Back in 2010, before I knew the first thing about fernet, “Fogust,” or the touchy politics surrounding the word “Frisco,” I was just another East Coaster eager to begin the next chapter of my life in San Francisco.
I was 2,578 miles from Pittsburgh—a place where it rains in the summer, snows in the winter and the football team is named after a cadre of hard-scrabble tradesmen who shovel iron ore into blazing-hot furnaces.
Not long after touching down, I found my way to Giordano Brothers, a tiny Steelers bar in North Beach. The door opened to a sea of Terrible towels and Troy Polamalu jerseys. Inside, people talked Kennywood and the traffic on 376, peppering their conversations with Yinz and Yuengling as they munched on sandwiches filled with french fries.
I was home.
San Francisco is host to numerous watering holes just like this, where transplants like me can toast their tribe and root for the team they grew up watching. Not only do these establishments help alleviate homesickness, they also provide a space to meet new friends, kindle friendly rivalries and find common ground. Some even serve regional food and drink.
There is one weekend of preseason games left before the 103rd season of the NFL kicks off on Thursday, Sept. 8. The Standard has compiled a list of bars that cater to out-of-town allegiances. And don’t worry: While these bars serve pigskin fans from the Rust Belt to the Sun Belt and everywhere in between, most of them are also a great place to catch the 49ers.
The Bus Stop
1901 Union St., Cow Hollow
The Bus Stop in Cow Hollow is a stalwart Bengals bar thanks to Turtle—just Turtle—an Ohio transplant who moved to the Bay Area in 2008. A graduate of the University of Cincinnati, he found home at the Bus Stop when then-owner Gabe Ferroni supported him bringing in fans to watch the games. The following grew, and Turtle has witnessed many friendships blossom since. He’s even organized trips to London and Los Angeles for ardent fans to watch the Bengals play.
A crew showed up for last Saturday’s preseason game against the Rams. “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else,” said Cameron Berling, a Cincinnati native who has been frequenting the bar since he moved to San Francisco a year and a half ago. “It’s got an incredible atmosphere.” Berling met his girlfriend (also a Bengals fan) and many other good friends at the Bus Stop, where the awning above the front door reads “a place where friendships are formed to last a lifetime.”
The bar plays into the Bengals connection. They serve Skyline chili, a Cincinnati specialty, when the Bengals play. A poster near the bar reads “San Frannati,” and features a tiger jumping over the Golden Gate Bridge. Turtle and a fellow fan created the portmanteau logo and have made T-shirts from it, too. The bar hands out free meal tickets on game days to foster a tailgating atmosphere, and they reserve the pool table area for Bengals fans when the team is playing.
2990 Baker St., Marina
Bruce Winter has been a Vikings fan for 61 years, and he’s the reason Final Final in the Marina became associated with the Minnesota team. Winter lived around the corner from the bar and when he began frequenting it, he brought a sea of purple with him.
The bar itself is a family affair, run by Arnie Prien and his wife Linda whose three sons—Michael, Cory and Elliott—tend bar. Arnie Prien bought the bar in 1978 and it’s seen its fair share of celebrities since: Joe DiMaggio, Matt Damon and Klay Thompson to name a few. The bar was featured in the film “The Hereafter” directed by Clint Eastwood as well as an NBA commercial.
At the Viking’s preseason game on Saturday, Michael chided the bartender pouring beer alongside him who thought he said “bar of soap” instead of “rum and coke.” “It’s rectangular, you use it in shower,” he explained, ribbing the person next to him. “Don’t worry, he’s family,” he said, explaining that he meant it literally. The patrons are also family at Final Final, and that’s the point. Winter called the bar an extension of his home, where he could bring his home team along with him.
100 Connecticut St., Potrero Hill
Squat and square, the Connecticut Yankee has roosted in the same spot for so long it’s been named a Legacy Business by SF Heritage. The bar first opened as Hilda’s Saloon in 1907, built by Hilda herself and her husband Giovanni Salvotti with wood from a Red Cross earthquake shack.
It’s taken several forms over the years—bootlegging operation, lunch counter and restaurant. It became the Connecticut Yankee in 1989 and has been drawing New England fans ever since. The general manager and many of the staff are from Massachusetts and the bar is overflowing with Boston sports gear, including an oversized Patriots helmet fans slap for good luck before games.
The menu nods to Boston with items like “Clam Chowdah” and “Southie Special,” and the bar serves Sam Adams by the bottle. “People are lined up out the door for Patriots games,” said owner Tony Cooney, who explained that Boston games always take precedence—even when the 49ers are playing. “If the Patriots are on, it’s on every single TV. There’s no way in fucking hell we’ll have another game on,” Cooney said. “You’ve got to go to a different bar.”
The Blue Light
1979 Union St., Cow Hollow
The Blue Light bar and restaurant became a Dolphins bar almost by accident. “It’s all from years ago, when staff who were fans wore the shirts and got other people to as well,” explained owner Johnny Metheny. The team’s fans—which share colors with the business—gather regularly at the bar in their jerseys at tables covered with Dolphins gear. “It’s a raucous group,” Metheny said.
The team allegiance is echoed in the food as well. The restaurant serves a fish taco special for the games (“it’s not dolphin meat,” Metheny assures me) and a blue cocktail called the Dolphin Drink. Dolphin fans come into the bar from all over the city and from out of town, making new friends or seeing old ones. “It’s become a religious cult,” Metheny said.
3108 16th St., Mission
Some patrons get so attached to their local bar they can’t bear to see it close. That’s what happened with Rudi Rughoonundon and Ollie Pender, two regulars at the Giordano Brothers on 16th St. who bought the bar from owner Jeff Jordan when he decided to retire earlier this year. All three sidled up to the bar at Sunday’s Steelers preseason game against the Lions.
The new owners decided to keep the Steelers theme intact, Kennywood sign and all. “It’s a very successful business model,” said Rughoonundon. “There’s no reason to change a formula that worked.” The menu still features Primanti-style sandwiches, with french fries stuffed between slices of bread.
“It’s like being back at home, very comfortable,” said lifelong fan Mike Scierka who has been coming to the bar since it opened as Giordano Brother’s and is originally from Oil City, Pennsylvania. Scierka shows up for every Steelers game and is known as “Big Mike” to differentiate him from the other Mikes who used to frequent the bar.
Long-time Steelers fan Natalie Knopp agrees: “It’s like a slice of home when you’re here.”
She’s talking to two other patrons who moved to San Francisco only a month ago but already seem like old friends given the hometown connection. “That’s why we’re here, we miss Pittsburgh,” said Rosalie Moody.
Her friend Ashley Cornwall agreed. “This is the first place I’ve been where I can take a deep breath of fresh air.”
More bars for those out-of-town football teams (and the 49ers, too):
998 Sutter St., Tendernob
Black Magic Voodoo Lounge
1400 Lombard St., Russian Hill
668 Haight St., Haight
3301 Buchanan St., Marina
1560 Powell St., North Beach
1176 Sutter St., Lower Nob Hill
834 Irving St., Sunset
2401 16th St., Mission
2247 Market St., Castro
770 Stanyan St., Cole Valley
San Francisco Athletic Club
1750 Divisadero St., Lower Pacific Heights
Julie Zigoris can be reached at email@example.com