As San Francisco transitions once again into a hub for technology industry hipsters, the bar scene evolves as well. However, there is one constant in this great, celebratory city…an appreciation for old dives and historic watering holes.
SF Heritage, which works preserve and enhance San Francisco’s unique architectural and cultural identity, has compiled a guide to more than 130 “heritage bars and restaurants” throughout San Francisco, available at www.sfheritage.org/legacy.
Here are some of my favorite classics from their list, each worth a visit.
Wild Side West, Established: 1962
424 Cortland Ave., www.wildsidewest.com
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 , Established: 1935
401 Castro St., www.twinpeakstavern.com
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 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 to the neighborhood.
Dogpatch Saloon , Established: 1912
2496 3rd St., dogpatchsaloon.com
Originally the site of a revival saloon, Dogpatch Saloon became a “soft” drink store when Prohibition was passed. After Prohibition, the bar was quickly started serving alcohol again. In the 90s, “Dogpatch” was added to the title, making it the first to include the name of the neighborhood into the business name.
Old Ship Saloon, Established: 1851
298 Pacific Ave., www.oldshipsaloon.com
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 hull that ran aground during a storm off of Alcatraz. It was later towed to the current location at the beach. Since renovated, the bar still preserves the memory of the ship.
Alioto’s #8 , Established: 1925
Eight Fisherman’s Wharf, www.aliotos.com
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. Little has changed since then. Alioto’s restaurant is a culinary landmark that is still owned and operated by the descendants of Nonna Rose Alioto, showing the care and commitment of running a restaurant bearing their name.
Aub Zam Zam , Established: 1942
1633 Haight St., zamzambar.com
Once referred to the “Holy Shrine of the Dry Martini” by Herb Caen, Aub Zam Zam holds a special piece of history with the city. The owner, Bruno Mooshei, was so historically 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. Cash only.
Bus Stop Saloon, Established: 1900
1901 Union St.
Still going strong since the turn of the century, the Bus Stop Saloon has gone through four generations of family ownership. Wall-to-wall TVs, pool tables, buckets of beer and a Pac-Man console attract a young, rowdy crowd that is sure to keep this bar kicking for generations to come.
Elbo Room, Established: 1935
647 Valencia St., www.elbo.com
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 operating as a bar and the second floor a performance/dance space.
Gangway Bar , Established: 1910
841 Larkin St.
Billing itself the oldest gay bar in the city, Gangway was around long before the Castro became an LGBT neighborhood. In the 60s, the Gangway was part of 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.
The Saloon , Established: 1861
1232 Grant St.
The oldest “saloon” in the city, the Saloon has been has been a great place to grab a drink and get your dance through the 2860s, 1960s and today.
South of Market/SOMA
The Endup , Established: 1973
401 Sixth St., www.theendup.com
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.
Little Shamrock , Established: 1890s
807 Lincoln Way
The oldest business in the Sunset, Little Shamrock has been a favorite watering hole of visitors to the nearby Golden Gate Park for more than a century. Legend has it that the Shamrock first opened in 1893 in another neighborhood entikrely but relocated to its current location by 1896, where to this day, people love to have a beer and play darts.
Philosopher’s Club, Established: 1960 (my personal favorite!)
824 Ulloa St.
In the often overlooked but lovable neighborhood of 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.