The 19 Most Fun Bars In SF Right NowCall them what you want. Happening. Cool. Busy. Vibing.
Transparently, we could not agree on a title for this bar guide. “The Coolest Bars In SF?” No, what does “cool” mean, anyway? “SF’s Hottest Bars For Hot People Who Just Want To Have Fun?” Obviously, that didn’t get very far in the editorial process. Plainly speaking, use this list of some of the best SF bars—from the classics to new hot spots—any time you’re looking for an exceptionally good time.
Anyone who cares about hot new bars has probably spent several nights getting moody at The Felix (it's from the people behind the fancy-ish Vietnamese spot Bodega SF). Inspired by speakeasies, to enter, you have to push the framed photo and head through the door that leads downstairs. This loungey den has a never-ending supply of cool: neon red lights, big yellow booths, a small dance floor, and a DJ. Since the crowd is fairly calm, expect to groove lightly with an Asian-inflected highball or a classic cocktail in hand.
Key Klub is fueled by duck liver mousse-topped french toast, excellent double patty burgers, and tacos. The pink-tinted Lower Nob Hill natural wine bar (from the people behind Bodega) has one of the best bar food menus in town—which certainly helps to keep the two-story space packed. As do the glasses of natural wine under silly-named sections like “Thicc Boys” and “Here To Party.” You may have to use your outside voice for someone to hear you over the music bumping through the fancy-looking speakers, but that’s just part of the fun.
Like climbing hills or picnicking on a 45-degree slope at Stern Grove, closing down Madrone at 2am is an essential SF experience. The NoPa bar/art gallery is where to throw off your light jacket and dance in the glowy red, art-covered space with people who remember floppy disks and people who, well, don’t. Themed dancing nights, from Motown Mondays to Emo vs. Pop Punk, and artsy events like figure drawing, keep Madrone’s pull strong.
You want a cocktail and you have Miranda Priestly-levels of taste. Head to Chinatown’s Moongate Lounge. The spot above Mister Jiu’s is straight up sexy, looking like a Bond lair, but with an illuminated bar, red velvet everywhere, and elegant lotus chandeliers. It’s all very swank, but a night here tends to add up. So dig in, vibe under the fluorescent blue and pink lights next to someone who’s probably cooler than you, and drink a frothy cocktail inspired by the Chinese lunar calendar. The glowing skylight beckons.
Brooklyn friends coming to town? They’ll feel right at home at Bar Part Time. The Mission natural wine bar is sexy and cavernous, decked out with a disco ball, BPT-branded wine glasses, and shelves of vinyl. It's good conversation fodder for when you rub against someone who unironically wears sunglasses indoors. Just be prepared to wake up the next day, possibly with the DJ’s Instagram handle scribbled on your palm in Sharpie, because it’s always that kind of night here.
The Mai Tais at this classic Chinatown dive are dangerously strong, so strong in fact that your vision might go blurry after just one. This place is an institution with an eclectic crowd of tourists, locals, and former fraternity stars who are always up for starting conversations with strangers. At just $12 a Mai Tai, this is one of the best drink bargains in the whole city—so go ahead and make some bad decisions, everyone else here is too.
El Rio in Bernal Heights has been a staple of SF’s queer community since 1978, and it’s no surprise why. A day or night at this bar/event space can go in many directions, but it’ll always be action-packed. The place to be is the giant back patio, which hosts themed dance parties like R&B and Ribs, Club Latino, and Infinite Pride. You never know what—or who—you’ll stumble into here, but you’ll always leave with a story, person, or even a slice of birthday cake from the party you crashed.
The energy at Cavaña always feels more Miami than San Francisco, but that’s perfect when you want to dress up for a night in a city that thinks T-shirts are formalwear. It’s a lush Latin rooftop bar in Mission Bay with showy cocktails, amazing views, and people wearing trendy sunglasses. The food, which ranges from corn esquites tostadas to aguachile to a massive and smoky carne asada plate, is the energy charge you need to dance—and there will be dancing. This place turns into a reggaeton dance party on most Friday and Saturday nights.
Bar Iris looks like a hotel lounge mixed with a mid-century living room. In other words, this cocktail bar in Russian Hill is a fancy yet intimate drinking spot where you can sip high balls, rare whiskeys, and Japanese-inspired cocktails on a wingback chair. This place is also the sister bar to the Japanese fine dining restaurant Nisei (located right next door), which is basically your cue to order everything on the izakaya-style menu, like the perfect chicken karaage with black curry and the standout Japanese milk bread with creamy miso honey butter. This is the move for high-stakes date nights.
Playing Super Smash Bros. (drunk) on a giant projector is objectively more fun than playing it on your couch. So The Detour in Duboce Triangle is the obvious choice for a night out. The video game tournaments at this massive barcade are on Mondays, which is when you should expect to get overly competitive with strangers while drinking excellent cocktails and eating snacks with an Asian twist like adobo wings and mapo tofu and rice. Since this place is here to make you forget that real-world responsibilities exist, they also host board game nights and drag bingo, and are stocked with every arcade game ever made.
You’ll hear the saxophone before you even get to Geelou, which should up your anticipation for a blurry night at this Marina jazz bar. It feels like a concert venue, with a multi-piece jazz band that gets funky for hours every night. The ambiance motivates couples to swing dance in between the cushy booths and lounge chairs that fill the space, and friends to passionately discuss the instruments they used to play back in the day. Espresso martinis are also on every table, the ideal fuel-up before a game of pool in the back.
Come to Arcana for a glass of pét-nat and you might leave with a $600 ponytail palm. The Mission multi-hyphenate is a breezy plant shop and wine bar that’s usually packed with self-described “plant parents” chatting about watering habits while snacking on cheese boards, salads, or something else from the all-vegetarian menu. Even if you can’t keep a plant alive, the high-ceilinged, frond-filled place is still the answer to "What should we do tonight?” There’s always live music, DJs, or events (like cider tastings and food pop-ups) happening.
In a city that goes to sleep early, Hi Tops is somehow always full of people flirting like their faces might fall off. Hi Tops looks like any old sports bar with TVs covering the wall and people drinking copious amounts of beer, and it is that, but it’s also the best place to start your night out in the Castro before you inevitably end up at Beaux or an unlisted venue on this guide: the house of that guy you just met.
There are as many wine bars with small plates in SF as amateur rock climbers, and they all tend to blend together. But Buddy’s frequently changing small plates will get you excited. They’re the headliners at this laid-back Mission spot. Hearty mortadella sandwiches, gougėres topped with shiny trout roe, and thick toast with savory porcini butter and sour cherry jam will inspire you to sink into a comfy banquette and linger until closing time. The food pairs perfectly with a fizzy wine cocktail or something from their list of effervescent and funky natural wines.
Drinking outside is fun. Drinking outside with friends and enormous fruity punch bowls? Even better. Anina feels like a tropical beer garden, with a ton of rum and botanical-leaning drinks. Buzzy and borderline preppy-hip (typical Hayes Valley), you should expect to see a designer dog or two. And, because of the city's unpredictable weather, there’s also an airy indoor bar with vibrant floral murals. This place never disappoints. Just get here early to secure an outdoor table.
When there’s no fog in sight, go to El Techo in the Mission. The dinner and weekend brunch menu of broadly Latin American snacks and plates is nothing special, but that doesn’t really matter because the downtown views are gorgeous. And the drinks are strong, so embrace the “I don’t want to remember this meal” party vibe going down on the roof at sunset. You can walk in, but make a reservation—especially on a Saturday afternoon when everyone has the same idea to ogle at the skyline.
Beaux isn’t the kind of place you plan on going to—it’s where you end up. This is a queer bar in the Castro where the music never stops pumping, the drinks never stop flowing, and the drag shows go late. Pops of blue light are everywhere, creating an overstimulating (in a fun way), and electrifying environment that might just inspire you to jump on a table and take that shirt off. A perfect recipe for a memorable night with memorable people.
Casements is deceiving. From the outside, it looks like any other Irish tavern in the Mission pumping out whiskey and gin-based drinks. But once inside you’ll see a large back patio, which is the main event. Full of plants and random furniture, like a hot pink dresser and mirror, this patio is taken over each night by friend groups so large that you’ll wonder how they all know each other. This is the place to sneak your way into some new friends during one of their over-the-top laughing fits.
Trick Dog is a ridiculously popular bar (and Flour + Water waiting spot) in the Mission that serves creative cocktails that are actually good (and not just pretentious). No matter the night, Trick Dog will have a random splattering of people who are here to drink whatever’s on their seasonal, themed menu. Pop, R&B, and rap play on the speakers, and it’s just loud enough for you to still be able to chat with that person you brought over from the climbing gym around the corner. There’s also a short food menu of hot dogs, burgers, and salads to be enjoyed upstairs—but let’s be real, the reason you’re here is to look sexy and chat up the person you met the day before.