San Francisco has a tendency to be a fairly ornery city from time to time, as anyone who’s lived here for more than a few weeks can tell you. All one needs to do is utter the word or spend too long fumbling with change while they hold up the Muni to see the claws come out, in a passive-aggressive manner or otherwise. It’s an endearing crotchetiness, though, borne from the fact that this is an astonishingly diverse place for its size—at least as far as social scenes are concerned.
Setting aside for a moment the perennial issues of gentrification and dwindling racial diversity in San Francisco, it’s easy to appreciate just how distinctly Balkanized this city really is when it comes to nightlife. You’ve got hipster cocktail joints and farm-to-table taquerías in the Mission, a full spectrum of upscale gastropubs and divey hippie bars in the Haight (generally patronized by similar crowds), the swanky yet underpatronized happy-hour spots in the Financial District and SOMA, etc. Barring a few transitional areas like NOPA and the Tenderloin, the stereotypes are almost as accurate as they are starkly defined.
Then, of course, there’s San Francisco’s favorite punch line: the Marina. With a scene that’s more or less universally pigeonholed as a sweaty, aggressive tangle of flip-flops, polo shirts, yoga pants, backwards baseball caps and postcollegiate hormones, this is the home of the frat bar. And while that sales pitch doesn’t exactly get people excited to check it out, there’s a strange allure to the neighborhood that attracts visitors from all over who are curious to see what all the fuss is about.
Being something of a shut-in of the skinny jeans and flannel variety, it’s always been so far out of my comfort zone that I’ve avoided such a safari despite my curiosity. But when soliciting help for this article, a couple of coworkers came to the rescue. They’re regulars of the Marina hotspots and seemed more than willing to share their findings with the world.
So without further ado, here’s a rundown of the nine frattiest bars in San Francisco:
The Brixton—2140 Union Street
First on my guides’ list was the Brixton, a Union Street mainstay that takes its name from the legendary London punk bar Brixton Academy. Though honestly, on the inside, it doesn’t feel particularly English. Apparently, the Brixton has a reputation for really, really obviously wanting everyone to think that it’s as edgy as its namesake (this from 2011 pulled no punches on that front).
“It’s everyone’s go-to for twenty-first birthdays,” one of my guides, a young woman, said. “And my experience with the guys there has been pretty underwhelming. Once, when this guy was at the bar buying me a drink, he literally found another girl he wanted to hit on more than me and handed it to her instead. That kind of sums up the Brixton.”
There was also a general consensus that the average Brixton patron is remarkably tall. Make of that what you will.
Monaghan's—3243 Pierce Street
Monaghan’s, located on the corner of Chestnut and Pierce, was up next. It’s more or less your archetypal frat bar, though according to my guides it has in the last year or so.
“The problem is, the last time we were there was during the Super Bowl,” my coworker recounted. “It’s hard to get the image out of your head of 15 girls in matching flannel, backwards hats and boat shoes screaming at the TV. But I’ve heard it’s a little less rowdy than it used to be.”
The Irish theme comes off as a stretch, and the leering males perpetually flanking the door are a bit gargoyle-ish, but the drinks are cheap, and it’s a fun place to watch sports—or at least to watch other people watch sports.
Bar None—1980 Union Street
My coworkers insisted that Bar None, on Union Street between Buchanan and Laguna, absolutely deserved a spot on this list, but for the life of them, they couldn’t remember anything about it. Based on the bar’s basketball arcade game, beer pong table and the $2 “secret shot” they hawk proudly, I was inclined to believe them.
Eastside West—3154 Fillmore Street
“Eastside West has a bizarre dynamic,” one coworker said. “One room is a fairly normal bar, although strangely enough people purchase tables and bottle service like it’s a nightclub—which it most certainly is not. The other room is literally a frat house.”
This famous spot on Fillmore and Greenwich has something of an identity problem. Its back room is an attempt to segment out a dance floor, but apparently it can be a bit on the aggressive side.
“It’s really dark, and all they play is extraordinarily loud hip-hop,” she continued. “The music is good, but it’s like a monument to oblivious whiteness.” While my guides agreed that a bar can’t be held too responsible for its demographics, especially in a neighborhood like Cow Hollow, they did wish the patrons could be held responsible for their dance moves.
“I’d only suggest going there if you’re already very, very drunk.”
The Tipsy Pig—2231 Chestnut Street
The Tipsy Pig, another bar on Chestnut and Pierce, was the first on this list that garnered an almost entirely positive response. “Yeah, it’s fratty” one of my guides admitted, “and you do get the gym-shorts crowd, but it’s balanced out by the tourists, and it’s usually pretty low-key.”
The food is good; there’s a nice back patio area where you can sit on sunny days for brunch; and has a pretty interesting selection of local and international craft beers. From what I could tell, the Tipsy Pig is a good way to ease yourself into what can sometimes be a fairly overwhelming neighborhood.
Silver Cloud—1994 Lombard Street
Karaoke bars are always ripe for some good anecdotes, fratty or otherwise. Located on Lombard and Magnolia, just a few blocks from Fort Mason, this bar attracts a large number of recent grads—the inevitable result, it seems, of geography.
“The last time we went to Silver Cloud, there was a guy singing up onstage,” one coworker recalled with a grimace. “Well, it was more like screaming. And while I forget what the song was, everyone in the crowd started singing along with him. He went nuts and started yelling at everyone to shut the hell up. ‘I don’t need your help!’ We all went silent, and he finished the song solo. But, hey, it’s a karaoke bar, so what do you expect?”
Stock in Trade—2036 Lombard Street
“Stock in Trade always feels like you’re tailgating a college football game,” one of my guides warned me. Just up the street from Silver Cloud on Lombard and Fillmore, this bar has an indoor bocce ball court, which is a blast if you can actually manage to get a game in.
Stock in Trade also bears the dubious distinction of being named the by Complex in 2014, which is an achievement in and of itself. The author describes it as “the Marina’s true overflow bar,” and my guides agreed.
“It’s a bit of a last resort these days, as far as I can tell. Everyone seems to have abandoned it for the Brixton.”
Lightning Tavern—1875 Union Street
Speaking of the Brixton, just down the street a bit on Union and Laguna sits Lightning Tavern, another A-lister of the frat scene. Their food and drinks were upscale compared to that of the other bars on this list, though apparently their shot-and-a-beer offerings (which range from Coors Light and Fireball to Allagash White and Tullamore Dew) used to be officially listed as the menu.
The primary thing my coworkers recalled was a general air of “New Yorkiness.” “I went there once when it was really busy, so I was trying to politely make my way through the crowd to get up to the bar,” one of them told me. “This woman suddenly came out of nowhere, grabbed both of my hands and said, ‘Honey, you’re not gonna get anywhere acting like that,’ and proceeded to shove people out of the way and curse at them, dragging me across the room. I ended up getting a drink, though.”
Jaxson—3231 Fillmore Street
My guides saved the best for last. Jaxson is a relatively new country bar on Lombard and Fillmore, pretty much across the street from Eastside West, and it certainly doesn’t go out of its way to hide its enthusiastic patriotism (seriously, just take a look at ).
“The best way to sum up Jaxson is with a vignette,” one of my coworkers said, feeling poetic. “‘Wagon Wheel’ plays loudly in the background, you can barely move thanks to the crowd, and a girl in a flannel shirt and a cowboy hat is sobbing drunkenly on a stranger’s shoulder about some guy who’s half an hour late to meet her there. Suddenly, an actual 50-pound wooden wagon wheel falls from the ceiling and lands on you, miraculously not breaking any bones. One of the staff comes over and picks it up, shrugs and puts it behind the bar.”
She pauses contemplatively and says, “That was literally within my first 15 minutes of being there.”
My other coworker chimed in: “That same night, one of the bartenders jumped up on the bar with a bottle of Fireball and started pouring it into people’s mouths, just dumping it all over the place. It was like watching a feeding at SeaWorld.”
It sounds like Jaxson is the place to beat.