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November 15, 2022

Oldest Bars in San Francisco by Neighborhood

In a city that is as steeped in new technology as we are, San Franciscans are still traditionalists at heart. We even have an organization that chronicles the city, SF Heritage, whose 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 bars in the city that you should visit the next time you're in town.

Bernal Heights

Wild Side West (424 Cortland Avenue)

Established: 1962
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 now welcomes everyone who walks through their doors.


Twin Peaks Tavern (401 Castro Street)

Established: 1935
An emblem of the gay community, Twin Peaks Tavern was designated an historical bar in 2013. The bar is the first known gay bar to feature full length 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)

Established: 1908
Located in an area where the Swedish community once thrived, Cafe du Nord occupies the basement of the Swedish American Hall, operated by the Swedish Society of San Francisco. 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. 


Red's Place (672 Jackson Street)

Established: 1960
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.

Civic Center

Great American Music Hall (859 O'Farrell Street)

Established: 1907
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)

Established: 1912
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.


Old Ship Saloon (298 Pacific Avenue)

Established: 1851
The oldest bar in San Francisco, 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.


The Gold Cane (1569 Haight Street)

Established: 1926
The Gold Cane is a reliable neighborhood favorite, where drinks are always so cheap that no happy hour special is necessary. With its pool table, patio, and ample seating, it's the place to go if you want to feel like a local in the Haight.


Bus Stop Saloon (1901 Union Street)

Established: 1900
How can a bar that attracts a young, rowdy crowd with wall-to-wall TVs and a Pac-Man console be on the list? Bus Stop Saloon has been around since the turn-of-the-century with more than four generations of family ownership.

Mauna Loa Club (3009 Fillmore Street)

Established: 1939
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. Cash only.

Horseshoe Tavern (2024 Chestnut Street)

Established: 1934
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)

Established: 1906
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.

The Valencia Room (647 Valencia Street)

Established: 1935
Formerly known as the Elbo Room, this dive bar has been renamed The Valencia Room, but still showcases the diverse culture and traditions of the Mission District. Since 1935, the Valencia 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. Since 1991, the first floor has been a bar and the second floor is a performance/dance space.

Elixir (3200 16th Street)

Established: 1858
On 16th Street and Guerrero sits 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)

Established: 1891
Opened originally by German immigrants as a grocery store 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.

Nob Hill

Ha-Ra Club (875 Geary Boulevard)

Established: 1947
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.

North Beach

Mr. Bing's (201 Columbus Avenue)

Established: 1967
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)

Established: 1948
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. 

Spec's Twelve Adler Museum Cafe (12 William Saroyan Place)

Established: 1968
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)

Established: 1882
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)

Established: 1942
This is a true classic North Beach sports bar and lounge. Family-owned for more than 50 years, Italian and proud of it, Gino and Carlo offers 12 beers on tap. Cash only.

Tony Nik's Cafe (1534 Stockton Street)

Established: 1933
When Prohibition was repealed in 1933, Tony immediately opened Tony Nicco's Café. 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, and drinks served just the way you like them.

La Rocca's Corner (957 Columbus Avenue)

Established: 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)

Established: 1861
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)

Established: 1937
Before the heyday of the tiki craze in the 1960s there was Trad'r Sam. 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)

Established: 1973
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)

Established: 1908
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, Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg, and John Mayer. Today, the Utah is the home to the most intimate concert venue in the city

House of Shields (39 New Montgomery Street)

Established: 1912
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)

Established: 1890s
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.

West Portal

Philosopher's Club (824 Ulloa Street)

Established: 1960
All the way out in this sleepy but quaint and lovable neighborhood sits the Philosopher's Club, the home of the man who started mixology, Jerry Thomas. Come for the history and the quotes on the ceiling, but stay for the drinks.


Photo by Jennifer Maderazo / CC BY

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