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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Top 8 Outdoor Bars in San Francisco

Posted By on Thu, Jul 26, 2012 at 1:40 PM

Outdoor seating at an S.F. bar is a rare bird, but some of us actually enjoy that heady mix of cool air, cigarette smoke, and condensed fog to go with our cocktails. And shoot, when it's sunny these are the only places to be. Using a "complex" metric taking into account, among other things, ambiance, populist appeal, and proximity to the heart of town, we ranked the eight best patios, benches, and decks where one may freely imbibe.


8. Lucky 13

This Upper Market watering hole includes a nice-sized patio off to the side*, though don't expect too much -- the seating is usually dominated by smokers and its hours are modest out of deference to the neighbors. Consequently, there's hardly ever a crowd. Any given weekday around dusk, you can claim one of these cozy benches for your own. Dogs are welcome!


7. The Ramp

Seems like this Potrero Hill place was engineered to manage hangovers. A plate of eggs Benedict, a bloody Mary, and a massive patio filled with parasol-shaded seats looking out over the bay is a prescription for a successful afternoon. This is an inarguably gorgeous, if slightly out of the way spot to drink outside. It's also basically a restaurant, with a modest booze selection and rather chaste hours. Go here for brunch; go somewhere else for a wild night.


6. Pilsner Inn

Perhaps the most aesthetically beautiful patio on the list, Pilsner Inn's rear garden could pass as a remote annex of the Conservatory of Flowers. Its resolutely unassuming exterior on Church Street at 15th gives absolutely no indication of the lush, roomy hanging gardens in back (which may be bigger than the somewhat tiny bar). With lots of sunlight and a generally unassuming vibe, the Pilsner Inn is the perfect afternoon hideaway for those days when you don't want to be "on."


5. The Mix

Frozen margaritas. Heat lamps. And basically what amounts to perhaps the most happening patio on the list. Essentially Pilsner Inn's rowdier younger bro, this Castro bar lights up when the weather is even remotely pleasant. Weekends, especially, find the place so packed that the quaint, tin-shed-style paneling begins to resemble the walls of a sardine can. Despite the crowd, this is an amazing spot to down Buds, margs, or any other of the terribly strong and delicious drinks The Mix pours for its ferociously loyal clientele, all while kvetching with your besties about how too many straight people go to this bar now. Or too few.

Picnic tables at laid-back Zeitgeist - ALEE KARIM
  • Alee Karim
  • Picnic tables at laid-back Zeitgeist

4. Zeitgeist

It's hard to imagine a better location for a patio than Valencia and Duboce, as Zeitgeist's popularity will attest. It's frequently packed to the gills on chilly days; on sunny ones, patrons are often turned away at the door. A recent remodel introduced a unique bi-directional bar that offers service indoors and out for their daily barbecue of burgers and dogs (with veggie options), though The Tamale Lady pedals through the benches at least once a night. Zeitgeist's trademark salty service seems to be somewhat tamer in the recent past, but overall it's an institution seemingly unperturbed by insult or acclaim.

  • Alee Karim

3. Biergarten

Yeah, we're giving this Johnny-come-lately on the SF patio drinking scene a spot in the Top 3. There's just little to find fault with at the Hayes Valley urban oasis. Sure, it's a little pricey, but you're getting massive German beers and pub food with an impressively high authenticity quotient, and don't you deserve a splurge? Just don't have your heart set on a seat unless you're a member of the "it's five o'clock somewhere" crowd - on sunny afternoons the patio is packed literally up to its chain-link fence.

  • Alee Karim

2. Wild Side WestIn terms of ambiance, Wild Side West earns top honors. This quiet Bernal Heights bar is actually a converted Victorian with an epic garden/smoking area/patio in the back - we're talking multiple levels, lush jungle-y plants, and an overall low-key vibe. Plus the bar's high atop Cortland, just far enough off the beaten path to keep away the crowds, making it your secret weapon when the other joints on this list are overrun (our apologies to regulars if it doesn't stay that way). Inside you'll find a decidedly no-frills full bar with a fairly impressive jukebox and an always-busy pool table.

Clearly El Rio's leafy paradise tops the list. - ALEE KARIM
  • Alee Karim
  • Clearly El Rio's leafy paradise tops the list.

1. El Rio

At the end of the day, the scales might have tipped in El Rio's favor solely because of the delicious encampment of Rocky's Frybread in its comfy overgrown backyard. But even if Rocky's isn't around forever (oh, please don't ever leave us, Rocky), the El Rio still has an irresistibly welcoming patio, recession-friendly booze selection, affable service, and atmosphere that's more like a house party than a bar. If there's anything more fun than a long night on El Rio's patio with friends, it's a long, sun-dappled afternoon on the patio with those same friends dancing to the occasional live salsa band. Everyone seems to be welcome here -- the LQBTQ, the well-to-do, the heshers, the punks, the wastoids, a veritable cross-section of the city -- and we've yet to find an outdoor bar in S.F. with as broad appeal. The place to beat, bar none.

*Note: The original version of the story referenced Lucky 13's old patio behind the pool tables. We're sorry about the error.

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