You can't go too many blocks in San Francisco without running into an Irish pub. The Irish pubs on this list represent a cross-section of SF neighborhoods. Most bars in San Francisco pack a crowd on weekends, so keep that in mind when venturing out for a drink on Friday or Saturday.
In March, check out the San Francisco St. Patrick's Day Parade and Celebration.
The Buena Vista Café makes the list for its Irish coffee, but it's not your traditional Irish Pub. Located in Fisherman's Wharf at the turnaround point for one of the city's three Cable Car lines, it's a tourist draw for sure. For me, it's still a favorite stop to take the chill off a cold waterfront day when touring around with visitors.
The first U.S. glass of Irish coffee was mixed at the Buena Vista in 1952, based on a recipe from Ireland's Shannon Airport. They still whip up a literal assembly line of consistent and delicious Irish coffees. In 2006, they changed the recipe slightly by substituting Tullamore Dew whiskey for the Buena Vista blend they'd used for many years.
Johnny Foley’s is in the heart of tourist country, so the patrons are a mix of locals, expats, and visitors. It's not the pub to visit if you're looking for a local's secret. It is Union Square, after all. That does, however, make it a good spot for people watching. Foley’s is also a short walk from Union Square shopping, which is convenient for getting out of the fray, resting the feet and enjoying a beer. Some of the live music acts in the evenings are too loud for conversation, and weekends are packed, so not necessarily the best time to catch up over a pint.
The Phoenix gets good marks for its pub food and for its Mission District ambiance. The menu isn't entirely Irish but they do serve an Irish breakfast, a lamb pot pie, and fish and chips. The crowd is a diverse mix, and the place is unpretentious with a local Mission feel. The Phoenix also gives you a buck off on happy-hour pints.
This North Beach spot has all the appeal of a classic Irish bar combined with a killer dance floor and great comedy nights too. They play house music six nights a week in their downstairs dance party room while upstairs you'll find big LCD TVs for watching the game (Kells is all about Sunday Night Football).
The interior of the Irish Bank is homey, with antiques, photographs, and a comfortable mix of bar stools and wooden tables, and its location between Union Square and the Financial District make it a favorite stop after-work stop. Still, it's later on in the evenings when a truly interesting mix populates the place. Bartenders are knowledgeable and friendly. When sitting in the outdoor patio, which runs the length of Mark Lane, you can almost convince yourself you're sipping a pint on the streets of Dublin.
The Irish Bank makes one of the city's best Irish coffees--along with the Buena Vista and O'Reilly's. The brown sugar is the key.
Cottage pies and bangers and mash are just some of the delicious items on the menu of this warm Outer Sunset neighborhood joint. Watch chummy locals greeting each other while sports play on the projector and multiple T.V. screens. Plus, the domestic beers are affordable!
Another Outer Sunset favorite, the big hit of Durty Nelly’s is the fireplace: a warm reprieve from some of the Sunset’s coldest days, when Karl the Fog makes his way east over Ocean Beach. Durty Nelly’s serves up Jameson and shepherd’s pie to Irish expats and San Francisco locals. It can get crazy on the weekends with live music and crowds.
The Little Shamrock deserves mention since it's one of San Francisco's two oldest bars, the oldest being the Saloon in North Beach. Entering this pub in the Inner Sunset feels like coming home to the living room, even if the room is, well, lived in. You'll find clusters of sofas with game tables and a hearth. The bar is friendly with a good selection of Irish whiskey and Guinness on tap, of course.
The Blarney Stone is a favorite neighborhood pub, but it's also worth a trip to the Richmond or a detour and a stop if you're out and about exploring say, Baker Beach or the Sutro Baths. Bartenders are Irish and they know their stouts and whiskeys. It is popular and it does get crowded, but that describes just about every good spot in San Francisco. The Blarney Stone also has an Irish Bakery--John Campbell's Irish Bakery--sending out Irish soda bread and scones from the Blarney kitchen.
The Inner Richmond's Plough and Stars gets consistently high marks for its Irish music and its endless Guinness pours. The pub has a full entertainment calendar, with performances most nights but not Mondays. It’s a laidback place, although you might want to avoid weekends if crowds aren’t your thing.
Ireland's 32 refers to the 32 counties of a politically united Ireland. The paraphernalia on the walls speaks of the pub's political leanings. Ireland's 32 also serves as showcase for live music. The venue helped launch the career of Zoo Station, a Bay Area U2 tribute band.
The regular band performances tend to skew the crowd a bit young, but it's also a neighborhood pub and more conducive to leisurely Guinness during less populated hours.