Shake up your after-hours game with these eight San Francisco bars that take theme to the next level.

Themed bars are always in danger of being over-the-top, resulting in a space that’s cliche and kitschy rather than fun and unique. But some bars really do theme right, and those locations are gold — perfect for jazzing up the ol’ dive bar routine.

Here are 8 themed bars that are sure to become new staples to your bar repertoire!

Wilson and Wilson

Theme: Private Detective Agency
Location: 505 Jones St in the Tenderloin

This private detective-themed drinking spot is so cleverly hidden that it’s a bar-within-a-speakeasy.  To infiltrate the small room, you must first be led through Bourbon & Branch (featured further down on the list) and enter through two password-protected doors. Reservations are highly recommended since the bar enforces a strict 28-person limit to preserve a secretive feel.

WIlson-WIlson2-1Yellow Owl Workshop
Once inside, you’re greeted by velvet-speckled wallpaper, somber oak, and dark, subdued colors with a bartender who (very obviously) knows their craft inside and out. The drinks are wildly creative and in-line with the theme, ranging from the smoky Truth Serum to the light, playful Red Scarab. The drinks menu — served deep within a case file — include a full meal’s worth of drinks, starting with light aperitifs and ending with strong alcoholic main courses.

dranksElena N. via Yelp
Bottom line: you go to Wilson and Wilson to get tipsy in a romantic, intimate, confidential atmosphere.


Theme: Library
Location: 662 Mission St in Financial District/SoMa

Novela: making reading fun since 2013. Except substitute reading with drinking, and you have an accurate picture of what goes down in this new literary bar.

With fun themed drinks such as the Jay Gatsby or the Marla Singer, you can literally taste the different notes of a character’s personality in a cocktail. This particular library also encourages chatting with your friends, if the made-to-share Hemingway “Code Hero” punch is anything to go by.

Screen Shot 2015-07-07 at 12.50.56 PMNovela


Theme: Trailer Trash
Location: 354 11th St in SoMa

Sick of the somewhat pretentious standards that so many dive bars seem to be aspiring to? Here’s one bar that pursues the very opposite.

oButter Yelp
Butters is loud, uninhibited and raunchy in all the right ways. When the theme is “trailer trash” how could you be anything but? The staff at Butters “serve only the freshest Pabst Blue Ribbon on tap…[and] a host of cocktails prepared with nutritious Grape and Strawberry sodas.” The food is definitely not clean eats, with a selection of deep-fried and microwavable meals cluttering the menu.

If you’re looking for a place to relive those booze-filled college days (complete with jello shots!), Butter it is. As for reservations, you can throw those away (along with your inhibitions) at the door.

Noir Lounge

Theme: Film Noir
Location: 581 Hayes St in Hayes Valley

Noir Lounge is one of those rare locations that is practically built for date night — cuddle with your significant other (or try out a potential candidate) on one of their vintage couches while watching one of the film noir screenings that are projected on to the walls. Complete the picture with a glass of wine or beer from their extensive list and relax to the quiet piano music that filters through the bar.

noirloungeNoir Lounge Facebook
Somehow their lack of cocktails just ups the classy ante, but if you’re a mixed drinks kind of person, don’t expect too much of a variety from the Noir Lounge.

3657_520547378006602_1990553073_nNoir Lounge Facebook
Unlike the cramped nature of the other bars on this list, the Noir Lounge is deceptively large, which allows patrons to hold conversations (a prized commodity among bars). Ideal for groups that crave a classier night out once in a while.

Kozy Kar

Theme: Late ’70s and Early ’80s Pornos
Location: 1548 Polk St in Nob Hill

Relive the glory days of Generation X at this retro, perverted bar that makes you uncomfortable in all the right ways. Kozy Kar is the bar version of that greasy, perpetually drunk uncle (or is he your cousin twice-removed?) who refuses to be seen without his trusty pair of bell-bottoms.

kozykarhahahaTom Hilton via Flickr
The space is outfitted to look like the inside of a seedy VW Bug, complete with questionably clean waterbeds covered in shag carpet, dated records, CB radios, vintage playboy cutouts everywhere and a Missile Control arcade game chilling in the corner. The drinks themselves are fittingly extra-strong.

Screen Shot 2015-07-07 at 2.04.43 PMSan Fran Fried
Step into San Francisco’s bonafide Love Shack — just don’t expect to come out squeaky clean, or without seeing something naughty playing on the TVs.

Bourbon & Branch

Theme: 1920 Speakeasy
Location: 501 Jones St in the Tenderloin

The father to Wilson and Wilson, Bourbon & Branch is an original speakeasy complete with a password protected front door. To get the password to the Bourbon, make sure to reserve ahead.

o-1Mary W. via Yelp
The main entrance itself is an unmarked little side door that opens up into a room slightly reminiscent of a library — albeit with a dark twist. There are several areas within the Bourbon itself, including the Library and Russell’s Cigar Room. The Library does not require a reservation; simply ring the bell and use the password “books.” Beware: the Library can get a bit crowded on weekends.

o-2Brian S. via Yelp
The Bourbon really dives into its theme of secrecy, even asking patrons to refrain from using their phones or taking pictures. The complete list of House Rules can be found here.

Local Edition

Theme: Vintage Journalism
Location: 691 Market St in Financial District/SoMa

You don’t simply walk into a different time period with the Local Edition; you descend into one. Located underground, the Local Edition is the lovechild of film noir meets Beat Generation Ernest Hemingway. That is, it’s a dark and mysterious newspaper bar set in the ’50s.

typewritersLocal Edition via Facebook
Vintage newspapers paper the tables, typewriters are on display, and all the cocktails are based off important places and figures to the newspaper business. There’s even a live jazz band on Mondays that really set the mood for some sultry investigative journaling.

localeditionMaria C. via Yelp
Fun fact: The Examiner previously operated out of the Local Edition’s current space, lending a ring of authenticity to its theme.

Smuggler’s Cove

Theme: Pirate
Location: 650 Gough St in the Fillmore

At Smuggler’s Cove, the rum is never gone.

Among the other Tiki bars in San Francisco, Smuggler’s Cove is king: it’s the most widely publicized and a classic gateway bar to other Tiki shacks around the City. A little bit kitschy, a little bit gimmicky and a whole lot of fun, Smuggler’s Cove is best for those who just want to have a cliche Caribbean experience. Pirates of the Caribbean, of course.

smuggler's coveCaptain Moony via Tumblr
At heart, Smuggler’s Cove is a rum bar. They’re stocked with over 400 different rums that they use in signature drinks, including their flaming Top Notch volcano, huge Scorpion bowls and rum barrel cups.

San Francisco is chock-full of numerous theme bars — what’s your favorite?

 [Featured Image: Smuggler’s Cove by Kellan via Flickr]

  1. […] That’s fine, because San Francisco is blessed with hundreds of fantastic (and sometimes crazy) lounges/bars/clubs that you can carry a good conversation […]

Comments are closed.

Just one more...