Drinking Culture: Bars with Foreign Character/s

If you want to experience another culture, some say, start with the food; fine, but if you really want to see the character of a country on naked display you've got to spend some time in its bars. Luckily, in this, one of the most diverse cities in the world, not only do we have representatives from nearly every nation on the planet, but watering holes where you can experience the authentic, convivial culture of countries like Mexico,China or Senegal without ever having to board a plane.

Updated: March 01, 2010

Travelling by Bar

Li Po

916 Grant Ave, San Francisco, CA 94108

Smack in the heart of Chinatown, Li Po is a gem. With Chinese lanterns hanging from the ceiling, a golden shrine to Buddha behind the bar, and a paper dragon snarling on the wall, this bar looks like it was pulled off the set of "Big Trouble in Little China." Drink too many of Li Po's famous Mai Tais and you'll be in big trouble the next morning.

Tommy's Mexican Restaurant

5929 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94121

Tommy's has just about everything you'd expect from a good Mexican restaurant: Tasty food, Mexican flags, and hanging pi?atas, plus a signed guitar from former Van Halen frontman Sammy "Cabo Wabo Tequila," Hagar. But what makes Tommy's one of the best Mexican bars north of the border? Three hundred and fifty different kinds of tequila.

Little Baobab

3388 19th St, San Francisco, CA 94110

This little sweatbox was built for people who want to dance. This Senegalese club bumps afro-beats and other music that you won't hear on the radio and draws an international crowd. The hibiscus cocktails and the ginger margaritas bring African flavor, but the packed, uninhibited dance floor is what is most charmingly foreign in this anti-boogie city.

Edinburgh Castle

950 Geary St, San Francisco, CA 94109

Think "Braveheart" meets "Animal House" and you've got a pretty good sense of what Edinburgh Castle is all about. Pennies from the old country decorate the bar, coats of arms and Scottish flags hang about, and a caber?a large wooden pole the Scots throw for competition?is mounted on the wall. Book readings, quiz nights and pint-sipping ex-pat Brits give it the intellectual aspect missing from most American bars.

Amelie Wine Bar

1754 Polk St, San Francisco, CA 94109

Sexy and sophisticated, Amelie brings Paris to Polk Street. Women wear scarves and chiffon, men wear newsboy hats, and the bar serves 125 different kinds of wine. Brought to you, apparently, by the color red, just about every surface is Amelie is a drenched in a deep ruby hue from the bar to the chairs to the illuminated wine bottles hanging on the wall. Don't miss happy hour 5:30-7:00, when a flight of three wines is $10.

Schroeder's Cafe

240 Front St, San Francisco, CA 94111

The giant brass beer stein door handles on Schroeder's front doors succinctly sum up what patrons can expect at this bustling German pub: very large glasses of beer. Schroeder's also serves up hearty Bavarian food?what is a German restaurant without Schnitzel?'shows German soccer games, and there's polka dancing all year round.