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Eight Great Under Appreciated SF Dive Bars

Updated: Sep 22, 2022 15:42
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By Jejelle Edmundson

While some may argue that a neighborhood bar is different than a dive bar, I am choosing to nestle them together in a little cluster of goodness…like a gooey caramel popcorn ball, or a fluffy sugar confection. Because they are all cost-effective and have that oddly twisted “je ne sais quoi”, the secret sauce that brings characters of all walks together in such a strange and lovely way.

The Gold Cane (Upper Haight)

Though I may be a bit partial to this one, (having met my S.O. here nearly fourteen years ago) make no mistake that this is an SF institution that serves up stiff drinks without costing you your dignity, your first born or a limb, not to mention that the bartenders here are some of the finest people in a city that is wrought with crybaby hipsters and surly grumpsters. It boasts an outdoor patio area, and they recently renovated the entire bar (restrooms included!), which probably does elevate it to a neighborhood bar after all. If I had a slogan for this gem, it would be “the GC keeps it real”.

Bloom’s Saloon (Potrero Hill)

Situated in Potrero Hill, this one is somewhat of a hidden jewel if you don’t live in the ‘hood and offers up an outstanding view of downtown, (complete with patio). Despite my living in SF for 25 years, a friend first introduced me to this bar only about a year and a half ago and it is a treat to pop into whenever I’m on that side of town. It underwent its own renovations recently, and is all the more comfy without being pretentious. Stiff drinks, neighborhood appeal, pool tables–it has everything without the nonsense.

Portals Tavern (West Portal) (Now Closed. Sorry!)

Not only a delicious pun due to its location, its windows resemble the port holes on a ship–in West Portal, get it? Due to the location, you won’t see a bunch of tourists kicking around this place, which offers strong drinks, Dirty Harry pinball, (you heard me) and would you believe this one has a back patio as well?

Thanks to Paul and Alex for the tip that Portals is now closed.

The Philosopher’s Club (West Portal)

Situated near the entrance of West Portal Station, even though you’ll hear more sports chatter than philosophy here, it’s still a pretty good spot to stop for a beverage and do some hob-nobbing with the neighborhood locals and watch a Giants game. Look up and you’ll even find a mural on the ceiling. Plus, the bartenders are friendly and chill. A down-to-earth neighborhood bar at its finest.

The Little Shamrock (Inner Sunset)

One of the oldest bars in the city, rumor has it that the clock on the wall stopped at the moment the 1906 earthquake struck. The hands remain fixed in time, giving an eerie charm to the place, among many other curiosities strewn about its walls. One of the most notable features is its built-in backgammon tables equipped with cup holders. It also features a faux fireplace that lends a warm, homey feel. Check out the chalkboard above the bar for local musings, wisdom, and the life philosophies of its patrons.

Emporer Norton’s Boozeland

Emperor Norton’s Boozeland (Tenderloin)

The name says it all. This joint doesn’t mess around, so leave your tomfoolery at home. We’re here to booze it up, folks. Ironically enough, I recently attended a friend’s wedding reception upstairs, and this is a no-nonsense sort of place with some pretty swell bartenders. Great happy hour, and surprise—it has a patio and yes, even shuffleboard.

Durty Nelly’s (Outer Sunset)

When you’re dirty with a “u”, you’re bound to be a hit. Complete with plenty of rustic charm and a smidgen of grime to boot, our friend Nelly offers live music on special nights, and you may even catch a glimpse of a roasty-toasty fireplace in the back. They also offer eats, so grab yourself a traditional Irish breakfast or some fish ‘n chips, and wash them down with a few swigs of whiskey. No judgment.

Latin American Club (Mission)

Even though the Mission has seen quite a bit of gentrification over the past few years, this place is still the real deal and keeps things funky. Famous for its ginormous margaritas, I usually just opt for the beer and gritty ambiance. The interior features quite an array cuckoo clocks,piñatas, and a painting of someone’s long-departed Schnauzer, among other oddities that adorn its walls. I particularly enjoy the “happy birthday” signage hanging at the back of the bar. So go ahead, party like it’s your birthday.


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