic furniture. It’s unpretentious. It’s cash only. And it’s right next to Golden Gate Park. Whether you’re thirsty for a Black and Tan, Irish Coffee, or a no-nonsense cocktail, The Little Shamrock is the perfect liquid break from the afternoon sun (or fog).

Black Horse London Pub

Cozy… Photo by Thrillist.

The fact that the sign out front refers to this place as the “Black Horse London Deli” is just one of the reasons you probably haven’t been here. Having only 6 bar stools and a capacity of 22 people doesn’t help either. At just about 150 square feet, this pub is literally the smallest bar in San Francisco, and just being here will make your tiny SoMa apartment feel spacious. But the snug quarters are what make this place so special, and the chummy bartenders here will have you and the other patrons feeling like instant friends. Plus, where else can you order a beer that’s been keeping cool in an old-fashioned bathtub?

Holy Mountain

We couldn’t close out a list of bars you didn’t know about without a speakeasy, could we? The irony of the modern speakeasy though is that the secret’s out. Most “speakeasies” are just high-end craft cocktail bars with a descending stairwell. But Holy Mountain feels like something completely different. Located upstairs in the back of Hawker Fare – denoted only by a neon mountain with a halo – this tropical haven is an underutilized cocktail retreat right in the middle of the Mission. There’s no better spot to escape the mayhem of Valencia Street and enjoy a good drink as much as a good conversation (at a comfortable volume).

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