The Tenderloin — always the ugly, neglected stepchild of its more posh neighbors (we’re talking about you Nob Hill) — is generally avoided by tourists like the plague. We think this is an awful shame, because some of San Francisco’s best bars and restaurants are hidden among the grit and grime here. In honor of my last Friday night as a Tenderloin resident, I threw a pub crawl to celebrate the juxtaposition of honky-tonk dives and swanky saloons colonizing the genuine city streets of what locals lovingly call “the TL.”
Photo courtesy of sfist
It all began at Mister Lew’s Win Win Bar & Grand Sazerac Emporium. Opened two months ago, SF Weekly bestowed its Best New Tenderloin Bar honor on this refined dive. $8 top-shelf cocktails look as delicious as they taste – try the straight-up Sazerac (this drink is no joke), the Bitter Buck, the Old Fashioned, or hell, just try them all like my crew did.
There’s no beer on tap, but Olympia in a can keeps it classy for the hipsters. Despite being the lovechild of the Bourbon & Branch and Rickhouse owners, you won’t find any boring, dry Financial District guys in here… yet. The friendly bartenders mix a mean drink and a pool table occupies the back.
Photo courtesy of the san francisco bar experiment
Already a little silly on Sazeracs, the posse rolled two blocks deeper to The Brown Jug. We approached with low expectations, but wow, did this place excel! Not only is the Jug filled with crusty locals perched upon bar stools, but you can get a Pabst, a shot of whiskey, and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, all for $7.25!
Our group was warmly welcomed and the regular patrons eagerly shared their space with what was quickly becoming a boisterous crowd (read: us). A retro jukebox and a small pool table lent some distraction. One downside (or upside, depending on your preference) – smoking is allowed inside.
Photo courtesy of SFGate
Before things got too out of hand, we moved on to A La Turca for some sustenance. The cooks behind the counter were none too pleased at our lively assembly rolling in five minutes before closing time, but still provided delectably salty lamb schwarma plates, falafel wraps, and bottled beer (cheap cheap cheap!). After being sated, we jumped next door to the Ha-Ra, which was surprisingly dead. So we crossed over to The Outsider, where sticky floors, stinging neon, competitive pool players, and cute Asian bartenders reigned.
Photo courtesy of David S./Yelp
After a brief sleep interlude, the Tenderloin crawl continued on Saturday. First stop, Olive. Behind the hefty wooden door lies one of the city’s best happy hours (Mon-Fri from 5-7pm), expertly mixed potions (the blood orange margarita is marvelous), and mushroom and truffle oil pizza ($8 during HH!). Okay, they have other food too, of the upscale tapas bar variety, but truffle oil always deserves a shout.
I bounced a few doors down with my two dates to lime green Mangosteen. Lunch is more happening here (meaning crowded), but don’t be dissuaded by the lack of patrons in the early eve. I love the crushed ice that accompanies the sweet iced coffee (nice touch!) and the garlic noodles are a stand out.
Photo courtesy of Grub Street
The ultimate stop on the Tenderloin pub crawl lay within the Phoenix Hotel. Just last week, the former Bambuddha Lounge reopened as Chambers Eat + Drink. Sexy, seductive, and sophisticated are the best adjectives to describe this updated, chic space (oh, and those last two). The clientele spanned from scantily clad young women to nine guys wearing different varieties of the same plaid shirt (blue/green, green/yellow, yellow/red…). Eclectic indeed.
Vinyl records line the restaurant walls while the back bar area has plush, Victorian-era chairs perfect for lounging while sipping concoctions fetched by the two handsome, young men who escorted me there. Did I mention the kidney-shaped pool and fire pits? Dreamy.
Whether seeking a mellow affair or two days of decadent revelry, I implore you visitors to experience the real San Francisco; it’s alive and well in the Tenderloin. Trust me, you’ll be well looked after.