Dive Bars, Dice Games & Karaoke in Chinatown
Of all our date ideas, this one is a house favorite. Everyone at SF Date Night has done this—and it's also a great activity to impress out-of-town visitors. As with any bar crawl, pace yourself on the alcohol on this one. You'll be having many strong drinks, so it's not for the faint of heart.
Estimated Cost: Cheap
Estimate Duration: 3-6 hours
Best Days: Thursday, Friday, Saturday
Best Time: Anytime after 4pm
Vibe: Most of these venues are dimly-lit dive bars with kitschy décor. This is a no-frills, cheap drinks, greasy pizza kind of experience, for those who are into that sort of thing.
1. Start at Li Po Lounge on Grant Ave
Chinatown meets tiki bar at the Li Po Lounge, located along the main stretch of shops and bars on Grant Ave. This kitschy establishment is about as divey as it comes—its decor has largely remained unchanged since the 1930s.
But unlike most dive bars, be prepared to see a few tourists amongst the grisled regulars—Anthony Bourdain featured this place on a 2012 episode of "The Layover." Belly up to the wraparound bar and order their house mai tais. The sugary-and-hella-strong drink is made with three kinds of rum, Chinese liqueur and pineapple juice. Don’t forget to salute the Buddha statue before your drink.
- It's cash only, but there’s an ATM inside.
- There’s a downstairs area that occasionally has shows—but there's no calendar, so you'll have to roll the dice.
- Rumor has it, the bartender plays 90s-00s hip-hop on Fridays and Saturdays.
2. Walk Kitty Corner to the Buddha Lounge
Speaking of Buddha, once you’ve finished your cocktails at Li Po, consider stumbling kitty-corner to its cross-the-street neighbor, Buddha Lounge. This place also serves Mai Tais, but you’re fine just ordering a well drink—or trying the Lucky Buddha beer, which comes in a bottle shaped like its namesake.
Mark, the bartender, is a real gosh-darn treat at this place. As one Yelp review put it, “takes being rude to an elegant and appreciated level.” Ask him if he’s up for teaching you to play Liar’s Dice—he pretty much always is. Be sure to pay attention to the rules—you may find yourself betting real dollar bills before long.
- This is a cash only bar. $5 wells & beers during happy hour.
- Seating is limited, and can fill up fast.
- Ask the bartender, Mark, for dice when you arrive—he keeps them behind the bar.
- Bring some $1 bills or quarters for the jukebox (and for gambling!).
3. Soak Up the Booze at Golden Boy on Green Street
Ever heard of “Sanfrancilian-style” pizza? Make your next pit stop at local pie palace, Golden Boy, to try it out. These square-cut slices are truly unique to our fair city. Saunter in and pick from whatever’s on display—there’s always something veggie—and they’ll heat it up post haste. If you’re feeling adventurous, try the clam and garlic za.
- Fast, cheap, casual pizza by the slice.
- Thick crust, square slices.
- Not suitable for gluten-free or dairy-free folks.
- There are just a few seats—and they fill up fast.
4. Head Back to Grant Ave for Karaoke at Bow Bow
Last but not least, walk down the street to Bow Bow for some hilariously fun, no-frills karaoke. Be forewarned: your hostess behind the bar, Mama Candy, may try to get you to take shots of Chinese liquor in between songs. It’s gonna get sloppy.
- Karaoke starts after 9pm.
- They accept credit cards.
- Seating is limited in this teensy establishment.
- Drink a lot of water before bed.