Twitter layoffs got you in a slump? Did your plans to convert to life in the metaverse fall through? Want to find a new boo, but Tinder just won’t pull through? With the holidays upon us and friends visiting town, it might be a good idea to invest less in online socializing and find some SF spots where you can, like, talk to another real-life human.
The Standard’s Guide to SF Bars You Can Actually Talk In includes our staff’s favorites for quiet conversations, one-on-one meetups or an understated night out. Going out to a rowdy dance floor or club night is fun and all, but sometimes the evening just calls for a more relaxed vibe—and it’s nice when you can actually hear your friends chatting around you.
Our list includes Sunset dives, aesthetic wine bars, hidden Mission District favorites and some spots that might even surprise you. Read more to find your new favorite casual-social spot in San Francisco.
This sacred spot is a hidden gem tucked in Bernal Heights, where you can pray to God and wash it down with an unholy cocktail. Crosses, Jesus figurines and other decor pays homage to religious figures, and rustic wooden barrels line the walls of the bar—but don’t expect to find a priest behind the counter. The spot is known for its cocktails and relaxed atmosphere that brings locals back again and again.
What looks like a library, smells like a coffee-cocktail bar and operates like a museum? That’s The Interval, a multiuse bar space that also houses the nonprofit, The Long Now Foundation. The Interval’s sleek design and artisan drinks make it a no-brainer space for meeting up with friends, and it’s rarely busy enough to interrupt your most serious conversations. In between luxury cocktails, guests can discuss The Long Now’s “slower/better” lifestyle thesis and explore a prototype clock meant to last for 10,000 years.
The Inner Sunset is rich with dive bars and local joints—and The Little Shamrock might be one of the divey-est, and certainly the neighborhood’s oldest. This classic Irish pub is complete with an eclectic mix of worn-in couches and winged armchairs, organized in a space that looks more like a living room than an urban bar. Guests can chat over built-in checkers tables or exchange numbers at a bar that looks like it was transplanted straight from Dublin. Everyone seems to know each other in this local dive, too, making for a homey, welcoming vibe.
When a spot has a slogan like “Lower Haight’s Most Unusual Bar,” you know it’s going to be a weird time. Noc Noc’s decor and lighting serve as good conversation starters: The bar is decked in post-apocalyptic sculptures and Aboriginal art, and purplish blue lights give the space a funky tinge. Even though it’s rarely packed and often quiet enough for a one-on-one conversation, you might not be able to see your date—it can get kind of dark around the bar. Noc Noc is cash only, and it features some lesser-known craft brews (no Bud, Coors or PBR, though).
Plants often outnumber humans in this concrete-and-wood wine bar, making this space feel more like a luxury plant store than your standard drinking establishment. Both descriptors work for this creative space, however, which sells plants and accessories alongside natural wines and plant-based bites. Arcana’s prime location next to local dining favorites El Techo and Foreign Cinema makes it a good spot for pre-dinner drinks.
Controversial, we know, since many see Madrone’s as a wildly popular (and wildly noisy!) Friday night spot for dancing—and the weekend line that sprawls down Divisadero Street is a testament to that. But on weekdays, Madrone’s cools down and turns into an unexpected spot for casual conversation, affordable drinks and chill vibes. The eclectic decor and ceiling-suspended art pieces are fun to look at, and local musicians playing live music set the tone for a casual weeknight hang. Motown Mondays are known to get a little rowdy, though.
Exposed brick, eclectic wallpapering and vibrant outdoor murals make this Mission District spot a favorite among many San Franciscans. The back patio has enough stools and heat lamps to keep you comfortable on chilly evenings, and Casements often has live music and DJs on deck. Its online music calendar makes it easy to figure out the nightly vibe.
This lively Hayes Valley spot has the perfect backyard patio for bigger groups. Picnic tables are lined up in the outdoor space, and guests are often seated next to strangers during peak hours—it’s like 3D Tinder. Anina’s massive fishbowl cocktails are a particular hit here, and they’re easy to share among a big group of friends.
Dalva, a hole-in-the-wall place sandwiched right next to the Roxie Theater, is easy to miss—and that’s OK. Though it sits in the middle of one of the busiest parts of the Mission, Dalva is a true local spot where bartenders go to drink craft cocktails and beers. Art Deco wallpapers, a lively jukebox and notably friendly bartenders welcome guests into this dimly lit, narrow SF bar. Many also return to try out the speakeasy located just behind Dalva.
With numerous locations scattered throughout San Francisco, each Woods bar has something unique to offer. Two local favorites are the Haight Street and Outbound locations: The Haight Street spot has a vine-covered back patio that creates an easygoing, social space, while guests can seek refuge from the Sunset’s relentless fog at the Woods Outbound backyard fire pit. The company is known for its wide selection of natural wines and craft beers, and the empanadas seem to be a crowd favorite.
Liz Lindqwister can be reached at [email protected]