San Francisco’s North Beach is an area that is always buzzing with energy, from the numerous visitors coming to see the neighborhood’s historic attractions to those who partake in its vibrant nightlife.
There are two sides to San Francisco’s famous North Beach neighborhood. There’s the side that attracts out-of-towners looking for a wild Saturday night out or some touristy restaurants. And then there’s the other side, the side steeped in a history that includes the Barbary Coast and the hub of the Beat Generation. Both sides are valid reasons to visit the “Little Italy” of the city — as is an excuse to check out some amazing bars, including these seven that won’t disappoint.
Cocktail Bar, Cocktails, $$$
15 Romolo is a well-kept secret and favored local hangout. Complete with cozy couches and a retro jukebox, 15 Romolo’s got everything you could want. Order plenty of sides before you dive into the Punch Drunk Brunch menu, full of creatively named cocktails such as the The Bitter Barista and the Lookin’ Good.
Church Key is a cozy bi-level pub that “only” serves beer and wine, but anyone who geeks out on the former won’t find that to be a limitation. It’s easy to find something to love either on the rotating tap list that features 10 innovative (and often locally brewed) beers or the extensive bottle list. Wednesday is a popular night thanks to “Beer with Soul” when DJs spin Motown and other soulful tunes. But no matter which night you go, be prepared to get there on the earlier side, as the bartenders kick everyone out at midnight.
Step back in time at Comstock Saloon, a North Beach watering hole whose decor pays homage to its 1907 Victorian roots with the original mahogany bar (and the — thankfully no longer in use — urinal trough that runs beneath it), the tile floors, a working spittoon, antique ceiling fans, and vintage-inspired wallpaper. There’s free live jazz every night, which pairs perfectly with a classic cocktail made by a well-dressed and knowledgeable bartender.
The Devil’s Acre pays tribute to the Barbary Coast era of San Francisco with elaborate cocktails inspired by a time when alcohol and medicine were closely entwined. The apothecary-themed menu includes period-specific classics, like a sherry cobbler, as well as “remedies” that claim to boost your energy, lift your mood, cure your hangover, and even act as an aphrodisiac. Most of the seating is at intimate candle-lit tables, but there are a few seats at the bar, which allows for a front-row view to see the magic happen. There’s also a “secret” underground bar, Remedie Room, that is mostly used for private parties, but is open to the public on Saturday nights.
Specs’ is part bar, part museum, and 100 percent part of San Francisco’s fabric and history. Though the death of the owner, Richard “Specs” Simmons, in 2016 left a hole in the hearts of everyone who frequents this legacy business, the dive bar remains a go-to spot for those craving some cheap drinks and conversations with strangers. The bar also features interesting things to look at, including historic mugshots, postcards from around the world, a full-sized mummy case, and even a whale penis bone.
Tony Nik’s can’t help but have an old-school vibe; after all, it’s been open since 1933. But that’s not the only reason this bar is a favorite amongst neighborhood regulars and industry folks. The friendly bartenders serve up solid cocktails that are just strong enough to put everyone in a good mood. Most of the seating is at the very long bar, but there are a few tables in the back “lounge” that are perfect for conversation or canoodling.
Vesuvio opened in 1948 and immediately became a go-to spot for many of San Francisco’s famous Beat Generation celebrities, including Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. Today, the two-story bar sees a mix of regulars and tourists looking to enjoy affordable drinks amid local art and Beat-era memorabilia. The downstairs bar is the best spot for people watching, while the upstairs balcony is perfect for quiet conversations and outdoor views. Patrons can choose either seating arrangement 365 days a year; Vesuvio is open every weekday from 8am to 2am and every weekend starting at 6am.