Come On and Get Happy: Best Happy Hours in San Francisco

The term "Happy Hour" is often ascribed to the time on board Navy ships that sailors were allowed to box or wrestle to relieve stress. Since San Francisco has a long and storied Naval history, it's no wonder that the city boasts one of the most impressive selections of Happy Hours of any U.S. City.

None of the establishments encourage boxing, but all definitely work hard to relieve stress. If you feel like a gritty dive bar, Dave's downtown is a San Francisco institution. If you want your dive with a slice of free pizza, try Sutter Station on a Friday night. If you need something fancier and want to get swept up in the craft cocktail movement, try Agave or Alembic Bar

Happy Hours encourage everyone to let their guard down, so it's a perfect time for locals and tourists to mix. If you're a real planner, choose a happy hour by the neighborhood you're most interested in exploring.

For example, if you want to know about the Mission District, which is at the center of all the social and technological upheaval going on in San Francisco, belly up to the bar at Blondie's. If the guy next to you won't talk, there's nothing like getting the real lowdown about a city from a bartender. Remember: bartenders see everything.



Blackbird Bar

Blackbird's motto really does capture the essence of this bar: "Ever Classic, Never Stuffy, Welcome to the Bird." Featuring local wines, artisanal craft beers, and handmade cocktails, The Blackbird is everything you should expect in a bar. The weekday Happy Hour from 5-8 features $1-2 off of their draughts; $5-6 wine; $5 sours; and $2 Bud, Bud Light, or PBR. In other words, something for everyone. The house speciality is barrel-aged cocktails, such as their 4-6 week oak-aged whiskey. Pairs nicely with their Deviled Ham or Smoked Trout. Central location in the Castro, just forty feet away from the Church Street MUNI Station.

This swanky modern lounge, consistently ranked among the best bars in San Francisco, is ideal for a fun night out with class and style included. Set in a high-ceilinged 1920s-era building, WISH features posh leather couches and glamorous red decor, seductively illuminated by candlelit sconces. As the energizing yet unobtrusive beat of DJ-mixed house music inspires patrons to mix and mingle, cheerfully attentive barkeeps craft creative champagne cocktails that are both potent and reasonably priced. This a popular spot for Happy Hour for big groups who are more interested in being seen than being heard over the pumping house music.


If you're looking for a hip, young, urban, trendy wine bar night, look no further than Amelie. San Francisco is a young city, and with the recent tech boom, more eager tech workers have moved to the city to find their fortunes. These same urban professionals can be found trying to defrag their hectic tech days by sitting in the Amelie's vintage theatre seats in the front or leaning against the hip, lacquered red bar in the back. Half of the list is European with a heavy emphasis on France, with the rest from California, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Chile and Argentina.

Pier 23 Cafe

More known for its live music than its food, Pier 23 is THE nightlife spot on the Embarcadero. The Embarcadero has enjoyed a real renovation over the last few years, so visitors could easily plan an entire day around a live show at Pier 23. Start off with a delicious local breakfast at the Farmer's Market, which offers a large selection of organic bites and snacks. Work your way down the Embarcadero with a visit to the newly redesigned Exploratorium, which has enough free exhibits around its exterior to while away several hours. Grab dinner some seafood at Pier 39 for sustenance, and then dance the night away at Pier 23.

Blondie's Bar

Blondie's is a local favorite for a variety of reasons: jazz and blues music, a hip crowd, and a relaxed atmosphere, courtesy of large windows that open out to the street. Enjoy well-mixed cocktails during happy hour, and make sure to try one of their martinis, a house specialty. The housemade blue cheese stuffed olives that garnish the martinis are alone worth the price of the drink. A pool table is available for friendly competition.Although 1991 might not seem that long of a time, it's ancient in terms of the turnover rate of bars and restaurants in the everchanging Mission District. That gives Blondie's an older feel than most of the newer bars in the Mission.

The Tenderloin
Cafe Royale
Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy

Nestled between the seedy Tenderloin and ritzy Nob Hill neighborhoods, Cafe Royale has a fantastic selection of local brews, such as "Inception" by Triple Voodoo - very hard to find on tap anywhere else in town. The walls are covered with the work of local photographers and painters, and jazz on Sundays always draws an eclectic and friendly crowd. Sushi Tuesday is quickly becoming a staple classic. The crowd is young and friendly, and the bartenders are knowledgable. If you want good beer, versatile bartenders and a look at an up-and-coming San Francisco hotspot, head to Cafe Royale. (Happy Hours, 3-6.)

Besides understanding how to make wine from grapes, InnerFog has shown the ability to make lemon out of lemonade. Instead of bemoaning the recent bursting of a water pipe which caused major damage, the clever managers of InnerFog saw opportunity in crisis. The result: a new tap system featuring 10 new red and white wines and draft micro beers; a food prep station offering locally sourced food items that pair well with wine and beer selections; and a new stainless steel refrigerator and glass shelving to display beer and wine glasses and wine carafes. Plenty of wines by the bottle or glass still available, too.

Given how quickly trends come and go in San Francisco, the fact that the Alembic has been making craft cocktails for several years actually makes the bar one of the forerunners of this latest hip trend. A house favorite is the "Sazerac," a New Orleans classic that features whiskey, Peychaud's Bitters, sugar, and according to the bar - "a glass rinsed with a green bitter liquid that shall remain nameless." Known for whiskey, The Alembic serves up fantastic food, as well. It's expanding into the recently closed Red Vic theatre, so it's dinner menu is expected to expand, as well.

House of Shields
Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy

In existence since 1908, House of Shields was one of downtown's favorite "dive" bars until a makeover in 2010. The drink prices are higher but the restoration is impressive. Enjoying a fantastic central location downtown, it's a fine place to enjoy a cocktail before heading up the hill to Chinatown and North Beach or straight down market to the Embarcadero for a dinner by the bay. It's a very popular Happy Hour spot, so get there early before the place gets packed. Excellent locale to see an intriguing cross-section of San Francisco, from bike messengers to tech traders and everyone in-between.

Part of locally beloved Lolo restaurant, this mescal inspired, craft cocktail bar has gotten more popular by the minute. Some of the cocktails sound good enough to eat - and with good reason. Bar managers Gallardo and Vasquez are always peeking over at the kitchen to see what fresh fruits and vegetables are in store for diners that night. They take their own cocktail inspiration from whatever is fresh on the menu, which creates a perfect pairing for those who want to spin off their stool after a drink and enjoy the world-class dining going on behind them. The joyous clamor of colorful art will get you in the perfect mood for the star of the show: your cocktail.


Meet Tom Molanphy

The only thing that Tom Molanphy loves more than the food, art, music, and culture of San Francisco is sharing it with others. San Francisco never gets old for Tom.

Tom has lived in the San...  More About Tom