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A History & Drinking Guide to Polk Gulch

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Polk Gulch, SF 2021.

What’s better than a neighborhood drinking guide?  A neighborhood drinking guide that also gives you historical facts to drop while you’re drinking.  Bellow is a short history of Polk Gulch with links to source material, and bellow that is a list of great bars to visit there, by a veteran bartender and Polk resident of some 12 years.

A Little Neighborhood History

Polk Gulch 1860s, lol for real.

Polk street was named after the 11th President James Polk, who was in the big chair just before San Francisco became an official city in 1850.

Polk St is also the setting for one of San Francisco’s first novels, McTeague (1899) by Frank Norris who describes upper Polk street as a wealthy neighborhood full of townhouses and fashionable women who descend to lower Polk to do their shopping.

California Hall, Polk St. 2020.

In the early 1900’s lower Polk St. was a stronghold for German immigrants, who referred to it as ‘Polkstrasse’, and built the German style California Hall in 1912, a location that later became a hotbed for Gay Rights.

Marchers holding “Gay Freedom by ’76” banner at O’Farrell and Polk during Gay Freedom Day Parade, June 30, 1974. Photography by Greg Gaar)

Celebrants on motorized cable car at O’Farrell and Polk during Gay Freedom Day Parade, June 30, 1974. (by  Greg Gaar)

‘Polk Gultch’ was San Francisco’s (and perhaps the nation’s) famously gay mecca in the 1960s and 1970s, in fact the city’s first gay pride parades were held on Polk in the 70’s.

By the time the 1990’s rolled around the neighborhood was getting a reputation for drug dealing and prostitution, gay bars likes SF’s once oldest gay bar ‘The Gangway’ were still around, but most of the LGBTQ businesses had moved on to the Castro.

By 2006 gentrification had really set in, and the merchant’s association tried to change the name of Polk Gulch to ‘Polk Village’, which nobody bought of course, and now the realtors are trying to change the name again to simply ‘Lower Polk’,  Good luck with that!

Barley, SF.  The new beer drinkers paradise in Polk Gulch.

Polk Gulch Drinking Guide:

Polk Gulch post lockdown is having yet another new phase and awakening.  Despite our favorite Hemlock Tavern being gone, there are all sorts of cool new spots to checkout and existing classics.  We asked Barley bartender and longtime Polk Gulch resident Madeleine Michaels where to drink in her hood, her recommendations are bellow!

Barley (opened 1/21/21)

Gorgeous, newly built craft beer bar with 20 taps and a secret “drop” menu plus delicious melted sandwiches and salads.  Indoor and outdoor seating.

Recommended Drink: ask about the Drop Menu 

Propagation (opened 3/17/21)

Elegant cocktail bar decorated completely in plants with cozy seating arrangements indoors and out. Exciting cocktail inventions.

Recommended Drink: The cocktail list is constantly updated with new dope specials.

Geary Club Reopened under new ownership last month.

A small old school dive bar with a newly built parklet out front.  Classic Tenderloin Dive.

Recommended Drink: Whiskey

The Ha-Ra

Historic Saloon come dive bar known for classic cocktails, beer & shot deals & pool table. Large parklet.

Recommended Drink: Beer and a Shot 


Miller’s Rest

Classic and new cocktails, great brunch spot or treat yourself to a Fried Chicken Sandwich for dinner.  Beautiful spacious dining room, bar and parklet. 

Recommended Drink: Stinging Nettle Mezcal Cocktail 


 Lower Polk staple, sports bar/dive with parklet and TVs. 

Recommended Drink: Shot and a Beer


The first cider bar in CA, serves a wide variety of ciders from all over US.  Indoor dining in spacious upstairs location.

Recommended Drink: Hibiscus Session from Stem Cider. 

El Lopo

Spanish wine and vermouth bar/restaurant, known for their porron, Saturday farmers market, outdoor dining in Austin Alley.  

Recommended Drink – anything from their Porron Menu.


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Alex Mak - Managing Editor

Alex Mak - Managing Editor

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