Essential San Francisco Old School Places to Drink
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Ready to take a trip to the past? Experience old school San Francisco in these iconic and themed establishments. Here are a few local favorites that will have you brushing the dust off those San Francisco history books.
The Grotto has three bars nestled throughout its expansive space, but the Draper-esque second-floor lounge — with blue tufted chairs, a fireplace, a fish tank and bronzes of Neptune and Salacia — is a marvel. It’s not only a worthy sub for the Empress of China but also the closest thing we have to the Madonna Inn. Drink: Manhattan served on vintage napkins. Instagram: The Little Fisherman mascot that appears everywhere. 2851 Taylor St. (415) 673-7025
Opened a year after Tosca Cafe, the Far East feels like the Chinatown equivalent of its North Beach contemporary. It sports a noirish Spade & Archer vibe. Park it at the front bar under colorful antique gas lanterns and faded murals. Drink: Bottle of Tsingtao. Instagram: The cool private booths that line the dining room. 631 Grant Ave. (415) 982-3245
A cylindrical red structure hides the Cathay House, a fun dive bar in the middle of a historic Chinatown dining room. Look for the iconic pagoda-capped building at the cable car corner of California and Grant. Drink: Shots of Hennessy. Instagram: Irresistible chinoiserie including a Deco Buddha shrine at the head of the bar. 718 California St. (415) 982-3388
This seductive hideaway is the happy result of a 1928 steakhouse relocated in the former space of the lavish 1940s celebrity haunt, The Blue Fox. Expect a windowless interior with deep crimson walls, opulent chandeliers, vest & tie waiters, and an alcove bar that flaunts a wall full of whiskey. Drink: Vesper served in an oversized shaker. Instagram: The Prohibition violation that shut down the restaurant in 1929 and hangs over the bar. 659 Merchant St. (415) 781-7058
Yep, you’ll have to pay a cover for a show to get in, but it’s worth the opportunity to bask in this sumptuous former dinner club that’s changed little since 1951. In a just world, the dreamy mermaid paintings by Julian “Nudes and Clowns” Ritter would be as big a draw as the acts onstage. Grease some palms to get a peek of the hidden — and amazing — Mr. Bimbo’s Cantina where performers like Sinatra would sup before a show. Drink: Champagne. Instagram: Dolphina, the Girl in the Fishbowl. 1025 Columbus Ave (415) 474-0365
Ohh Tonga Room. one of our favorite tiki bars of the city. The Tonga Room is a unique experience in the city. The themed bar with a lagoon in the center of the room and periodic rain water and thunder to complete the tropical feel. Drink: Mai Tai or Scorpion Bowl. instagram: How about that Lagoon? 950 Mason St. (415) 772-5278
Made semi-famous after Anthony Bourdain's Layover stop in 2012, Li Po is a cocktail lounge located in Chinatown. As you walk into the Grotto faced by two red doors, you will find a spot enjoyed by both locals and tourists alike. You will need to pay with cash to try their famous Chinese Mai Tai, which is a concoction made with rum and fruit juices. Drink: Chinese Mai Tai. Instagram: Inside or the front door with the overhead lamp. 916 Grant Ave. (415) 982-0072