Oldest Bars in San Francisco by Neighborhood
In a city that is steeped in new technology as we are, we are still traditionalists at heart. We even have an organization that chronicles the city, SF Heritage, who's Legacy Project marks historic places in the city. We like our architecture Victorian and our Manhattans stirred, not shaken. And, we love our bars with a sense of tradition. They preserve our city, cultural identity and make some damn good drinks. Here are the oldest, most awesome bars in the city that you should visit the next time you're in town.
Wild Side West (424 Cortland Avenue)
This lesbian-friendly bar was named after the Barbara Stanwyck film, "Walk on the Wild Side." In the 1970s, this bar was vandalized when broken toilets and sinks were thrown through the windows and landed in the backyard. Out of the destruction, came one of the city's best outdoor patios, which still exists today. A bar that welcomed Bob Dylan and Janis Joplin back in the day, welcomes everyone who walks through their doors.
Twin Peaks Tavern (401 Castro Street)
An emblem of the gay community, Twin Peaks was designated an historical bar in 2013. The bar is the first known gay bar to feature full length open plate glass windows, openly revealing the identities of their patrons. Sitting at the intersection of Castro and Market Streets, Twin Peaks stands as a gateway into the neighborhood.
Cafe du Nord (2174 Market Street)
Located in an area where the Swedish community once thrived, Cafe du Nord occupies the basement of the San Francisco Swedish Society. The bar itself has one of the two music venues in the space (the other being the Swedish American Hall). For more than 100 years, Cafe Du Nord has maintained its intimate mood of a speakeasy with rich, dark colors of red and black. In 2013, the lease changed hands and has been undergoing renovations. Cafe du Nord plans to reopen in the fall of 2014.
Red's Place (672 Jackson Street)
Known as the "Cheers" of Chinatown, Red's Place was the site of the annual firecracker tradition when the Chinese New Year Parade would march by. Although the original owners have passed, the bar is still owned and operated by the family.
Great American Music Hall (859 O'Farrell Street)
Sitting on the border of Civic Center and Nob Hill, the Great American Music Hall opened in 1907 as a restaurant and a bordello. Today it is a music venue that has hosted performers ranging from Duke Ellington, Sarah Vaughan and Count Basie to Van Morrison, the Grateful Dead, Arcade Fire, and Patti Smith.
Dogpatch Saloon (2496 Third Street)
Originally the site of a revival saloon, Dogpatch Saloon became a "soft" drink store when Prohibition was passed. After Prohibition, the bar quickly started serving alcohol again. In the 90's, Dogpatch was added to the bar, making it the first one to incorporate the name of the neighborhood into the business name.
Old Ship Saloon (298 Pacific Avenue)
The oldest bar in San Francisco (Elixir will have something to say about that), Old Ship Saloon is a bar made out of a ship's hull that ran aground during a storm off of Alcatraz. It was later towed to the current location, which was once a beach. Since renovated, the bar still preserves the memory of the ship.
Alioto's #8 (Eight Fisherman's Wharf)
A tourist hotspot and a classic San Francisco bar all rolled into one. The restaurant began as a fresh fish stall on San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf in 1925. Since then, little has changed. Alioto’s restaurant is a culinary landmark that is still owned and operated by the descendants of Nonna Rose Alioto who show the care and commitment of running a restaurant bearing their name.
Aub Zam Zam (1633 Haight Street)
Once referred to as the "Holy Shrine of the Dry Martini" by San Francisco Chronicle columnist, Herb Caen, Aub Zam Zam represents a special piece of city history. The owner, Bruno Mooshei, was so ornery, that it became a game among patrons to see who could stay in the bar the longest. Bruno would throw someone out for something as trivial as putting the wrong song on the jukebox or not ordering a drink he liked. Today they are certainly friendlier.
Bus Stop Saloon (1901 Union Street)
How can a bar that attracts a young, rowdy crowd with wall-to-wall TVs and a Pac-Man console be on the list? One that has been around since the turn-of-the-century with more than four generations of family ownership.
Mauna Loa Club (3009 Fillmore Street)
A tribute to the Hawaiian volcano, Mauna Loa is a blue-collar bar in the trendsetting Marina neighborhood. The 1980's saw the inclusion of a pool table and Pop-a-Shot, but the bar still retains much of its charm.
Horseshoe Tavern (2024 Chestnut Street)
A "regulars" bar if there ever was one. The original owner was a former football player of the team that would become the 49ers. Located on an upscale street in San Francisco, the "Shoe" remains a San Francisco classic.
The Homestead (2301 Folsom Street)
Opened in 1906 as the "Old Homestead," there's evidence in this Mission bar that it was a speakeasy during Prohibition. I mean, there's a private room in the back. It doesn't get anymore obvious than that. Of all the old bars in the city, the Homestead maintains much of the same decor that was around during the turn of the century.
Elbo Room (647 Valencia Street)
Since 1935 the Elbo Room has been many things: a Spanish restaurant, a western bar, and one of the nation’s first lesbian dance clubs, Amelia’s, which became the anchor for the lesbian community. As the community diversified, Amelia's no longer thrived. Since 1991, the Elbo Room has been open with the first floor being a bar and the second floor a performance/dance space. On most nights, Elbo Room is hopping.
Elixir (3200 16th Street)
On 16th Street and Guerrero, sits arguably the oldest bar in the city (definitely in the Mission), Elixir. Since the Wild West days, Elixir has been transformed into many things, however in 2003 it was fully restored, including its original bar, and returned to its original glory.
Shotwell's (3349 20th Street)
Opened originally by German immigrants as a grocery store saloon that had a backroom for beer drinking, today it's simply known as Shotwell's, a place many people come to meet, drink beer and play pinball. It serves only beer, but it's beer that is well curated to include many micro-brews from the Bay Area.
Gangway Bar (841 Larkin Street)
Billing itself as the oldest gay bar in the city, Gangway was around way before the Castro became an LGBT neighborhood. In the 60s, the Gangway belonged to the Tavern Guild, a coalition of gay bar owners and liquor wholesalers, paving the way to host numerous community events. Today, the interior pays tribute to many famous figures throughout the LGBT community's history.
Ha-Ra Club (875 Geary Boulevard)
Opened in 1947 by a former boxer, Ha-Ra Club has been an anchor for the neighborhood. Today, the interior displays memorabilia reminiscent of the past. This bar has all the essentials: liquor, a pool table and a jukebox. Nothing more than that.
Mr. Bing's (201 Columbus Avenue)
Mr. Bing's is a bar that everyone can agree is a dive. With a spectacular view of Broadway and Columbus Streets, this bar offers something that others can't. People still keep coming back for the inexpensive drinks and shrewd bartenders.
Vesuvio Cafe (255 Columbus Avenue)
A regular hangout of beatniks, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsburg, Vesuvio was the seat of the hippie revolution. As the neighborhood has evolved, the bar has become a tribute to Jazz, art and poetry. Things to Drink: John Daly.
Spec's Twelve Adler Museum Cafe (12 Saroyan Place)
Another staple of Bohemian culture in North Beach, Spec's has been an enclave that has become a haven for artists through the years. The interior serves as a showcase for Spec's curated collection of zany artifacts. Walking in here, you'll think you're in someone's garage.
Northstar Cafe (1560 Powell Street)
The oldest bar in North Beach, Northstar is a comfortable neighborhood bar with a lively character, including such eccentricities as a customer-of-the month award and a perpetual supply of free popcorn for its happy patrons.
Gino and Carlo Cocktail Lounge and Sports Bar (548 Green Street)
This is a true classic North Beach sports bar and lounge. Family-owned for more than 50 years, Italian and proud of it, they offer 12 beers on tap.
Tony Nik's Cafe (1534 Stockton Street)
When Prohibition was repealed in 1933, Tony immediately opened Tony Nicco's Café, one of the first bars to open in North Beach. Tony Nicco's was called a café because, at that time, food was required to be served with alcohol. Step in and step back in time. Entering Tony Nik's will bring you back to an era of friendly and professional bartenders; ice cold beer, delicious cocktails, drinks served just the way you like them.
La Rocca's Corner (957 Columbus Avenue)
Opened in 1934, this sports bar has a history steeped in baseball lore as Joe DiMaggio's favorite hangout. During the 1940s and 50s, local mobsters were known to frequent La Rocca’s as well.
The Saloon (1232 Grant Street)
The oldest "Saloon" in the city, the Saloon has been has a great place to grab a drink and get your dance on since the 60s (19th and 20th century).
Trad'r Sams (6150 Geary Street)
Before the heyday of the tiki craze in the 1960s there was Trad'r Sams. On top of the kitschy drinks they serve here, you'll get a geography lesson. The seating areas are named after tropical islands.
The Endup (401 Sixth Street)
Home to San Francisco's after-hours crowd, the Endup has two indoor bars, an outdoor bar and food stand, a lounge with a pool table, a high-powered sound system and a dance floor with provocative lighting. What was once a club that catered to gay San Francisco, now welcomes all walks of life. When you hear the bass thumping, you know you're close by.
Hotel Utah Saloon (500 4th Street)
A relic of the Barbary Coast era, Hotel Utah was a favorite among gamblers, thieves, ladies of the night, politicians, hustlers, gold seekers, charlatans, police and fancy miscreants when it first opened in 1908. Since then it has attracted celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe, Joe DiMaggio, Bing Crosby, Robin Williams and Whoopi Goldberg. Today, the Utah is the home to the most intimate concert venue in the city.
House of Shields (39 New Montgomery Street)
One of the city's most famous speakeasies during Prohibition, House of Shields didn't actually open up as a bar until 1944. How famous? There's an urban legend that President Warren G Harding died at this bar (and then was taken through the tunnels underneath to the Palace Hotel where he was found). Today, House of Shields stands as a shining example of expertly poured drinks. Go and get one.
Little Shamrock (807 Lincoln Way)
The oldest business in the Sunset, Little Shamrock has been a favorite watering hole of visitors to nearby Golden Gate Park for some time. Legend has it that the Shamrock first opened in 1893 in another neighborhood completely, but by 1896 had relocated to its current location, where to this day, people love to have a beer and play darts.
Philosopher's Club (824 Ulloa Street)
All the way out in the sleepy, but quaint and lovable neighborhood, West Portal, sits the Philosopher's Club, the home of the man who started mixology, Jerry Thomas (he wrote the first book on the topic). Come for the history and the quotes on the ceiling, but stay for the drinks.