Here are our 10 favorites in the city.
10. The Li Po Lounge
Home to the most gigantic Chinese lantern we've ever seen, plus more dust than we care to think about, the Lipo Lounge is the only dive in Chinatown truly worth bothering with. Whether you're in the front bar pretending to be in Indiana Jones & the Temple of Doom, in the stark seating area in back absorbing the bizarre, brightly-lit-canteen vibe, or in the low-ceilinged basement listening to dance DJs, there's literally nowhere else like this in the city.
9. The Nite Cap
If you want to get into some weird conversations, hang out in here for a couple of hours on any given evening. This spot has some of the chattiest patrons, friendliest bartenders and -- hey, we're just gonna say it -- most lovable kooks you can find in the whole city. Getting in and out of the bathroom is a logistical nightmare at times, but with the pool table, comfy armchair and overall intimate vibe, there are fun times aplenty to be had in here.
7. The RiptideProbably the greatest hidden gem in all of San Francisco, the only people that know about this great bar are (a) people who live in Ocean Beach and (b) people who drink and drive. This place ain't convenient for most of us, but its log-fire smell, wood-paneled walls, red brick floor, foxy tattooed bartenders, amazing nautical décor -- and, gosh, every bar should have one -- gigantic moose head, make this the coziest place to go on dark and stormy nights by the beach. Well worth the journey.
There are more obvious bars to hit in the TL, and most of them don't have holes in the ceiling like this one does, but you won't find a warmer place to drink in the neighborhood. Friendly bar staff, an open fire and the kind of wallpaper that was chic in the '70s, super-lame in the '80s, ignored in the '90s, and now fashionable again. Like everything else in The Brown Jug, it's not there because the owners are trying to make the bar look good -- it's just there.
5. 540 Club
The affable door-guy here recently explained to us that the 540 is important because it's "like bars in the Mission were 10 years ago. People are friendly in here. They talk to each other. They're not just here to pose." And he's absolutely right. Add to that the glory of dollar drink Mondays and the bring-your-drink-out-with-you smoking patio out front and the Inner Richmond has a prime drinking spot the Mission and TL should be jealous of.
4. Aunt Charlie's
The drinks are cheap and as strong as the drag queens that perform in this teeny, tiny, seedy but sparkly Tenderloin tavern. Spend an evening in this ratty little dive and you'll probably end up with (a) a giant hangover, (b) a condensed history of everything gay that's ever happened in San Francisco, (c) a look at the oldest drag queens on earth, and, (d) an annoying, three-day-long game of God-What-Was-That-Smell? Don't forget this place is on Turk and Taylor too, so you'll be greeted by a pile of crackheads on your way out. Good times.
One of the finest punk rock jukeboxes in all of the city means that this dog-friendly joint is usually full of -- you guessed it -- fine punk rockers. The huge windows in front make this an ideal place to drink during daylight hours and the bar staff's indifference to outside food means you can snack on your choice of Lower Haight's amazing takeout selection while still boozing your face off. We wish you the best of luck trying to get the ladies' room to lock, but at least it's right next to the pool table, so the players can stand guard for you.
2. The Knockout
Bingo, movies, record swap meets, rad rock 'n' roll shows, karaoke, DJs, a photo booth, video games -- The Knockout is basically for drinkers with A.D.D. This bar wants to amuse you, dammit, but even when there's nothing special going on, this remains a great spot to just get your drink on, even though it dwells in that vacuum between Mission proper and Bernal Heights. Extra points go to The Knockout for the rad neon 'NOPE' sign in the window and clever little slogan: Good Til The Last Round. Indeed it is.
1. 500 Club
If some TV exec had the genius idea to make a dive version of Cheers, it would be based in here. Held together by a solid community of dedicated drinkers and memorable bartenders (some of whom aren't afraid to get drunk on the job), "the 5" is ideal for people wanting to do a shit heap of yelling at sporting events on TV, partake in one of the craziest weekly karaoke nights in the city, and take photos in the most unflattering photo booth on earth. KTVU's Sal Castaneda shows up in with a regularity that is, frankly, bizarre.