A quick guide to some of San Francisco’s biker bars
San Francisco loves its dive bars. The cheap beer, the seedy tagged-up bathrooms, that one guy who’s been drinking there since 11 a.m. – all of it mixes together to create that wonderful, cash-only ambiance. Dives serve as a welcome respite from the polished facades of so many ultra lounges and artisan cocktail spots and draw boozers from every walk of life. The one thing you don’t see a lot of, though, is bikers and biker bars (and I don’t mean the drop-bar variety). It’s a rare sight to see a row of Harleys parked anywhere in this city other than the front of a motorcycle shop. So where are all the biker bars?
The concept of a biker bar has been ingrained in our cultural understandings of the fringes of society. Just thinking about it conjures images of long beards, leather vests, and loud exhaust pipes. When I was a kid, there was a bar on the outskirts of my hometown that everyone knew as “that biker bar on the Santa Susana pass.” It was so shrouded in mystery that anything they actually had inside must have paled in comparison to the things we imagined happened there as we rode by on our bicycles. It was a sad day in 2006 when I was visiting some friends in SoCal and discovered that the place had closed after 73 years of operation.
Fast-forward a few years and I find myself still thinking about that bar. Since moving to San Francisco, I’ve run across a handful of Bay Area drinking holes that, in one way or another, fulfilled my unrequited fascination with that biker bar on the pass. I decided to go back and get to know them a little better.
I met some crusty old men and smoky old women, read some inspired bathroom poetry, and heard some unbelievable stories, all just by showing up and saying hello. Everywhere I went people greeted me with handshakes and beers. These are the spots where, on any given Saturday, you’re just as likely to find two or three locals hanging out sharing a pitcher as you are to see 150 of the hardest motherfuckers on two wheels.
Nobody’s going to give you a hard time if you pull up in a car, but I guarantee you’ll have a better time on a bike.
Isla Bell Murray