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
916 Grant Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94108
Chinatown, San Francisco –
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.
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+.
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.
No food, but outside food is allowed. Cash only. ATM on site.
Beer $4–$5, wine $5–$9, shots and cocktails $6–$11, Mai Tais $9. Jukebox $1/three songs.
Anything goes: business attire, t-shirts, jeans, shorts, sandals, vests, khakis.
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.
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.