Chinatown in San Francisco, California is the oldest Chinatown in North America, but as our local guide and new friend Tony says, it’s still got a lot of flavor. Greasy chow mein and dim sum keep the local scene authentic, but it’s the dive bar circuit that brings out locals and tourists alike. Follow in the footsteps of Anthony Bourdain and grab a Chinese Mai Tai at the infamous Li Po, a seedy ‘hole in the wall’ bar filled with authentic Chinese trinkets as colorful as the people who hang there. Next hit the dimly lit karaoke bar, Bow Bow. Between bouts of cocktails and belting out tunes, make sure to buy Mama Candy, the bar’s owner, a shot of Patron. It’s a sure-fire way to get on her good side. For a shot of San Franciscan history, drop in on Vesuvio, a favorite among beat poets like Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac. To wrap it all up, hit Tosca Cafe for a House Cappuccino, but don’t let the name fool you, there’s no coffee in them.
In a town where the focus tends to skew tech and trend, it’s nice to know that there are still good ol’ fashioned, pound the pavement, areas flourishing freely. Bigger than life personalities, stiff drinks and good eats make Californian nights special, but Chinatown in San Francisco fills out an evening in its own unapologetic way. Walking among the Victorian era architecture during the day is reason enough to visit, but if you’re looking for a neighborhood that takes a ride through the grunge of night and dumps you back home filled with cocktails and happiness, then you’ve come to the right place. Take a group of friends or go out stag and make some new ones, there really is no wrong way to raise a glass in this historic district.
Phone – 415.982.0072
Hours – 7 days a week, 2 pm to 2 am
Must Haves: Chinese Mai Tai chased with a Buddha Beer to cut the sweet.
Phone – 415.421.6730
Must Haves: A conversation with Mama Candy.
Phone – 415.362.3370
Hours – 7 days a week, 8 am to 2 am
Must Haves: The Jack Kerouac. (Duh!)
Phone – 415.986.9651
Hours – 7 days a week, 5 pm to 2 am
Must Haves: House Cappuccino. Dealer’s Choice – Be prepared for a quizzing session. After gauging your preferred tastes the bartender will mix up a drink specifically for you.