Get in the Zone: A Guide to the 80 Game Bars in SF
Updated June 20, 2017
That's right, EIGHTY. Eighty bars in the 46.87 square miles that we know as San Francisco have some sort of board game, arcade game, dice, video game, live music, or alternative entertainment to keep its population engaged. We don't need any other data to support the assessment that the Goldfish Phenomenon is real. Before we put our drinking caps on, let's put thinking caps on. After researching these 80 establishments, it seems there are only about 25 square miles in SF that we have identified as The Gaming Zone:
So that's actually 3.2 game bars per mile - nice! Given There's a good chance that anywhere you're standing within the zone, a game bar is likely less than 10 minutes away. Thirsting for fun yet?
Given these figures, you hopefully understand that the following venues are mere highlights in a sea of amusement.
Showdown Gamenight - SoMa
Let's start with the epitome of an SF gamer's bar. Showdown is an ongoing event series at Folsom Street Foundry where hundreds of gamers pay $5 to compete (or play for fun) while drinking game-themed drinks. It's like a start-up, local community, and game bar all wrapped into one package. Magic the Gathering, Cards Against Humanity, and Rock Band are among the many games played, and guests are encouraged to bring their own favorite games too.
The Buckshot - Inner Richmond
Photo: SF Gate
The Buckshot is a go-to game bar for more than just hunting big bucks. Buckshot has hosted SF's original Skeeball league (or, more formally, Brewskeeball), for over a decade. A competitive game of skeeball (or shuffleboard) is well paired with chicken-fried bacon or sriracha candy bacon from the kitchen. And if you're heading to famous Burma Superstar across the street, this is the place to go before, while you wait, and after that fine food.
Teeth SF - The Mission
Formerly known as Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, this bar offers fun at a professional level - Dr. Teeth didn't spend 7 years in medical school to NOT provide you with endless entertainment (or bottomless mimosas). Grab a picnic table outside and partake in Cornhole (the lawn game pictured above, aka dummy boards, bean bag toss, dadhole, doghouse, baggo or bags to the rest of you). Bonus points if you tot and toss. If it's rainy out, don't fear, indoor shuffleboard is near!
The Page, Lower Haight
Photo: The Page
While The Page has a high volume of dead animals on its walls, there are plenty of lively folks enjoying drinks and games atop its floors. Challenge friends to a game of pool or foosball in this neighborhood hangout.
Li Po Cocktail Lounge, Chinatown
Photo: Huffington Post
Anthony Bourdain brought some fame to the Chinese Mai Tai at LiPo Cocktail Lounge in Chinatown. You can also enjoy Buddha Beer or other specials in this dive where you can play Pacman and drinking games with new friends - if you need to learn how to play dice stop by Mr. Bing's first.
The Hidden Vine - Financial District
Photo: Urban Daddy / Philipp Weitz Photography
Tucked in the Financial District, the Hidden Vine is where to go if you know Jack. This wine bar not only offers an outdoor bocce ball court, but also has a wine subscription club for ball slingin' wine-os.
The Hot Spot - Civic Center
Despite its dodgy facade, The Hot Spot made the list of highlights because it's the only spot in SF where a drink special comes with a beer, a shot, and a scratcher lotto ticket. You can also try your lock at Pacman, Drinko (plinko for drinks), or sing your heart out via karaoke.
Playground - Japantown, Lower Pacific Heights
Photo: Playground SF
Speaking of karaoke...if you're a songster, Japantown is your 'hood, and Playground is our favorite for songs and soju. This karaoke restaurant also has cards and boards games.
Rickshaw Stop - Hayes Valley
Photo: Rickshaw Stop
Where can you watch standup and live music from the comfort of a vintage Rickshaw you ask? The Rickshaw Stop. While this venue used to have a game room with skeeball, foosball and the like, word got out that they host up-and-coming acts before they hit it big, and patrons became more interested in the nine elements of music instead of rolling nine brown balls up a ramp...Given there is no longer a lack of skeeball in SF, Rickshaw stop is now your #1 bar to play musical chairs to live tunes.
S&R Lounge - SoMa, Union Square
Photo: SF Station
Building a 30-foot plinko game will ensure your game bar is in every article about game bars. This continues to be the case for Hotel Zetta's S&R, or 'Salvage & Rescue' lounge, which also has Uno, Connect Four, Nintendo Wii U, giant Jenga, pool, chess, and a red phone booth to hang out in.
Golden Gate Tap Room - Union Square
Photo: Golden Gate Tap Room
Similar in location and 'go big or go home' style to R&L, Golden Gate Tap Room is a large playground filled with shuffleboard, skeeball, pool, Simpsons pinball, Air Hockey, foosball, Big Buck Hunter, Golden Tee Live, Tekken 6, NBA Jam, NFL Blitz, and over 100 beers. Fun fact: They also hosted the casting call for CBS’s Big Brother earlier this year.
El Rio - Bernal Heights
Photo: El Rio
El Rio has been a friendly neighborhood bar since 1978. What started out as a Leather Brazilian Gay Bar is today a LGBTQ+ space that is welcoming to all good people. This gem supports local artists and causes and hosts live music and other special events. What you will find here: infused vodkas for a Bloody Mary, delicious margaritas, ping pong, shuffle board, nonstop fun and featured local art. What you won't find here: mean people.
Urban Putt - Mission
Photo: Urban Putt
You know what also pairs well with local art? Minigolf. Within the walls at Urban Putt is an art installation by artist Dan Rosenfeld, "Sleepwalkers” is an interactive exhibit with tiny glowing creatures. Check out the video below! San Francisco's first and only indoor miniature golf course is an homage to the city's sites, history, and sense of fun. We particularly like the skeeball themed hole (it's like a 2 in one game!). The Victorian building that houses the course also has arcade games, pop a shot, a restaurant and full bar - that's family fun on par.
Want the full map with information-bearing pins? Here you go.