As the nation kicks off another football season and gears up for baseball playoffs, San Franciscans may be wary of spending Saturday afternoons in ass-numbing bleachers or watching boozy out-of-towners roam the city in 49ers and Giants garb. But you don’t have to rub up against the sweaty enthusiasts who paint their potbellies and holler like animals in the stands in order to enjoy a good game. Why not show your spirit in sports bars instead? I’ve spent weeks eating spicy wings, drinking pints of beer, and enduring painful hangovers to track down the best lounges and pubs for catching a buzz and cheering on your teams.
GREENS SPORTS BAR
With 18 beers on tap and 25 high-def TVs, Greens was made for big groups enduring hazy weekends of Niner mania. You’ll know you’re in the right place when you hear rowdy applause echoing from the pub’s front patio throughout the otherwise quiet neighborhood. It’s BYOF (but with all those drink specials, who needs food?) and gets super packed in a good way by game time.
2239 Polk, SF. (415) 775-4287
Native Pennsylvanians first opened Giordano Bros. to sell Pittsburgh’s famous "all-in-one" sandwiches complete with fries and slaw packed between scrumptious bread slices. They’ve since transformed it into Steelers Central. During games, bartenders are known to pass out bottles of original Pittsburgh draft shipped from the source and after big wins, they might even pour you a glass of bubbly on the house. (Sorry alkies, no hard liquor.) An East Coast vibe resonates throughout the joint, from outdoor seating to endless memorabilia. The staff says the question isn’t if you’re from Pittsburgh, it’s about what part of Pittsburgh you’re from. Good thing I can fake an accent.
303 Columbus, SF. (415) 397-2767
Ask any pigskin junkie where to watch last year’s Super Bowl champs, and you’ll get one answer: Ace’s, where on Sundays the dive transforms into a funky buffet house chock-full of barbecued chicken, salad, and New York Giants fans. Add the extra-stiff $5 Bloody Mary to the carte du jour, and you’re headed straight for football-watching paradise.
998 Sutter, SF. (415) 673-0644, www.acesbarsf.com
The good news: the Royal Exchange is loaded with finger-lickin’ gorgonzola garlic fries ($6.95), rows of cozy booths beneath a massive TV, a savory dinner menu, and Monday Night Football specials (Firestone Double Barrel Ale and Pale 31 pints for $3.95). The bad news: it’s not open on weekends. Big deal. Cal alums and students still party here on Friday nights to pump up for Saturday Golden Bears games. More good news: the staff accommodates private parties of up to 300 people. And the owners are Bears alums, too.
301 Sacramento, SF. (415) 956-1710, www.royalexchange.com
With five plasmas devoted to University of Oregon games and bartenders who knock back shots with fellow Duck fans, it’s no wonder regulars call this place the Oregon headquarters of San Francisco. Its full bar is dirt cheap; splurge for the two-dollar cans of Michelob during Saturday matchups or special events, which sometimes involve the staff barbecuing brats and burgers outside for customers. I recommend wearing green and yellow, unless you want to brawl.
1176 Sutter, SF. (415) 567-7441
You can watch a San Francisco Giants game in just about any well-respected sports bar in the city, but you can and you should watch the Chicago Cubs in only one spot: Monaghan’s. For starters, it’s got a new drink special every day of the week $3 for 20-ounce pints of any Irish beer on Wednesdays and $2.50 Red Stripes on Fridays, to name two. Extra points for its daily happy hour: $2.50 well drinks from 4-7 p.m.
3259 Pierce, SF. (415) 567-4466, www.monaghanssf.com
KEZAR PUB & RESTAURANT
Two words: chicken wings. They’re damned spicy, but the zing doesn’t linger uncomfortably on your lips or in your throat for hours afterward. Or maybe it does, and I just eat so fast and drink so much I don’t notice. Either way, they’re a perfect addition to a pitcher of Coors and a soccer game. For dinner, choose from fish and chips, barbecued sandwiches, and salads. Plasma televisions transmit all kinds of sports, from baseball to rugby, and the pool tables and large seating areas draw crowds you’ll want to party with.
770 Stanyan, SF. (415) 386-9292
MAD DOG IN THE FOG
This super mellow hole-in-the-Haight draws everyone from free-spirited bohos to scholars downing extra-large pitchers of Anchor Steam, Guinness, and almost every other kind of beer. You can’t order food, but check out the killer German sausage joint across the street. Nosh on one at Mad Dog while watching European football and playing pop trivia on Tuesdays and Thursdays. This combo is right on the money.
530 Haight, SF. (415) 626-7279