Li Po Cocktail Lounge

Dive Bar / Historic Bar
Li Po Cocktail Lounge Apart from its cave-like exterior and the big carved Buddha in a niche behind the bar, Li Po Cocktail Lounge is far from an ancient Chinese shrine. San Francisco United States 37.795455 -122.406442
4.27 6
Li Po Cocktail Lounge - Dive Bar | Historic Bar in San Francisco.
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Ratings:
Lucas
Adriana
Jonah
Emma

Party Earth Review Apart from its cave-like exterior and the big carved Buddha in a niche behind the bar, Li Po Cocktail Lounge is far from an ancient Chinese shrine. It was, however, formerly an opium den – at least that’s the rumor – and... ... read full review

  • Phone:

    415-982-0072

  • Hours:

    Daily 2pm–2am

  • Recommended as:

    • Night Spot

Party Earth Li Po Cocktail Lounge Review

The Scene

Apart from its cave-like exterior and the big carved Buddha in a niche behind the bar, Li Po Cocktail Lounge is far from an ancient Chinese shrine.

Apart from its cave-like exterior and the big carved Buddha in a niche behind the bar, Li Po Cocktail Lounge is far from an ancient Chinese shrine. It was, however, formerly an opium den – at least that’s the rumor – and bartenders often spook visitors with tales of drug-addled ghosts showing up when people forget to tip.

As with much of Chinatown, the venue isn’t lacking in red paper lanterns, Chinese New Year’s banners, or faux-ancient scrollwork, and – also like the neighborhood – the clientele is a mix of wide-eyed tourists, Downtown business types, and weary old men playing dice and dropping Mandarin f-bombs.

TVs are invariably tuned to American sports, so financial executives enjoy a few touchdowns with their Tsingtaos after work, while foreigners from the nearby hostels recuperate with dangerously strong signature Mai Tais after a long day exploring the city.

Sucked into the area by the lure of cheap souvenirs, camera-toting vacationers tuck in along Formica tables as ethnic Han twangs from the jukebox, only to be replaced by Lady Gaga or 80s pop hits on the next track.

Booths in back fill up with a younger crowd of dance fiends, drunk revelers, and North Beach-bound hipsters come Friday nights, especially when DJs perform in the stark, dark, and barely ventilated basement.

Perfect for a quick cap on a Chinatown experience or a sweaty night of sugary boozing, Li Po Cocktail Lounge is a welcoming dive, regardless of the occAsian.

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Tip from Emma:

Li Po might not be your cup of tea, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be your cup of rice wine. As the great poet for whom the bar is named once said, ‘Three cups open the grand door to bliss.’

  • Crowd

    Hostel dwellers, young groups looking to get tossed and rowdy, tatted-up barhoppers, adventurous tourists, Downtown business types, and older native Chinese, 20s to 40s+.

  • Entertainment / Music

    Sports on the TV. Jukebox plays a purposefully random mix of traditional Chinese music, American pop hits, 80s tunes, and contemporary rock. Pac-Man arcade game. DJs spin funk or alt rock on Sundays and multiple styles on select Fridays and Saturdays.

  • Food / Miscellaneous

    No food, but outside food is allowed. Cash only. ATM on site.

  • Prices

    Beer $4–$5, wine $5–$9, shots and cocktails $6–$11, Mai Tais $9. Jukebox $1/three songs.

  • What to Wear / Dress Code

    Anything goes: business attire, t-shirts, jeans, shorts, sandals, vests, khakis.

  • Hot Nights / When to Go

    Midweek for a chance to challenge an old local to dice, Friday and Saturday nights for wall-to-wall revelry, or Sundays for the Sweater Funk DJ performance.

  • Close By

    Sam Wo Restaurant (813 Washington Street) is a dive that has been dishing out cheap Chinese eats since the early 1900s and was reportedly a favorite of Jack Kerouac ’s.

Li Po Cocktail Lounge User Reviews

Average rating:
Great find
Gor G. Jun 8, 2013
After searching for a good dive bar in San Fran, I read several reviews telling me I had to try LiPo. Everyone suggested the Mai Tai and the Chinese whiskey. I wandered through Chinatown passing 30 Asians crammed into a small store scratching off scratchers like the world was about to end. I knew I must be close. I finally found the place (after challenging a small Chinese man to a scratch off) and ordered a Mai Tai and a shot of whiskey. The prices were decent, $6 for the whiskey and $9 for the Mai Tai. My friend and I conversed with the bartender, Jackie, about opium and happy endings (isn't that what you are supposed to talk about?). She was very friendly and even gave us a free shot of Chinese liquor, which tasted like shit. The bathroom in this place is downstairs and is pretty creepy. I am fairly sure there is a another hidden room right next to it where they have bands sometimes. Everything was going good at the bar and I was on my way to a 5 star review. However, things took a turn for the worse when we paid our bill. They take cash only so we gave the bartender $60 for $42 worth of drinks. We received $12 back in change. Some may think it was an honest mistake. But, after speaking with Jackie about it, I am 99.4% sure she tried to play an ancient Chinese trick on us. You know the one where her English and math skills all of a sudden deteriorate into 4 year old level when money is involved. I asked her for the rest of the change and her reply was, "oooooooh my math no good." Now, this may sound stereotypical, but I have never met an Asian who is bad at math. I mean, she even had a calculator out. Anyways, if you are in Chinatown and want a good Mai Tai, stop in. The drinks were really good and the vibe is cool. Just make sure you don't fall for the ancient Chinese secret.
Mai Thai madness.
Julie B. May 13, 2013
San Francisco's best kept secret Apart from the Antony Bordain thing... But seriously, you will not find a better Mai Thai in the world. Ask for Jackie who is there almost every day... I've been there several times and she makes them the best. Spoiler alert: you only need 1, so its a good place to start your evening. Anyway, go along, its seriously worth the $9 for a drink.
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