Get the Party Started: Bars for the First Round

Sometimes you need a place to get the party started before the party really gets started. You know, the kind of bar you can belly up to early with one friend in tow and another six stragglers on the way. The rare sort of place with enough character to draw your laziest friend from the Outer Sunset into the city's center while still allowing you a chance to chat without losing your voice and drain a glass without seeing parallel effects on your wallet. Here, we offer seven spots sure to ease your social self into a big night out with equal parts pace and grace.

Updated: February 01, 2009

Where to Meet Up and Drink Up


199 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94103

When the late afternoon sun is still shining, this grungy Mission classic can be counted upon for one of the best pre-party scenes in the city. While the sweet scent of meat hitting the outdoor grill wafts overhead, the pitcher-laden picnic tables out back play host to everyone from neo-hippie bike messengers to skinny dudes in even skinnier jeans to pretty chicks with saucer-sized sunglasses.


3200 16th St, San Francisco, CA 94103

This new-school Mission saloon pleases with its jovial vibe, premium tipples and eco-friendly approach to the fine art of getting loaded. Oh, and the four-hour weekday happy hour doesn't hurt, either. From television screens pumping in the day's games via satellite to artfully prepared specialty cocktails to the limited edition, small-batch whiskies on offer, this corner bar has a little something for everyone. On weekends, the D.I.Y. Bloody Mary bar is a constant hit.

Bacchus Kirk

925 Bush St, San Francisco, CA 94109

With a fireplace perfect for fighting off the summer chill, a pool table, smoking room and a Britpop-heavy jukebox, this downtown destination has all the elements of a great night in the making. A happy hour that starts and runs later than most makes this a solid option for post-post-work drinks, while custom martinis like the Mellow Mango satisfy the cocktail connoisseurs in your crew.

Tosca Cafe

242 Columbus Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

A visit to this North Beach institution will leave you primed for what's next, whether that be Roxbury-style head-bobbing at one of the nearby clubs or a marathon meal at one of the neighborhood's many eateries. Rev up with choice java-infused cocktails in one of the cozy booths and have your camera phone ready. You never know when a celeb may darken the doorway of this longtime local favorite.

Sugar Lounge

377 Hayes St, San Francisco, CA 94102

Early arrivers make haste for the little back room at this sultry and sweet Hayes Valley spot, where sugar-rimmed cocktails and free finger foods get the night off to a good start. Nightly DJs turn out groovy tunes that bridge the gap between early-evening drinks and the full-on party you're heading to later.


50 Third St, San Francisco, CA 94103

The expansive and attractively landscaped outdoor patio, complete with modern sculptures and a roaring fire pit, is the draw at this swanky SoMa hotel bar and restaurant. Congregate around an outdoor table as you haggle over where to head next. And don't worry, should unsavory weather threaten your fun, ample seating is available just inside.


762 Divisadero St, San Francisco, CA 94117

Local artists? work on the walls, cheap happy hour eats, a pool table and plenty of seating make this cozy NoPa neighborhood hangout a sure bet before hitting up the house party, live show or pub crawl on your evening itinerary. The reliably friendly staff and laid-back vibe have been known to launch many an early-evening hang into a successful night about town.