No matter which city you're in, you're going to want to know where to duck out, hide out for a while in poorly lit rooms, and drink draft beer.
That's why we've put together a list of San Francisco's best dives, as part of our MUNCHIES Guide to San Francisco. But with this information comes great responsibility. These are neighborhood institutions where outsiders can sometimes be greeted with suspicion—at these spots, do not ask for a white Negroni or a sage leaf in your drink.
With names like Bender's, The Knockout, and Gangway, this should seem pretty self-evident. But as long as you're respecting basic dive bar etiquette, you'll be on your way to that special place that only Jameson and beer on tap can take you to.
Check out the complete MUNCHIES Guide to San Francisco for the best places to grab a bite on a budget, get a great cup of coffee, have the best burrito of your life, or eat fancy, too.
Bender's: With its indoor bike racks, stickers, and tags all over the place, and decidedly punk rock show calendar, Bender's is so lovably divey that it's easy to forget that they also have their classy delights: mojitos made with fresh fruit every Monday, a monthly cheese club, a recurring poutine pop-up, and the city's best fried pickles and "tot-chos" (tater tot nachos, if you didn't put two and two together).
The Knockout: Is it the rousing Thursday night bingo games, the sweaty dance parties (crowd surfing has been known to occur), or the weird cocktails (don't fear the Fireball) that make the Knockout so addictive? The men's bathroom is notoriously decrepit, but the bartenders are a delight, the pours are strong, and everyone always has fun here.
Gangway: All are welcome at this gay bar in the Tenderloin, which is the oldest in San Francisco and opens at 8 AM. And we do mean all, so come in ready to have conversations with strangers and don't be surprised when they spark up. The vibe is as homey as it is vaguely nautical, and the drinks won't break the bank.
Geary Club: You want characters? Geary Club will give you characters. Most of the bartenders are still little old ladies, and there's a revolving door of all Tenderloin types fanning through at any given hour. A decent whiskey drink here will set you back under six bucks, last we checked.
The Hot Spot: At this super-weird Mid-Market bar, you can get a beer, a shot, and a scratcher bundle for $5. The best part is that if you win the scratcher, you can use it to buy more beers, shots, and scratchers. They also have a boozy version of Plinko called "Drinko" and sometimes sell Chef Boyardee ravioli on the low. Basically, it's heaven.
Trad'r Sam: While San Francisco has many upscale tiki bars that will make you feel like a Polynesian prince or princess, Trad'r Sam is…not one of those. It's basically a dive on a Hawaiian vacation, with dangerously strong rum drinks and a hell of a lot of kitsch. It's also cash only, with huge punch bowls and even some drinks made with ice cream (diabetics, beware). This is escapism at its chintziest, and we mean that as a compliment.
Phone Booth: With lighting so dim you can barely see, an immaculately curated jukebox, friendly bartenders, and cheap drinks, Phone Booth is the perfect neighborhood dive. You could smoke in there—maybe legally, maybe not—until a couple of years ago, so the aroma of your neurotic aunt's living room permeates. Plus, there's a cute bar dog named Rufus and a chandelier made out of naked Barbies.
SF Eagle Lounge: Formerly the Eagle Tavern, this SOMA leather daddy bar with a huge backyard is well-loved by gays and non-gays alike, thanks to its overarching air of PMA and welcomeness to all.
Hockey Haven: If you want to step into a sports bar universe untouched by the sands of time or the looming influence of techies and Animal Collective fans, Hockey Haven is your spot. You will not see anyone you know there, ever, unless you tell too many people about this paradise where you can be left alone to get wasted and yell at flat-screen TVs with old drunken strangers.
Check out the complete MUNCHIES Guide to San Francisco to see eight other divey paradises that San Francisco has to offer.