Sometimes conversation alone won’t save a date or a group hang from being about as interesting as waiting at a dentist’s office. We’re pretty sure that’s why games (and drinking) were invented. So here are our favorite bars around San Francisco that have a whole lot more to distract yourself with than the average pool-table situation. Whether you’re planning a birthday or first date you don’t want to be filled with awkward silence, or you’re just sick of hanging out at the same bar every night, head to one of these places for karaoke, mini-golf, arcade games, and (mostly) friendly competition.
There isn’t much standing room at this Mission spot, because most of the space is taken up by a 14-hole putt-putt course that’s a miniature model of San Francisco, complete with its own Sutro Tower and Transamerica Pyramid. Each hole is designed with as much detail as a Disneyland ride, and scenes include everything from the Gold Rush to the Painted Ladies stuck in an earthquake - it’s just as much fun to find the little details everywhere as it is to play golf while drinking a margarita. Especially on weekends, when rounds are only $12.
Coin-Op gives you something to do with the loose change you keep in a massive bowl next to your keys. This multi-level bar in SoMa has more arcade games than your uncle’s dream basement, and the machines only cost 25 cents to play. If you get tired of Donkey Kong and DDR and want to sit down over nicer drinks than beers and wells, head upstairs to their secret bar called The Grid. The reservation-only spot is modeled after the movie Tron , but the theme isn’t overkill. It just feels like a futuristic private lounge with creative drinks like the Forced Prize Fight, with tequila and green tea ice.
We wish more old warehouses in the city were like Mission Bowling. This place has six lanes where you can show off some insane flare, and a full bar with their own proprietary blend of Woodford Reserve bourbon. And if you get hungry, their kitchen cranks out one of our favorite burgers in the city.
This waterfront patio spot in Mission Bay hosts Salsa Saturdays on the weekends, and even if you’re not trained like Eddie Torres or Karen Forcano (yeah, we salsa), you’ll probably find someone in the crowd who’s willing to teach you. Aside from dancing, this is one of the best outdoor bars in the city - on the bay views alone.
The big open floor surrounded by balconies makes Emporium feel less like an arcade bar and more like a gaming arena. This converted theater on Divisadero has a bunch of massive tables to rent, so your group can have a central meeting place between rounds of skee-ball and Galaga - or at least a spot to cut the cake if you’re here for a birthday party.
Presidio Cafe is on the Presidio Golf Course, and it’s open to the public, so you can come hang out here like you’re a member of a private club. Grab a beer and hit some balls on the range, or if you don’t feel like renting clubs, their back patio is a great spot to take in a sunny afternoon. You can order from their menu of burgers, reubens, and fish tacos while you watch people land in the trap coming up the 18th fairway.
Between its leather booths and lack of children’s birthday parties, this is one of the nicest bowling alleys we’ve ever experienced. And the food is great too - charred, puffy pizzas and the kinds of cocktails you’d find at a stand-alone bar. Fifth Arrow is attached to August Hall, so you could come here and grab a few drinks as a quick pregame to seeing a concert next door. Or, you could skip the show, and bowl a few frames on one of their three full-sized lanes instead.
This multi-floor Union Square sports bar has more TVs than a Circuit City, so no matter what game you want to watch, you’ll be able to find it here. There’s also skee-ball, pool, foosball, and every other bar game you can turn to when your team is losing. If you get hungry, try their really good potato skins.
Private karaoke rooms are great, but if you don’t have an entire squad with you, belting out Shania Twain isn’t as much fun. That’s why you go to Silver Clouds. This huge Marina spot is always packed with people who will bow down to your musical talents. The singing usually turns to enthusiastic shouting, but that’s part of the fun. (If you want somewhere a little less rowdy, head to Bow Bow in Chinatown.)
If you love board games enough to carry around your own 12-sided die, The Game Parlour is the spot to be. This place in the Inner Sunset is technically a cafe, and serves beer, wine, and surprisingly good milkshakes and waffles (we like the Chicken Coup, with soy-glazed fried chicken and slaw). It costs $5 to play any board game for an unlimited amount of time, which means people are slow to give up their tables. When you’re finally playing Stratego, though, the wait is all worth it.
You only need one reason to come to this Western-themed Marina bar: a mechanical bull. While you wait for your turn, square dance (alone, probably) on one of the biggest dance floors in the Marina. When it’s finally your time, remember that the official rules only let you hang on with one hand - but the unofficial rules say who cares about that because getting bucked off this machine is way scarier than it looks from the ground.
If you want to get smarter while you drink, go to The Interval. This bar houses stacks and stacks of books on science and engineering, and is probably the only place in the city you can learn about biomimicry while drinking a brandy milk punch.