After months of swiping, messaging, Instagram lurking, and bargaining with a higher power, you finally did it - you’re going on a first date. But that also means you have to do that thing where you meet a complete stranger and attempt to convince them that you are a cool person who’s worthy of love and affection. To pull that off, it helps to have alcohol. Preferably at a bar that’s not so fancy it’s uncomfortable, not so loud you have to shout, and not so quiet you can hear the other person regretting this decision. Oh, and it wouldn’t hurt if that bar also has delicious drinks and a decent food menu, either. It’s a tall order, but we have some ideas.
All restaurants featured on The Infatuation are selected by our editorial team. The Best Bars For A First Date In SF is presented by Monkey Shoulder. As a whisky that’s made for mixing, Monkey Shoulder believes that adult life - and dating - doesn’t have to be so uptight. Check out our full collection of laid-back dating guides here.
Anina is a large beer garden/tropical bar that works well for an energetic, vibrant first date. They have plenty of outdoor picnic tables, a steady, buzzy atmosphere, and fruity punch bowls and spritzes your date will hopefully appreciate. Get here early to secure a spot on their sun-drenched patio or at the long bar under the lanterns and twinkle lights before they start to get busy.
The Mexican bar in the Outer Sunset is fun, casual, and more laidback than a warm, fog-less afternoon at Ocean Beach. It also happens to be right up the street from the sandy hangout spot and is one of our favorite places to drink, thanks to excellent tequila and mezcal cocktails, solid tacos, a cute patio, and plenty of spread out indoor space. Before you plan a date here, know that Sunset Cantina can get crowded and they don’t take reservations. So try to come during off-hours or post up at the bar, which is also never a bad idea.
The NoPa cocktail bar should be high on your list of top first date spots, mainly because there really is no downside to coming here. This place makes great drinks, and serves both snacks and full plates for whenever your (hopefully) not awkward conversation makes you work up an appetite. And since Horsefeather is open by 2pm most days and has a big skylight that floods their semi-outdoor atrium with a ton of natural light, this spot is an excellent call for a day drinking or late afternoon date.
If the perfect date involves challenging each other to identify as many plants as possible (and confirm that the “Plant Parent” title on your date’s Hinge profile was truly no exaggeration), head to Propagation. The Lower Nob Hill bar is packed with cacti and leafy greens, and refreshing cocktails that riff on the plant theme, like the Thriller Spiller And Filler. Friendly bartenders and cozy seating options that range from a brown leather couch to two lounge chairs by the window, make Propagation a reliable first date spot.
ABV has a lot going for it that we love. The Mission bar is nice without feeling too fancy, and chill without feeling too dingy. In other words, ABV is a cool bar we enjoy hanging out at, even on nights when we’re not trying to smooth talk our way to a date two. There are also solid cocktails and really great snack and small plate options, from fried cauliflower to tater tots to burgers with spicy chips. Definitely get the cheese plate.
The longstanding cocktail spot in Lower Nob Hill is worth popping into for the basil gimlet alone, and is also a great spot for a first date. The service is friendly, the cocktails are good, and there’s a spacious bar and a larger lounge-y area that you and your date can post up at.
This cocktail bar in the Mission also doubles as a restaurant with great shareable plates, burgers, and fish and chips. They also don’t go overboard with the nautical theme. So, if you’re looking for a spot to drink, fuel up, and meet on a patio under a large flapping sail - or inside a space that looks like the cabin of a wooden ship - this place is it.
For something more intimate and romantic (but not too romantic), do a first date at Lone Palm. The casual bar in the Mission is dimly lit by candlelight and blue and pink neon, and dresses up their cozy round tables in white linen. It’s also quiet enough that you’ll most likely avoid having to repeat, “Wait, what was that?” over and over again - that is, until the late-night crowd comes in and adds a healthy buzz. But even then, Lone Palm is still as chill as they come.
This Russian Hill bar was open for three months before the pandemic hit, so you may not have had enough time to plan a first date here. But now you can (and should). The inside feels like a breezy New England home that’s also really into botanicals (hanging plants are everywhere). And after sitting on one of their cushioned chairs or in one of the booths, you’ll want to chill here with one of their colorful cocktails all day. They also have parklet seating and a lot of great food options, like a Maine-style lobster roll and fantastic deviled eggs, that you and your date definitely need to get into.
Blackbird is an awesome, lowkey bar in the Castro that isn’t totally overplayed. They have cool art on the walls, friendly bartenders, and new parklet seating. More importantly, they make excellent cocktails that are best enjoyed in the back at one of the small round tables.
This saloon in the Mission is historic, cozy, and decorated like an old Victorian bedroom. So if you and your date feel like meeting up at a vintage place that feels drenched in bourbon and whiskey, head here. But if not, Homestead is still an awesome, casual bar that serves great cocktails, allows you to bring your dog, and lets you throw your peanut shells on the floor.
The Interval is one of the more unique bars in San Francisco, and the fact that you even know it exists will probably impress your date. Tucked next to Greens in Fort Mason, the bar has an extensive cocktail list and is decorated to look like an eccentric chemistry professor’s office. This spot is good for an early evening cocktail and a walk along the water towards the bridge.
The nautical-themed dive bar in the Dogpatch is as versatile as they come, which also makes it a great first date spot. Sit at the bar and make good conversation over punny cocktails like Mezcal Aloe Mode. You can also watch sports on one of the TVs or challenge each other to a game of pool in the back. Either way, the drinks will be great, the vibes will be right, and you and your date will leave smooth sailing into date two.
The Alembic looks like an alchemist’s lair with dark leather seats, and shelves stocked with books and glass beakers. But the magical thing about one of our favorite bars in the Haight is that they consistently make great cocktails and food to go along with them. This bar is also dark and rustic, and is ultimately an ideal backdrop for a first date you’ll maybe one day tell your kids about.
This place has been making incredible cocktails since 1998, which is only one reason to plan a date here. The other is that the speakeasy/gastropub situated off a quiet alley in North Beach sets the bar high for all other cocktail spots in the city. It’s also cozy, dimly-lit, and minimalist - there are seats at the bar and along the wall and not much else, so you can focus on your date or moving past the small talk stage.