Need a break from $15 cocktails and Yelp-obsessed weekend warriors? Keep it easy and old school at these classic Peninsula dive bars.
By Charles Russo
Consider us crazy…or drunk…or crazy drunk, but it seems to us that Bay Area bars have gotten really predictable and homogeneous over the last few years. You know the formula: the typical interior design with Edison light bulbs and repurposed wood, as well as those high-brow cocktail menus with coy drink names and $15 price tags. It’s all gotten real cookie cutter — the same look and feel, same approach, same experience.
And don’t get us wrong, we love a good cocktail in a swanky setting. But in the effort of gaining some much-needed balance in the drinking world, we’d like to focus on the far opposite end of the spectrum by featuring our favorite dive bars in the 6–5–0, where the most commonly used light bulb is a neon beer sign, the most sophisticated cocktail is Jack and Ginger and the only repurposed wood is a floorboard that was used to patch a hole in the roof. Most of these locations don’t have Twitter or Instagram accounts (or, for that matter—websites), and they genuinely don’t give a shit about your assessment of them on Yelp.
So we hope you like cheap bottled beer and shots of Old Crow, because these are our eight favorite dives on the Peninsula. May they outlast us all.
Not to play favorites, but….well…Apple Jack’s is our favorite. Located among the redwoods along Highway 84, the bar occupies a 139-year-old building (and former 19th Century blacksmith shop) which feels like it could conceivably tilt, lurch and collapse somewhere between your first drink and your fourth. But that’s a big part of why we love it.
A perennial hangout for La Honda locals, bikers of all stripes and other curious creatures who seem to have just emerged from the nearby woods, Apple Jack’s is like the addled offspring of Ken Kesey’s 60s-era acid parties (which happened about a half mile down the road) and David Lynch’s off-kilt Twin Peaks tv show.
The interior boasts pool & foosball tables, a potbelly stove and a small menu of bar food eats (ehhh….buyer beware). The outdoor porches are roomy, rustic and might be occupied by various canines (or may have a horse tethered nearby). Apple Jack’s is known to have live music on weekends, though it’s anyone’s guess as to what the schedule is.
Be aware, current operating hours run from Wednesday to Sunday and their business is cash only, so plan accordingly before you make the trip…..but you know…be sure to visit before it all falls over into the woods.
Apple Jack’s Inn // 8790 La Honda Rd, La Honda; 650.747.0331
Our after work go-to and watch-the-Warriors-trounce-the-opposition hangout, Antonio’s is still a classic neighborhood hangout, even after the passing of the man himself—Tony Montooth (R.I.P.)—just last year.
Vast and constantly consumed by the crackling of peanut shells (they’re free and cover the floor like hay in a barn), Antonio’s draws an eclectic crowd in an easy atmosphere. And though their backbar is well-stocked, the pitchers of beer are our preference, and inevitably lead us to an enchilada plate at the attached Taqueria Azteca.
Game day can get packed out, especially during playoffs, so arrive early if you want a seat….or just set up on a beer keg and get going on those peanuts.
The Nut House // 321 South California Ave; 650.321.2550
Not sure why exactly, but the Saddle Room in Redwood City has always reminded us of Moe’s Tavern from the Simpsons, which also means that we love it and would like to hang out there on a nightly basis. The drinks here are strong, cheap and served without pretension.
Billed out front as “The Last Neighborhood Bar in Redwood City,” the Saddle Room has a classic dive-bar feel that works as a boozy antidote to the city’s recent inclination towards high end cocktail bars. We’ve adopted it as a prime spot for Monday Night Football over bottles of PBR, though don’t forget about their larger space out back for just drinking it up with friends.
It might be situated tight within the shadow of huge bank building, but something tells us the Saddle Room will still be around in Redwood City after many other trendy bars have long since fallen by the wayside.
The Saddle Room // 1607 Woodside Rd Redwood City; 650.361.9756
Maybe we’ve had a few too many, but we feel like there’s a wonderful paradox at play with Fred’s Place in MV, because it manages to simultaneously be a classic Silicon Valley meeting place, while also making you feel like you just stepped outside of Silicon Valley while you’re there.
Maybe it’s the tall cans of PBR served with a shot of Old Crow bourbon on the side (the defacto house special at just $6), or the fact that owner Pauli Partti once told us, “We don’t even have mojitos,” that makes us think Fred’s has figured out some booze-driven algorithm that has enabled them to transcend the place they exists in. It’s weird and we can’t totally explain it. Point is—Fred’s is as down-to-earth of a drinking establishment as you’re gonna find in the heart of the tech universe…which is why we love it.
Fred’s Place // 2534 Old Middlefield Way, Mountain View; 650.940.9838
A mainstay for local fisherman working off the nearby boats, big wave surfers coming in from Mavericks and in-the-know tourists traversing Highway 1, the Harbor Bar (attached to the Ketch Joanne Restaurant) is a Coastside institution known for its early morning Bloody Mary’s and late-night blue-collar drinking sessions.
The space packs out quick for Giants and 49ers games, and can morph into a rowdy local hangout on weekends and…well…many weeknights too.
Best of all, the Harbor Bar serves a full menu from Ketch Joanne, so get it going on the locally caught seafood paired up with your drink of choice before stepping back out into the fresh ocean air.
The Harbor Bar // 17 Johnson Pier, El Granda; 650.728.3747
Formerly a hang out for Bay Meadow horse jockeys, Bucky’s still holds down the old-school atmosphere by opening at 6 a.m. and going late til 2 a.m….EVERY DAY!
It’s owner operated, which in industry lingo means that you can smoke inside, so embrace or avoid as your lungs dictate.
But all inclinations towards chain smoking in the a.m. hours aside, Bucky’s is a classic neighborhood joint calibrated for bottled beer and down-to-earth hangouts. Bring cash and keep the jukebox going.
Bucky’s Cocktail Lounge // 101 South Blvd San Mateo; 650.349.4711
We’re a little reluctant to classify the Pioneer Saloon as a dive bar per se, because there’s something about the stained-glass windows and tiled ceiling of this 19th Century building that just seems very worthy of classier adjectives. Factor in a website that posts their live music schedule, plus some kind of magical device that accepts credit cards and the Pioneer can seem like an entirely different animal than the other spots on this list.
That said, the live music, heavy-drinking atmosphere and Whiskey Hill history speaks to some genus or species (we forget which) that more squarely falls into a dive bar classification than any of the more modern outfits we’ve seen in the area. Or maybe it’s the ghosts of whiskey guzzlers gone by. We can’t tell exactly, but there’s an inebriated beauty to the Pioneer Saloon, so if you’ve never been….
The Pioneer Saloon // 2925 Woodside Rd, Woodside; 650.851.8487
Rounding out our list is another fine 6 a.m.- 2 a.m. local watering hole that draws all manner of drinkers, from Bay Area bikers to held-over SFO passengers. Yes, the Dog House on El Camino in San Bruno is a low-key locale to have a Monday morning Bloody Mary or watch the Sharks at night with other like-minded goons.
With pinball, free popcorn and an all-around super friendly staff, the Dog House is our go-to on the northern end of the 6–5–0.
The Dog House // 130 El Camino Real, San Bruno; 650.588.5601
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