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Best Dive Bars in San Francisco

Drink on the Cheap and Meet the Locals!


San Francisco is not all fancy cocktails and micro-brews, despite what the glossy magazines may try to tell you. Most locals actually prefer to drink at neighborhood dive bars, many of which are actually historic watering holes with decades, if not centuries, of stories soaked into their furniture. To get a true taste of real San Francisco nightlife and escape the tourist hordes, not to mention save a buck or two, check out the eclectic dive bars that dot the city.

1. Columbus Cafe

Photo by Ocean Malandra
With the best happy hour in the city - 2 for 1 draft beers every day from 4pm till 8pm - Colombus Cafe gets packed early and stays that way till closing time 7 days a week. The gregarious crowd includes local North Beach residents, afterwork employees of the area's many restaurants and the lucky tourist who heard about Columbus through the grapevine. A jamming jukebox, cool depression-era worker's union photographs on the walls, sassy bartenders and a pool table in the back round the joint out.

562 Green Street, (415) 274-2599 www.columbuscafesf.com

2. The Little Shamrock

Photo by Ocean Malandra
Located right across the street from Golden Gate Park, the Little Shamrock is the perfect place to quench your thirst after a long day exploring San Francisco's premier green-space. The bar is one of the oldest in the city and has been open continuously since the 19th century. Great happy hour deals on draft beers and Irish coffee, built in backgammon tables, a roaring fire in the back and free pop corn make this the kind of bar that sucks you in till last call. The Little Shamrock is also a favorite hangout of the areas substancial Irish population, a racous crowd that love to meet visitors.

807 Lincoln Way, (415) 661-0060

3. Li-Po

Photo by Ocean Malandra
Named after the rebellious Chinese philosopher-poet of the 8th century AD, Li-Po is a Chinatown dive bar that attracts a diverse array of locals, visitors and complete randomness - anyone from hollywood celebrities to anarchist street kids. The long yet curving bar is made for striking up conversations with complete strangers and the semi-private booths in the back are perfect for clandestine romance and shady business deals. Try their famous Chinese Mai Tai or sample a Chinese beer like Singtao.

916 Grant Avenue, (415) 982-0072 www.lipolounge.com

4. The Hyde Out

Photo by Ocean Malandra
This classy old school bar sits just at the foot of Nob Hill and right on the cable car line. Big floor-to-ceiling glass windows were made for watching the foot traffic while sipping a cheap happy hour draft beer. The cash-only bar also has a cozy upstairs nook perfect for intimate conversations but the mostly regulars crowd down below will quickly pull you into the mischief if you sit at the bar. Bartenders here are known for their good looks and generous shot pours.

1068 Hyde Street, (415) 441-1914

5. The Hi-Tide

Image Courtesy of Jesse Garcia
You may not think the posh Union Square area is home to cheap drinking establishments, but that is truly not the case. At the Hi-Tide, which draws a strictly local and after work crowd, a massive jukebox pumps pure energy into the comfy booth lined interior and mingling becomes mandatory just to navigate the aisles. Several pool tables in the back promote social interaction and the Korean bar staff are some of the chattiest gals in town. Try it once, and you will be back the next night.

600 Geary Street, (415) 771-3145

6. Max's 540 Club

Photo by Ocean Malandra
Known for their house-made bloody mary's, dollar pint Mondays, $2 Tuesdays and so on, Max's 540 is a warm and welcome home from the fog and wind. It is packed most nights of the week with an interesting bunch that includes hipsters, hippies, the unassuming locals typical of the Richmond District and the occasional European traveler. Live music on weekend nights turns the 540 Club into quite a scene, something not to miss if you are in the area and looking for some real San Francisco insider action.

540 Clement Street, (415) 752-7276 www.540-club.com

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