An ethnic enclave since the Gold Rush era, San Francisco’s Chinatown neighborhood has always been a place with lively and unique drinking haunts.
Spanning over 24 square blocks from North Beach to the Financial District, Chinatown is a festive neighborhood that transforms from day-time tourist attraction to night-time hangout complete with glowing lanterns and crowds of locals. After a day of munching on dim sum, it’s best to relax with the neighborhood’s highly-potent unofficial drink, the Mai Tai. Sip on one and enjoy the scene at these bars when you’re in the neighborhood.
Li Po Cocktail Lounge, San Francisco
Bar, Cocktail Bar, Pub Grub
There are a few bars in Chinatown that can mix together a decent Mai Tai, but it’d be a mistake not to visit the place where this drink gained modern popularity in the neighborhood: Li Po Cocktail Lounge. For over twenty years, Li Po has featured a cocktail list that even Anthony Bourdain came to try. A dive bar crowded with a mix of in-the-know tourists and local regulars, Li Po is a Chinatown institution.
Dive bars are popular among locals in San Francisco and Buddha Lounge is no exception. With a neon sign welcoming visitors inside, the divey cash-only bar is a kitschy way to spend a long day or night in the historic neighborhood. At the helm, long-time bartenders with heavy hands make great company. It’s not a night of debauchery in the city without a stop at this beloved dive.
A dark cramped bar on Grant Avenue between neon-lit haunts and tourist shops, Bow Bow Cocktail Lounge is perhaps best known for being the spot for crazy karaoke nights. With visitors belting out everything from Sinatra to No Doubt, the rowdy Bow Bow is the ideal place to showcase singing skills while slinging back Chinese beers.
Commonly referred to as Chinatown’s oldest bar, Red’s Place is a sports bar decorated in Christmas string lights and Tsingtao lanterns. One of the diviest of dive bars in the area, the most common drink at Red’s Place is beer served by a warm and inviting staff. Many locals frequent the unpretentious historic bar and it’s common to find the bar packed on big sports nights.
A restaurant located in a historic dining room, Mr. Jui’s is a relatively new addition to Chinatown’s most popular hangouts. Along with a unique food menu, the restaurant’s bar also uses Chinese ingredients in concoctions such as ‘Fortune’ – made with bourbon, spiced apple, pommel, and puer (a Chinese tea). Located on Waverly Place, Mr. Jui’s (already a James Beard Semi-Finalist) is quickly becoming a Chinatown staple.
With a theme that pays tribute to the Gold Rush-era Barbary Coast (where gamblers, drinkers and sailors populated the area’s nightlife), The Devil’s Acre is a pre-Prohibition-style bar nestled between Chinatown and Jackson Square. Apothecary-style cocktail offerings at the bar feature rare ingredients for a truly unique drinking experience. Reservations at the cocktail bar are recommended.
A century ago, San Francisco’s Chinatown was chock-full of saloons. A throwback to that era, Comstock Saloon is the place for stiff old-school cocktails, nightly live music and a rambunctious crowd of locals. Housed in a historically preserved building from 1907, Comstock is a timeless bar with quality comfort food and good vibes. A great place to sit down for dinner, the food menu features a variety of choices including falafel, BBQ pork ribs and caviar-topped mozzarella sticks.
Located on the outskirts of Chinatown in the Italian neighborhood North Beach, Specs’ Twelve Adler Museum Cafe (or ‘Specs’ as it’s often called) is one of the most storied bars in the city. A humble space hidden in an alleyway, Specs opened in 1968 and grew popular among the crop of artists, writers, poets and musicians that frequented the area. Decorated in oddities and often packed with old-timers, Specs is a true San Francisco treasure.