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There’s A Bar There? San Francisco Bars In Weird Locations
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There’s A Bar There? San Francisco Bars In Weird Locations

Picture of Emily Boleware
Updated: 9 February 2017
Whether they be speakeasies from the prohibition era, exclusive hidden clubs, uniquely derived business ventures, or simply convenient and clever spaces, San Francisco’s most beguiling bars have a tendency to lean toward the secretive and mysterious. Come investigate these enticing and peculiar locations.

Brain Wash Café solved the problem of the dreaded laundry day by supplementing its laundromat with a full breakfast and lunch menu, as well as beer and wine service. Susan Schindler opened the establishment in 1989 quite accidentally, altering her plans to open a new nightclub in favor of this new, unique vision. As an added bonus, Brain Wash hosts live music performances and open mic comedy nights, which makes for much better entertainment than slowly being hypnotized by swirling suds.

Brain Wash Café & Laundromat, 1122 Folsom St., San Francisco, CA, USA +1 415 861 3663

Tivoli Sour Room is a specialty beer bar hidden in the downstairs cellar of Mikkeller Bar, a Danish specialty bar and restaurant with a hearty array of meats and an abundant selection of beers on tap. Wander to the cellar for a rotating list of four different wines, and more beer if you’re feeling reclusive. Remember that Tivoli Sour Room is open to the public Thursday-Saturday from 6pm to 12am.

Mikkeller Bar, 34 Mason St., San Francisco, CA, USA +1 415 984 0279

Tonga Room | © neekoh.fi
Tonga Room | © neekoh.fi

Opened in 1945 to ease the transition of soldiers returning from service abroad, the Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar is a wondrous tropical cave buried underneath the famous Fairmont Hotel. (Fun fact: In Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, Madeleine Elster, played by the stunning Kim Novak, lives at The Fairmont). Extravagant tropical drinks flow from hollowed out pineapples and coconuts while a live band serenades the patrons from a ferry boat, floating gently in the center of the indoor pool. Take to the dance floor built to look like a ship’s deck and enjoy the periodical thunderstorm simulations. As the lights dim, thunder rolls over the sound system, and rain pours from the ceiling over the pool, you may be convinced that you’re in a real tropical paradise.

Fairmont Hotel, 950 Mason St., San Francisco, CA, USA +1 866 540 4491

In a tiny hidden room behind a secret bookcase at The Cavalier lies Marianne’s, a miniature supplementary bar that honestly looks like the Gryffindor common room. The Cavalier is a three-star (SF Chronicle), London-style brasserie with ‘gastropub bites’ and a full bar. If you’re in need of something more fabulous than that on its own, Marianne’s offers a dual exclusivity and relaxed coziness that is definitely worth checking out.

The Cavalier, 360 Jessie St., San Francisco, CA, USA +1 415 321 6000

Bourbon & Branch | © Jennifer Morrow
Bourbon & Branch | © Jennifer Morrow
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Wilson & Wilson and Ipswitch

Bourbon & Branch is a 1920s speakeasy hidden behind an unmarked door on Jones Street that was actually in operation at the same location during the Prohibition Era. This multi-tiered bar has a complex system of passwords and secret doors to preserve the original speakeasy tones. Who can and cannot enter into the mysterious depths of the venue depends on whether or not you know how to get in. The façade of Wilson & Wilson detective agency conceals this password-protected sub-bar. Even further into the underbelly lies Ipswitch, which is accessed by entering the basement through a secret trap door in the floor.

Bourbon & Branch, 501 Jones St., San Francisco, CA, USA

Slightly less mysterious yet slightly more unknown, the Hideout at Dalva in the Mission is an intimate back room with a supplementary cocktail bar that offers a quieter space and additional seating. Retreat to the Hideout to avoid the initial crowds and DJ music of the main area and appreciate the antique vibes and warm tones of this back room.

Dalva, 3121 16th St., San Francisco, CA, USA +1 415 252 7740

Located in the center of North Beach, the Devil’s Acre is an apothecary-themed specialty cocktail lounge. Libations and live entertainment draw patrons to this timeless venue. What they don’t know is that down an unmarked staircase in the back of the bar lies Remedie, a secret craft-cocktail lounge only for those savvy to its existence. Devil’s Acre is owned by the same makers of Bourbon & Branch.

Devil’s Acre, 256 Columbus Ave., San Francisco, CA, USA +1 415 766 4363

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Gotham Club

You’ll never watch a Giants game the same way again knowing that behind the scoreboard at AT&T Park, there’s an extremely exclusive, members-only club, complete with secret entrances. Gotham Club (named in tribute to the NY Gothams – what the Giants were called before they came to SF) has a full bar, outdoor seating area, beautiful views of the bay and the stadium, baseball-themed furniture (and ice cubes), and even a bowling alley.

AT&T Park, 24 Willie Mays Plaza, San Francisco, CA, USA +1 415 972 2000

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Mighty

Nearly directly under the interstate in the industrial warehouse district between Mission and Portrero Hill lies Mighty, inside which you can find three bars, international DJ performances, and an ample dance floor. This gigantic venue boasts 6,000 square feet of space, vaulted ceilings, and exposed beams that contribute to an expansive, lively atmosphere.

Mighty, Showplace Square West, 199 Utah St., San Francisco, CA, USA +1 415 626 7001