20 SF Bars Where You Can Actually Meet People
It’s time to get out of your corner booth at the usual place and mix things up.
San Francisco is a transient city, and new people move here every day. And while you might not directly think, “Hey, let’s go make new friends tonight,” sometimes it’s nice to mix things up and end up in a spot where you can have a good time with a human you’ve never met before. That’s where we come in. These aren’t places where you’ll quietly sip a $16 cocktail and wait to overhear that someone went to the same school as you or read a familiar book, but they’re also not so rowdy that you’ll be too intimidated to start talking to or dancing with someone you don’t know.
The line at Blondie’s on the weekend versus how many people can be crammed into the bar makes you think that this might be one of the few fun bars in the city that follows fire code. That tiny bit of extra space makes a huge difference because while your friends are dancing in the crowd on the stage in the back, you’ll actually be able to get a drink at the bar with someone you met on the dance floor who was also totally dancing ironically.
The theme at Madrone changes every night, from Motown Mondays to The Prince + MJ Experience to things like the No Theme Super Dance Party, and so does the crowd. No matter what though, the music here is always great and even if you don’t feel like dancing after you “rolled your ankle” at work the other day, you’re going to have a good time. It’s the kind of place where despite being crowded and loud, you’ll still end up talking to people about how you ended up in SF, or that you’re looking for a new apartment now that your current roommate is an urban snake farmer.
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Mauna Loa is a solid place to find yourself basically any time of day. When it’s light out, you can come here for a quiet drink at the bar and watch whatever game is on with some strangers. Early in the night, it’s good for shooting pool, and late night, you can challenge someone to a game of Buck Hunter, inject yourself into the conversation at the back bar, or suddenly be way worse at pool than you were a few hours ago. They have cocktails, but you’re really here for cheap drinks and to fight for dominance over the jukebox.
photo credit: Mary Lagier
Nothing makes people bond faster than singing along to Van Halen or Motley Crue covers after a few drinks, and that’s exactly what you’ll find at Maggie’s in North Beach. You could sit at the tables in the middle of the bar with your group in silence, but that’s not why you’re really here. You’re here to merge your group with another by shouting, “Hey, isn’t this band wild?” to someone standing next to you before adopting them as one of your own for the night.
Li Po Cocktail Lounge
We love this Chinatown bar for its insanely strong mai tais. We also love it because pretty much every time we’re here, we end up striking up a conversation with random people sitting at the bar. And if you get hungry, Sam’s right down the street serves burgers until 4am.
If/when it’s a nice night, get a pitcher of beer and sit in the backyard at Zeitgeist. There are long picnic tables back here, so you’ll be forced into sitting next to some people you don’t know. Maybe they’re working on a cure for people who have lost their sense of smell. Maybe they’re skydivers who knit their parachutes on the way down. Either way, offer them a beer and see where the night goes.
Bow Bow calls itself a karaoke bar, but really it’s a dive that bought some karaoke stuff and called it a rebrand. The screen is set up at the far end of a long and narrow bar and this makes it the kind of karaoke bar that anyone can thrive in. Plus, it’s a pretty DIY scenario - if you want to play a song, three or four of the people around you will probably have to help you put something on the queue.
The Tipsy Pig
People that come to the Tipsy Pig are usually here for a long time - especially on a night when the weather is nice enough to hang out on the back patio. The tables are closely packed enough where starting a conversation with the people next to you can be easier than shouting to someone at the other end of your own table. Maybe even turn to them and say that to break the ice. Anything is better than, “The weather back here is so great, right?”
El Rio is so reliable, it could be your emergency contact. Doesn’t matter if you’re looking for a casual night out to play pool or a packed dancefloor, El Rio has your back. It’s the answer to any protracted group negotiations about where to go out, and their big back patio is an excellent solution to San Francisco’s severe lack of bars with viable outdoor space.
Latin American Club
Latin American Club definitely falls into the dive category (and is a club in name only), but it’s a great place to start a night in the Mission. The crowd runs the full SF spectrum (old-school locals to new-school tech people), and the tight, always-packed space breeds conversation with strangers. The margaritas are strong, but downing one and attempting to retain all of your memories from the night is a San Francisco rite of passage.
Sometimes there’s no better way to put yourself out there than by literally putting yourself out there. Jump in the karaoke line at Silver Cloud in the Marina, choose your favorite ’90s song, hop up on stage, and let it rip. If you don’t have at least three people trying to grab the mic by the end of your song, you’re doing it wrong. If it gets a little too crowded at any point, go out the side door and talk to the other like-minded people taking a breather too.
If you’re out for a night in the Castro, you should know that all roads lead to Beaux. This is the Ellis Island of San Francisco and the best way to get inducted into Duboce Triangle nightlife, but you should probably have a shot or two before leaving the house in preparation. In every way Beaux is a glorified, gay Coyote Ugly, but if you’re up for it, this place basically guarantees a memorable night out.
Hi Tops is a good place to start the night if you’re set on going out in the Castro, but want to ease into it before inevitably ending up at Beaux. Theoretically Hi Tops is a sports bar, but more closely resembles a wax museum of gay men who definitely work out more than you do. Hi Tops is also perfect if you happen to be in the mood for a fried chicken sandwich or a $5 basket of wings.
Soda Popinski’s is the perfect weekday spot for tricking your friends into going out. Casual drinks can easily become a lot less casual once you’re peer pressured to spin the wheel behind the bar and end up taking shots of something called a “Mind Eraser.” Watching someone take a spin on the wheel usually ends up becoming a bar-wide spectator sport, so it’s a great stop if you’re with a smaller crew, but looking to branch out.
The Friday Happy Hour at Monroe is the best way to end the workweek and slide right into the weekend. The Battle of Decades starts with $1 drinks and ’60s music, and every hour the music ages a decade while the drinks increase a dollar. It’s a great place to go if you work in FiDi (but less than perfect if you want to be surrounded by anyone who doesn’t work in finance or tech). Take advantage of the cheap drinks to treat those coworkers you like enough (but not enough to buy them regularly-priced cocktails). Use them as a lightning rod to talk to people you won’t have to face on Monday.
If you’re looking for the best dance floor in the Mission, Double Dutch is the place. There’s a definite throwback feel going on here, from the wall made of boomboxes, to the general sense that you’ve time traveled back to a middle school dance. It’s a little sweaty and you spend a lot of time waiting in line for the bathroom while you dance to Ashanti and Ja Rule, but it’s a blast.
Hi-Lo isn’t a dirty dive, but it’s not a snobby cocktail place either - it’s basically the spot you’ll want as your Cheers. It’s just a normal kind of bar where you can usually snag a booth. The crowd is super local, which means this is the ideal spot to actually talk to those people you avoid eye contact with on the Muni every morning.
The live music is here is consistently great and varies between jazz, funk, and blues based on the night. The people here skew a little bit older, which might have to do with the steep cover or the fact that this is a jazz club, but it’s a good end-of-night destination regardless. Especially because it’s one of the only places in SF open until 3am.