High Spirits: The Legacy Bars of San Francisco

The best places to imbibe in San Francisco

Community, heritage, architecture—oh yes, and stiff pours: these are the hallmarks of San Francisco’s Legacy Bars. High Spirits leads readers on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood pub crawl in search of the city’s most remarkable nightspots. Atmospheric photographs accompany descriptions of each bar’s colorful history, unique architectural features, idiosyncratic owners, and quirky clientele. As we dip into one barroom after another, we see that these establishments function as unofficial cultural centers, offering kinship and continuity amid an ever-changing city; indeed, all of the bars shown are at least forty years old and sites of significant historic or cultural value as deemed by San Francisco Heritage. Whether we are following in the footsteps of Beat writers in North Beach’s Vesuvio Café, tossing peanut shells on the floor of The Homestead in the Mission, or selecting jukebox songs (three for a quarter) at the Silver Crest Donut Shop in Bayview, High Spirits welcomes us as regulars at every spot, showing off the conviviality that makes San Francisco one of the great saloon towns.


“The dives in this book may be endangered, and that is sad. But reading Dineen on, say, Sam Jordan’s Bar and Grill or the Wild Side West, you can only feel pleasure. Dineen’s a guy who can tell a story. His portraits are pungent and laced with humor. You can smell the stale beer; you can see the flicker of old neon.”—Kitty Morgan, San Francisco Chronicle


“Dineen has produced a social history at its best, and it’s perfect reading over a cocktail.”—Beyond Chron


“The way to San Francisco’s heart is not just through its stomach, but down its throat. J. K. Dineen’s wonderful bar-hopping odyssey takes us deep inside a neon-lit world that is in many ways the best of this magical city.”—David Talbot, author of Season of the Witch and founder of Salon.com


“J. K. Dineen’s book High Spirits does for these San Franciscan bars what Joseph Mitchell did for McSorley’s Saloon. His profiles read like an extended shore leave spent touring the most storied public parlors in the city, meeting their saltiest, strangest, wonderful keepers and patrons—taking in the booze, the music, the myths, all the camaraderie, and all the heartache, too.”—Paul Harding, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Tinkers and Enon


“From Vesuvio to the Silver Crest, Sam Jordan’s to the Twin Peaks, Dineen unearths the rollicking, poignant, and hilarious stories that lurk behind the swinging doors. High Spirits is a righteous pour from the top shelf.”—Gary Kamiya, author of Cool Gray City of Love: 49 Views of San Francisco

About the Author

J. K. DineenJ. K. Dineen is a metro reporter at the San Francisco Chronicle, where he writes about real estate development, the waterfront, housing, neighborhoods, and land-use planning. He has also been a staff reporter at the San Francisco Business Times, The San Francisco Examiner, the New York Daily News, and a bunch of papers in his native Massachusetts. He lives in San Francisco with his family.

Photo Credit: Spencer Brown

Mike Buhler is executive director of San Francisco Heritage, a nonprofit organization founded in 1971 to preserve and enhance San Francisco’s unique architectural and cultural identity. He previously served as the director of advocacy for the Los Angeles Conservancy, from 2006 to 2010, and as regional attorney for the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s western office in San Francisco, from 1998 to 2006.