11 Oldest Bars in San Francisco

San Francisco popped up in California in the late 18th century, but it’s most notable historic period was the Gold Rush, which lasted from 1848 – 1855. A few of the oldest bars on this list date back to this time period and have been serving drinks to both locals and tourists alike for over 100 years. All of these bars are old enough to have survived Prohibition, with some operating as speakeasys. As of the time of this writing in December 2019, the bars on this list are still in operation. Any older bars that have closed recently were left off the list.

11. Buena Vista Café

Year Established: 1916
Location:  2765 Hyde St.
Also Serves Food:  Yes
Operating Hours:  Monday – Friday: 9AM – 2AM; Saturday – Sunday: 8AM – 2AM

Buena Vista Caféphoto source: Wikimedia Commons

Buena Vista Café was first opened as a boarding house in 1910, but the first floor was turned into a saloon in 1916. Since then, Buena Vista Café has been serving drinks and the bar’s big claim to fame – besides its age – is introducing Irish Coffee to the U.S. In 1952, then-owner of Buena Vista, Jack Koeppler and travel writer Stanton Delaplane worked to recreate the Irish Coffee served at Shannon Airport in Ireland.

Irish Coffee features cream that floats at the top and Koeppler and Delaplane struggled with getting the technique right until they discussed it with the city’s then mayor, George Christopher, who was also a dairy farmer. With Mayor Christopher’s help, Koeppler and Delaplane perfected their Irish Coffee, which is still one of bar’s most popular drinks and is now served at many restaurants and bars around the country.

Did You Know?

According to Buena Vista Café, the bar has served more than 30 million Irish Coffees since 1952 and the recipe has never changed.

10. Double Play Bar & Grill

Year Established: 1909
Location:  2401 16th St.
Also Serves Food:  Yes
Operating Hours:  Monday – Tuesday: 7AM – 8PM; Wednesday – Friday: 7AM – 9PM; Saturday – Sunday: 8AM – 8PM

Double Play Bar & Grillphoto source: Yelp

Double Play Bar & Grill is not only one of the oldest bars in San Francisco, its the only existing reminder of the early days of the San Francisco Giants and the city’s other early baseball teams. The bar is located just across the street from where Seals Stadium used to stand, which is where the Pacific Coast League San Francisco Seals played followed by the San Francisco Missions, and finally the Giants. The walls of Double Play Bar & Grill are covered with memorabilia from all of these baseball teams and the bar is still regularly frequented by sports fans.

Did You Know?

Some of the baseball memorabilia inside of Double Play Bar & Grill includes: signs advertising long-vanished businesses, old first basemen’s gloves, a giant bat, and scorecards from games played years ago.

9. Hotel Utah Saloon

Year Established: 1908
Location:  500 4th St.
Also Serves Food:  Yes
Operating Hours:  Monday – Friday: 11:30AM – 2AM; Saturday – Sunday: 11AM – 2AM

Hotel Utah Saloonphoto source: Flickr via torbakhopper

The Hotel Utah Saloon, commonly just called The Utah, was opened by the Deininger family in 1908. The Deiningers commissioned furniture makers in Belgium to design and create The Utah’s ornate bar-back. Like all of the bars on this list, The Hotel Utah Saloon was frequented by many sketchy characters early in its history, but its clientele has evolved over the years. Today, the SOMA neighborhood that The Hotel Utah Saloon is located in is thriving and so is the bar.

Did You Know?

The Hotel Utah Saloon got its current name in 1977 when the bar was purchased by Paul Gaer, who co-wrote the story for the 1979 film “The Electric Horseman.” Gaer put in a stage to support local entertainers and a few now famous names like Whoopi Goldberg, Robin Williams, and the Pickle Family Circus, were some of the first performers.

8. The Homestead

Year Established: 1902
Location:  2301 Folsom St.
Also Serves Food:  Yes
Operating Hours:  Monday – Sunday: 2PM – 2AM

The Homesteadphoto source: Wikimedia Commons

Various sources cite The Homestead’s founding date as 1906, but the most reliable source, the bar’s current manager Deb Welch, says that The Homestead was opened in 1902 by Charles Scharenberg. Over the years The Homestead, which was originally called Old Homestead, changed as the area its located in became more popular. During Prohibition, The Homestead served sandwiches and soda for lunch while serving alcohol in secret. Like many places that have been open for over 100 years, The Homestead has had various owners; the bar has been owned by Raub Shapiro and Rio Hackford since 2005.

Did You Know?

The Homestead still has the tables with secret shelves used to hide alcohol during Prohibition in its storage room.

7. Bus Stop Saloon

Year Established: 1900
Location:  1901 Union St.
Also Serves Food:  No
Operating Hours:  Monday – Friday: 10AM – 2AM; Saturday – Sunday: 9AM – 2AM

Bus Stop Saloonphoto source: Flickr via Ed Dunens

Bus Stop Saloon is the only bar on this list that has been run by the same family since early in its history. The bar was established in the same building sometime in 1900 and originally called Alley Inn. In 1919, the Ferronis, the current family that owns Bus Stop Saloon took over and has been running it ever since – they are currently in the fourth generation of owners. Today, the Bus Stop Saloon is a popular sports bar with several TVs for watching every game.

Did You Know?

According to Gabe Ferroni, in the 1980s, Oakland Raiders linebacker Ted Hendricks and his teammates used to come into the Bus Stop Saloon the night before a game to have a few drinks.

6. The Little Shamrock

Year Established: 1893
Location:  807 Lincoln Way
Also Serves Food:  No
Operating Hours:  Monday – Thursday: 3PM – 2AM; Friday: 2PM – 2AM; Saturday – Sunday: 1PM – 2AM

The Little Shamrockphoto source: Wikimedia Commons via Joe Mabel

Similar to how The Saloon says its the oldest, The Little Shamrock claims its the second oldest bar in San Francisco just because it’s in the original building. Also like The Saloon, The Little Shamrock did survive the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906.

The Little Shamrock was first opened by Irish entrepreneur Julia Herzo Quigley and her first husband Antone Herzo to serve visitors and builders during the construction of the California Midwinter International Exposition of 1894 in Golden Gate Park. Like a few of the other historic bars on this list, The Little Shamrock was close to shutting down due to financial struggles, but was saved by its current owner, Saeed Ghazi, a few years ago.

Did You Know?

The Little Shamrock was prominently featured John Lescroart’s Dismas Hardy novel series, with Moses McGuire as its fictional owner and bartender.

5. Shotwell’s

Year Established: c.1891
Location:  3349 20th St.
Also Serves Food:  No (Can Bring Your Own Food)
Operating Hours:  Monday – Saturday: 4:30PM – 2AM; Sunday: 4PM – 1AM

Shotwell'sphoto source: TridAdvisor

Shotwell’s is another old bar in San Francisco’s famed Mission District. The bar was first opened sometime in 1891 as a “Grocery Saloon” (a combination grocery store and saloon) by two German immigrants. Shotwell’s, which was called Schlichtmann’s at the time, continued operating as a grocery saloon until 1906 when the city outlawed them. However, Mr. Schlichtmann was one of the few people to obtain the limited number of saloon licenses and Shotwell’s has been a bar ever since (except during Prohibition, of course).

Did You Know?

Shotwell’s does not serve hard liquor – only beer, wine, and cider – because the person who bought the building in 1982 didn’t buy the liquor license as well and the subsequent owners never bothered to get one either, carrying on Shotwell’s no liquor tradition.

4. Northstar Cafe

Year Established: 1882
Location:  1560 Powell St.
Also Serves Food:  No
Operating Hours:  Monday – Friday: 1PM – 2AM; Saturday: 11AM – 2AM; Sunday: 9AM – 2AM

Northstar Cafephoto source: Yelp

Despite its name, Northstar Cafe is one of San Francisco’s most frequented bars that has been opened since 1882. In true bar fashion, Northstar Cafe doesn’t serve any food besides some popcorn. In addition to the free popcorn, Northstar’s pool tables are free to use. The bar also has six flatscreen TVs with various games playing, making Northstar Cafe popular with both locals and tourists.

Did You Know?

Northstar Cafe survived the Prohibition era by operating as a speakeasy.

3. The Saloon

Year Established: 1861
Location:  1232 Grant Ave.
Also Serves Food:  No
Operating Hours:  Monday – Sunday: 12PM – 1:30AM

The Saloonphoto source: Wikimedia Commons

Although Elixir and Old Ship Saloon are much older, The Saloon says that it is San Francisco’s oldest bar/saloon because its still in its original building. The Saloon has been around since 1861 and judging by pictures hanging on the bar’s walls from the 1870s, not much has changed. Today, The Saloon is a beloved dive bar that is also known for hosting live music every night, especially blues-rock bands.

Did You Know?

According to local legend, The Saloon survived the great earthquake of 1906 because it was built with unusually short beams.

2. Elixir

Year Established: 1858
Location:  3200 16th St.
Also Serves Food:  Yes
Operating Hours:  Monday – Friday: 3PM – 2AM; Saturday – Sunday: 12PM – 2AM

Elixirphoto source: TripAdvisor

Elixir is San Francisco’s second oldest bar and has been around since at least 1858, but could possibly be as old (or a few years older) than Old Ship Saloon. The original saloon building burned down in 1906, but the owner at the time decided to rebuild in the same spot. The current Elixir building has been around since 1907 and the bar has had several different owners and identities over the years. These days, Elixir is one of the best whisky bars in the country.

Did You Know?

Elixir’s current owner, Joseph Ehrmann (the bar’s 11th owner), is the only proprietor to do renovations on the bar since 1907. Ehrmann has restored the bar’s original Victorian look, the original wood, and has uncovered more of Elixir’s history as well.

1. Old Ship Saloon

Year Established: 1851
Location:  298 Pacific Ave.
Also Serves Food:  Yes
Operating Hours:  Monday – Friday: 11AM – 2AM; Saturday – Sunday: 10AM – 2AM

Old Ship Saloonphoto source: Flickr via Jennifer Woodward Maderazo

Barring a brief closure in 2017, Old Ship Saloon has been in operation since 1851, making it the oldest bar in San Francisco. The bar gets its unique name because it was built atop the remains of an actual Gold Rush era ship, the Arkansas, which ran aground on “Bird Island” (aka Alcatraz) in 1849. The ship was moved to the Barbary Coast area of the city and converted into a bar in 1851. Eventually, all of the ship’s remains were removed and the building that the Old Ship Saloon is housed in was built on the same spot.

Did You Know?

Originally, the Old Ship Saloon’s entrance had a gangplank and a sign that read: “Gud, bad and indif’rent spirits solds here! At 25 cents each.”



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