Odds are, if you live in San Francisco, you did not grow up in San Francisco. And while it’s easy to meet people here, finding your people is a little tougher.
Navigating the social and/or dating scene in SF is all about finding the right places to mix it up with some relative strangers. And we’re here to help. The bars in this guide are some of the best hangouts in their respective ’hoods, and good places to separate the Marina frat stars from the hiking sycophants, or the Bernal hipsters from the serial killers who workout barefoot in the Pine Street Equinox. So stop fumbling around the depths of your Instagram Popular page and go interact with people IRL. Here’s where to do it.
El Rio is so reliable, it could be your emergency contact. This place was once a divey lesbian bar, but at this point attracts a pretty diverse crowd. 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.
The Friday happy hour at Monroe is the best way to end the workweek and slide (and then subsequently be carried) 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 dirt-cheap drinks to treat those coworkers you like enough (but not enough to buy them regularly-priced cocktails).
Hollow Cow has risen like a phoenix from the ashes of Lighting and is a welcome addition to Union Street. Bars in the Marina can occasionally veer towards Sammy Adams levels of frattiness, but Hollow Cow is a nice alternative if you feel you’ve graduated from that scene. While it can be a little dead at the start of the week, as you get closer to the weekend, it’s a prime spot for catching the “big game” or to socialize with the 30s-ish crowd on the outdoor patio.
If you’re looking for the best dancefloor in the Mission, Double Dutch is your 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.
High-Lo isn’t a dirty dive, but it’s not a snobby cocktail place either. 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. You’ll probably want Hi-Lo to become your Cheers.
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 so saddle up and get ready for a memorable night.
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 chiseled gay men. Everyone knows that the male:female ratio in SF is like a Mariah Carey music video (8:1), so HT is perfect for a girls night out if you’re more in the market for a GBF than a BF, or if you just happen to be in the mood for a $5 basket of wings on a Monday.
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 are peer pressured to spin the wheel behind the bar and end up taking shots of something called “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 twice-weekly trivia nights at Mad Dog are good for anyone who can do the Sunday crossword in pen, or anyone who’s satisfied drinking beer in order to cope with their inability to do so. It’s a great place to go with friends or coworkers and meet other people, not just because the beer selection is great, but because even though the trivia stakes are pretty low, the team rivalry escalates as the night goes on.
Boom Boom Room is the La La Land of San Francisco bars, in that it’s a mostly-white crowd and everyone is “really into jazz.” The live music is awesome 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.
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 - Khal Drogo strong - but downing one and attempting to retain all of your memories from the night is a San Francisco rite of passage.
Bar None is the centerpiece of the Marina - it epitomizes the principles of frattiness and athleticism that our Marina forefathers fought to preserve. The average demographic skews young, but if you miss the days of playing flip cup and beer pong, look no further. It’s the perfect place to walk down memory lane and bask in the stench of stale beer and expired youth.
Madrone is a chameleon: the theme and crowd changes every night. Motown Mondays are filled with the TRX/Lululemon set trying to pretend it’s still the weekend, while the Prince/MJ Experience on Saturdays is sprinkled with a lot of artsy folk. Drinks are inexpensive, but the bar is cash only so come prepared. The Dirty Rotten Dance Party on the first Friday of the month is an excellent way to kick off the weekend.