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7 of the Coolest Themed Bars in San Francisco

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By Regina Park

Shake up your next night on the town with these seven San Francisco bars that take theme to the next level.

Themed bars are always in danger of being over-the-top, resulting in a space that’s cliche and kitschy rather than fun and unique. But some bars really do theme right, and those locations are gold — perfect for jazzing up the ol’ dive bar routine.

Here are 7 themed bars that are sure to become new staples to your bar repertoire!

Wilson and Wilson

Theme: Private Detective Agency
Location: 505 Jones St in the Tenderloin

This private detective-themed drinking spot is so cleverly hidden that it’s a bar-within-a-speakeasy. To infiltrate the small room, you must first be led through Bourbon & Branch (featured further down on the list) and enter through two password-protected doors. Reservations are highly recommended since the bar enforces a strict 28-person limit to preserve a secretive feel.

Photo from Wilson and Wilson’s FB page

Once inside, you’re greeted by velvet-speckled wallpaper, somber oak, and dark, subdued colors with a bartender who (very obviously) knows their craft inside and out. The drinks are wildly creative and in-line with the theme, ranging from the smoky Truth Serum to the light, playful Red Scarab. The drinks menu — served deep within a case file — include a full meal’s worth of drinks, starting with light aperitifs and ending with strong alcoholic main courses.

Bottom line: you go to Wilson and Wilson to get tipsy in a romantic, intimate, confidential atmosphere.

Find out more right here.

Novela

Theme: Library
Location: 662 Mission St in SoMa

Novela: Making reading fun since 2013. Except substitute reading with drinking, and you have an accurate picture of what goes down in this literary themed bar.

Photo from Novela’s FB page

With fun themed drinks such as the Jay Gatsby or the Marla Singer, you can literally taste the different notes of a character’s personality in a cocktail. This particular library also encourages chatting with your friends, if the made-to-share Hemingway “Code Hero” punch is anything to go by.

Find out more right here.

Butter

Theme: Trailer Trash
Location: 354 11th St in SoMa

Sick of the somewhat pretentious standards that so many bars seem to be aspiring to? Here’s one bar that pursues the very opposite.

Photo from Butter’s FB page

Buttersis loud, uninhibited and raunchy in all the right ways. When the theme is “trailer trash” how could you be anything but? The staff at Butter “Serve only the freshest Pabst Blue Ribbon on tap…[and] a host of cocktails prepared with nutritious Grape and Strawberry sodas.” The food is definitely not clean eats, with a selection of deep-fried and microwavable meals cluttering the menu.

If you’re looking for a place to relive those booze-filled college days (complete with jello shots!), Butter it is. As for reservations, you can throw those away (along with your inhibitions) at the door.

Find to more right here.

Kozy Kar

Theme: Late ’70s and Early ’80s Pornos
Location: 1548 Polk St in Lower Nob Hill

Relive the glory days of the 70s and 80s at this retro, perverted bar that makes you uncomfortable in all the right ways. Kozy Kar is the bar version of that greasy, perpetually drunk uncle (or is he your cousin twice-removed?) who refuses to be seen without his trusty pair of bell-bottoms.

Photo from Kozy Kar’s FB page

The space is outfitted to look like the inside of a seedy VW Bus, complete with questionably clean waterbeds covered in shag carpet, dated records, CB radios, vintage playboy cutouts everywhere, and a Missile Control arcade game chilling in the corner. The drinks themselves are fittingly extra-strong.

Step into San Francisco’s bonafide Love Shack — just don’t expect to come out squeaky clean, or without seeing something naughty playing on the TVs.

Find out more right here.

Smuggler’s Cove

Theme: Tropical Pirate
Location: 650 Gough St in the Western Addition

At Smuggler’s Cove, the rum is never gone.

Among the other Tiki bars in San Francisco, Smuggler’s Cove is king: it’s actually one of the top rum and exotic cocktail destinations in the world. A little bit kitschy, a little bit gimmicky and a whole lot of fun, Smuggler’s Cove is best for those who just want to have a cliche Caribbean experience. Pirates of the Caribbean, of course.

Photo fro Smuggler’s Cove’s website

At heart, Smuggler’s Cove is a rum bar. They’re stocked with over 400 different rums that they use in signature drinks, including their flaming Top Notch volcano, huge Scorpion bowls, and rum barrel cups.

Find out more right here.

Urban Putt

Theme: Mini Golf
Location: 1096 South Van Ness Ave. in the Mission

A bar and restaurant with an indoor mini golf course? Sign me up!

Serving classic eats like pizza, tacos, and wings, Urban Putt also has a full bar with cocktails named after songs by legendary San Francisco musicians. Jerry Garcia would probably approve of the Shakedown Street Daiquiri.

Photo from Urban Putt’s website

As for the mini golf course, the design concept is part Jules Verne, part Rube Goldberg, and whole helping of San Francisco.

Find out more right here.

Tonga Room

Theme: Tiki Bar
Location: 950 Mason St in the Nob Hill

Easily San Francisco’s most famous themed bar, the Tonga Room first opened its doors at the Fairmont Hotel in 1945. It’s so famous that SF’s Planning Department called it a “historical resource” in a report. According to Wikipedia, “Citing the Polynesian-themed bar’s artificial lagoon, rainstorms, and lava rock, the report said: ‘The Tonga Room exhibits exceptional importance due to its rarity and as one of the best examples of ‘high-style’ Tiki bar/restaurant in San Francisco.'”

Photo via Wikipedia

Stop by for classic tropical drinks, Polynesian food, live music, and indoor rain. Yes you read that right.

Find out more right here.

 

San Francisco is chock-full of numerous theme bars — what’s your favorite? Let us know in the comments.

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2 Comments

  1. Bob Koelle
    January 17, 2023 at 1:58 pm — Reply

    Sorry you didn’t include the newspaper themed Local Edition in the basement of the Hearst Building.
    https://www.localeditionsf.com/

  2. Reynlado Miranda
    January 19, 2023 at 2:05 pm — Reply

    Local Edition, no?

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