The Upper Haight, or Haight-Ashbury as mostly non-locals call it, is best known for a variety of historic and local treasures — and its bars are among them.
Walking around the Upper Haight, you’ll be surrounded by ornate Victorian architecture, throngs of street kids, colorful characters and tourists, the Summer of Love atmosphere, and the birthplace of the hippie counterculture. While the neighborhood’s not as well known for is its bar scene, there are some fantastic watering holes ready to accommodate, whether you’re looking for fancy cocktails, a place to watch the game, live jazz, or a dive bar with cheap, stiff drinks.
Bar, Cafe, Cocktail Bar, Pub, Restaurant, American, Pub Grub, $$$
When The Alembic opened on Haight Street in 2006, most people didn’t even know the term “craft cocktails.” That quickly changed thanks to their cocktail menu that focused on forgotten classics and creative concoctions, and so the bar became a hot spot for first dates, tourists, and anyone looking for elevated boozy beverages that weren’t available in most bars in San Francisco. Over a decade later, craft cocktails aren’t hard to come by in the City by the Bay, but The Alembic still does them better than most. Get there early if you want to watch the bartenders in action behind the bar or get a seat in the front window as the bar area fills up fast. However, if you’re also there to enjoy the elevated pub fare, it’s usually relatively easy to get a table in the dining room.
Travel to another era at this intimate venue where you can listen to live jazz seven nights a week, either for free or for a small cover charge. Red lights give the old-time, jazz house-inspired space a warm glow and set the mood for whispered conversations between sets on the small stage. Specialty cocktails made with fresh-squeezed juices are the go-to orders at Club Deluxe, but there are also a bunch of beers on tap and by the bottle, and a selection of wines by the glass.
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If you’re hanging around the Haight-Ashbury and find yourself in need of a cheap beer or a stiff pour of Bourbon, look no further than The Gold Cane, a quintessential dive bar with loads of regular patrons, ample seating, a great jukebox, pool table, and a small back patio. The Gold Cane is Haight Street’s oldest bar (it opened in 1926) and in a city where so much has changed, it’s refreshing that the Gold Cane really hasn’t.
There’s no better bar in the Upper Haight for people-watching than Hobson’s Choice. During the afternoon, sit at one of the tables that line the wide corner windows and take in the tourists and locals walking along Haight Street. As the night draws in, move to the bar to mingle with colorful regulars who are happy to regale you with stories that are much easier believed after a couple of drinks. The boozy rum cocktails are the house specialty, as Hobson’s claims to have the largest selection of rums of any bar in the country — another tidbit that may or may not be true, but doesn’t really matter after the second Bahama Mama.
Whatever game you want to watch, it’s pretty much guaranteed to be on one of the 20 TVs in Kezar Pub, a popular spot across from Kezar Stadium. They show a huge variety of games that you’ll struggle to find elsewhere in San Francisco sports bars, such as Aussie Rules football, Formula 1, FIFA, and UFC. There’s also a full bar and a solid food menu with standard bar fares such as chicken wings and nachos. For big games, be sure to arrive early if you want to ensure grabbing a seat before the bar becomes packed with other cheering fans.
This dimly-lit, Persian-themed bar is best known for its legendary owner/bartender Bruno Mooshei, who was famous for his exceptional martinis and throwing people out for “infractions” like veering from the cocktail menu, taking too long to make a decision, or standing at the bar. Sadly, Bruno passed away in 2000, but Zam Zam is still an excellent place to get a proper cocktail and enjoy some quiet conversation in an elegant space that harks back to a time in the 1940s and ’50s when people dressed up to go out. The current bartenders will even let you hem and haw for a while as you choose what you want to drink — just don’t push it.