Nightlife in Chinatown runs to dark, quiet dive bars filled with locals. Perhaps the perfect Chinatown dive, Li Po Lounge (916 Grant Ave., 415/982-0072, daily 2 p.m.–2 a.m., cash only) has an appropriately dark and slightly spooky atmosphere that recalls the opium dens of another century. Cheap drinks and Chinese dice games attract locals, and it’s definitely helpful to speak Cantonese. But even an English-speaking out-of-town visitor can get a good cheap (and strong!) mai-tai or a beer here. The hanging lantern and Buddha statue behind the bar complete the picture.
Red’s Place (672 Jackson St., 415/956-4490, cash only) is the oldest bar in Chinatown. It’s a classic dive filled with hard-drinking, hard-smoking, hard-gambling locals, but visitors can come for an inexpensive, quiet drink and a taste of the “real” Chinatown most tourists never see.
Another great local hangout worth checking out is the Buddha Cocktail Lounge (901 Grant Ave., 415/362-1792, daily 1 p.m.–2 a.m.).
© Liz Hamill Scott from Moon California, 2nd Edition