Backstreet Bars and Alleyway Eats

Some of San Francisco's alleys are like the tiny, bistro-lined streets in Europe which, too narrow for cars to drive through, become pedestrian oases from downtown bustle and traffic. Others recall the foreboding back alleys of Gotham, where shady figures lurk in dark doorways, and behind unmarked, speakeasy-style doors music and food and booze await members of your club: those who know how to find the place.

Updated: September 23, 2009


Cafe Claude

7 Claude Ln, San Francisco, CA 94108

Winner of "Best French Restaurant" from Citysearch editors and users alike, Cafe Claude is the quintessential French bistro, with simple, delicious food and an ivy-enclosed outdoor eating area.


56 Gold St, San Francisco, CA 94133

Timeless style and classic food mix at this convincing re-creation of a 1930s supper club, which definitely has that speakeasy vibe, with just a small neon sign above a brick doorway leading to a restaurant most people wish could be kept a secret.

Anchor & Hope

83 Minna St, San Francisco, CA 94105

In a renovated warehouse on Minna, this New England-style fish house stays packed to the gills with young professional types who come for fresh shellfish and the downtown-industrial vibe.

Le Colonial

20 Cosmo Place, San Francisco, CA 94109

An oasis in the middle of a block in the Tenderloin, Le Colonial is a opulent, sprawling complex with a veranda and multiple bars--and is completely hidden from the street.


40 Belden Pl, San Francisco, CA 94104

Belden Place is lined with Euro-style outdoor bistros, but Plouf is by far the best, specializing in Parisian-style seafood, and offering eight different kinds of mussels.

Gitane Restaurant & Bar

6 Claude Ln, San Francisco, CA 94108

Just opened a few doors down from Cafe Claude, Gitane's got a playful, sexy design, incredible drinks from a Bourbon and Branch alum, and pizza from a certified pizzaioli--and of course, plenty of heated, bistro-style outdoor seating.

Cafe Prague

424 Merchant St, San Francisco, CA 94111

Feeling more like something you'd find on a twisty alley in Prague than a side street in the FiDi, this cafe gracefully nails the Eastern European ambiance: Czech specials like goulash or sauerbraten with dumplings, gruff patrons and plenty of imported beer.


15 Romolo

15 Romolo Pl, San Francisco, CA 94133

Well-hidden from the strip-club solicitors, peacocking thugs and other greasy characters who lurk on Broadway, this North Beach bar is set on a steep, dark carless street--the kind of dark, sexy place a hard-boiled detective might take his dame for a drink.

Irish Bank Bar & Restaurant

10 Mark Ln, San Francisco, CA 94108

The Bank isn't much of a secret, but on a warm night this alley near the FiDi swells with crowds of just-off-work happy hour hounds swigging Irish beers and whiskeys and clocking the scene.

Hotel Biron

45 Rose St, San Francisco, CA 94102

Copper tables, wrought-iron bistro chairs and zinc-green walls decked with a revolving exhibition of local art create a sexy, Left Bank mood at this wine bar/art gallery near Hayes Valley (note: not an actual hotel).

330 Ritch

330 Ritch St, San Francisco, CA 94107

There's barely a sign and you'd never know it was there during the day, but this intimate live music and dance venue in SoMa hosts acts like Mos Def, Death cab for Cutie and upcoming indie bands on the regular.

John Colins

138 Minna St., San Francisco, CA 94101

Nightlife industry peeps, hipsters and 9-5ers mix at this lofty bungalow nestled on a quiet Soma alley; come at happy hour for $2 beers, $3 wells and a solid crowdd every day of the week.

Otis Lounge

25 Maiden Ln, San Francisco, CA 94108

Once a semi-private club, this Tokyo-tiny but NY-chic bar is now open to the public, slinging swank lunches in the afternoons and spinning beats into the wee hours.


444 Jessie St, San Francisco, CA 94103

Up to a thousand partygoers will pass through the non-descript door of this industrial-cool SoMa music venue, and the soundproof walls that allow them to boogey till 7am mean they don't come back out until the sun does.