The Saloon is San Francisco’s oldest bar and a true treasure amongst the great dive bars of America. Located in North Beach, it’s been operating since 1861, first as Wagner’s Beer Hall. It’s been owned for the last 30 years by Myron Mu, who won a Keeping the Blues Alive Award in 2014. The Saloon still has the original wooden bar from the 1860s and is one of the few businesses that can say it survived the earthquake of 1906 as well as the devastating fires that followed.
Some people say the bar survived the fires because it was located so close to the fire department. Others claim that there was a “house of ill-repute” above the bar—and the firemen reallywanted to save those hookers!
Whatever the reason, it’s still standing, and generations of San Francisco bar-goers are glad of it.
You would think an old place like this, with its rich history, might have gone the way of McSorley’s in New York City or McGillan’s in Philadelphia and become a total tourist trap—but you’d be wrong! The Saloon has managed to keep its true saloon (a.k.a. dive bar) feel andits low prices.
The bar is always full of regulars, called “Saloonatics”, but there’s a chance you’ll run into someone you know or someone of note. The regulars usually consist of an eclectic mix of holdovers from the Beat Generation, long-time neighborhood residents, and homeless people who can pull together enough money to have a few strong, cheap drinks in a place that welcomes them.
The Saloon is also a must-see for any blues lover.
Every night, you can expect a quality performance from talented blues artists. The Saloon alumni include James Cotton, John Cipollina, and Robben Ford. Tommy Castro still plays in the Christmas jam every December, and popular local musicians play regularly, too. You might be lucky enough to catch Barry “The Fish” Melton or Nick Gravanites. You might even see a few Grammy winners or a former member of the E Street Band.
Performances are at 4pm and 9pm.
By now, you’re probably asking: Does this edgy, eclectic blues hall reallyfit the dive bar mold? Considering the stage is really just a piece of solid wood supported by milk crates, we say yes!
The fact that you can get a good, strong drink for less than $5 (cash-only of course) served by a grudgingly friendly bartender also tics off a couple of the quintessential dive bar boxes.
And one of the best things about a dive bar is that, once you’ve established yourself as a regular, you’re practically family. This is never truer than at The Saloon in San Francisco, where one wall is dedicated entirely to photos of departed, well-loved patrons.
The Dive Bar Tourist recommends planning your visit to The Saloon during an early weekend afternoon, when the music is on point and you won’t see a lot of tourists or Tech Bros/Bro’ettes.
Location: San Francisco, California
Be sure to try: Cheap well drinks