The Buena Vista

Historic Bar / Irish Pub / Restaurant
The Buena Vista There may be a full bar at The Buena Vista, but the endless procession of tourists who pack into this long-standing Fisherman's Wharf institution usually stick to Irish coffee. San Francisco United States 37.8064215 -122.4206588
2.89 9
The Buena Vista - Historic Bar | Irish Pub | Restaurant in San Francisco.
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Ratings:
Lucas
Adriana
Jonah
Emma

Party Earth Review There may be a full bar at The Buena Vista, but the endless procession of tourists who pack into this long-standing Fisherman’s Wharf institution usually stick to Irish coffee. The trend began back in the 1950s, when owner... ... read full review

  • Metro:

    MUNI F Line: Jones Street & Beach Street

  • Phone:

    415-474-5044

  • Links:

  • Hours:

    M–F 9am–2am, Sa–Su 8am–2am

  • Recommended as:

    • Day Spot
    • Night Spot

Party Earth The Buena Vista Review

The Scene

There may be a full bar at The Buena Vista, but the endless procession of tourists who pack into this long-standing Fisherman's Wharf institution usually stick to Irish coffee.

There may be a full bar at The Buena Vista, but the endless procession of tourists who pack into this long-standing Fisherman’s Wharf institution usually stick to Irish coffee. The trend began back in the 1950s, when owner Jack Koeppler returned from a vacation to Ireland determined to develop his own version of the stuff.

Nowadays, the drink is so popular that the white-haired and white-coated bartenders just line up a slew of glasses on the bar, spilling coffee and a heavy hand of Irish whiskey into each – and all over the floor – before topping with heavy cream.

The walls are covered in articles touting the health benefits of the signature drink, but neither the middle-aged Midwestern sightseers nor the bleary-eyed European students seem to doubt the claims, seeing as a thousand-plus glasses get ordered on busy weekends.

Sightseers disembarking at the cable car turnaround just outside stop in to take over the worn stools by the bar or the simple tables by the floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the Bay, while a darker back room provides a quieter escape for the older crowd to nosh on their meatloaf and clam chowder.

A mix of preppy young professionals and rowdier Marina locals usually shows up later, tanking up on a dash of Irish energy before a long night of barhopping.

In business since 1916 – but really only on the map since the 50s – The Buena Vista promises all who drop in a great view and a piping hot cup of alcoholic Joe.

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Tip from Emma:

If Larry the bartender is working – which he usually is – ask him to do a few magic tricks for you. He’s actually amazingly good with cards.

  • Crowd

    Young professionals, preppy Marina types, older Russian Hill locals, and lots of tourists. All ages, but mostly late 20s to 40s+.

  • Entertainment / Music

    Watching bartenders make a dozen Irish coffees at once. TV brought in during the Super Bowl.

  • Food / Miscellaneous

    Simple American menu includes eggs, omelets, crab cakes, burgers, and meatloaf.

  • Prices

    Appetizers $4–$15, entrées $10–$30. Beer $5–$7, wine $6–$18, cocktails $4.50–$9, Irish coffee $7.50.

  • What to Wear / Dress Code

    Casual: khakis, sweaters, fitted jeans, comfortable shoes, some trendier wear on the pre-party crowd.

  • Hot Nights / When to Go

    Anytime to sample the signature spiked coffee.

  • Close By

    The Parlor (2801 Leavenworth Street) is a hybrid speakeasy/dance club where much of the younger crowd ends up.

The Buena Vista User Reviews

Average rating:
Irish Coffee - Hoorah!
Deepak H. Jul 26, 2013
Buena Vista in San Francisco--aah where do I start?? If you thought San Francisco was only known for Google, Apple and Facebook then you are a nerd who needs a hit of the World Famous Buena Vista's Irish Coffee to calm the nerdiness! Buena Vista invented the Irish Coffee and that is pretty crazy. A word of warning about this place- It is packed! It does not matter what time of the day you visit the place. If Buena Vista is open, it is crowded. Apparently, people all over the word have flocked to the Fisherman's Wharf just to get a taste of this world famous poison and besides it is San Francisco. Even though you do not need a reason to drink, a drink containing coffee, whiskey and cream early in the morning just provides that reason in case you were looking for one! One thing you notice as soon as you enter the Buena Vista, which by the way is located conveniently in the Fisherman's Wharf, is that the bar is laden with a row of glasses for their world famous Irish Coffee. The bar tenders add class to the place with a white coat. They look like a mixologist until you see them just making the Irish Coffee. The other thing that you notice about this place as you should is that every table has at least one glass of Irish coffee on it. If that does not provide you a reason to order one, then you might as well jump off the wharf and hope you get eaten by a great white for all I care. Back to Buena Vista- Even if you go as part of a group, the most enjoyable part of the place is the sight of the white coat wearing bartender making the Irish Coffee. As soon as he gets an order, he puts in two sugar cubes in each glass for the number of orders and pours a jug of steaming hot black coffee stirring the mixture rigorously. Once he is satisfied that the sugar has dissolved completely, he adds the cream. A little more stir to achieve the perfection he wants and the order is ready! Enjoy your Irish Coffee and believe me when I say that you WILL enjoy the drink. The whole process is so efficient that it is like watching those automated machines that you see in those documentaries about automobiles! Finally- a word of advice. DO NOT and I mean DO NOT order a beer without ordering at least one Irish Coffee. The look that you get burns a hole through you! True Story.
An institution for sure; just go there one time and you're set
Ariel K. Apr 12, 2013
I came home to California for winter break last year when I was finishing up my last year at college. My family lives on the peninsula (Palo Alto), which is definitely still BAY AREA, but we never go up to San Francisco much because, well, it’s just kind of far and it’s usually a lot colder and there’s never anywhere to park. In any case, my boyfriend at the time basically considered me to be a tourist in the city. This meant he was more than happy to be the big man on campus and show me around “his” city, and our very first city date included a trip to the Buena Vista. It was freezing cold the afternoon we went, so the bar was naturally packed to the brim with tourists in puffy northface jackets. There were no seats at the bar-top so we had to flag down the bartender between his rounds of deftly pouring an assembly line of irish coffees. I don’t even know if they serve other drinks here, to be honest. I never looked at a menu because the only thing you’re EVER supposed to drink here is the irish coffee. I guess this bar like, invented it, or something? (Haha, everybody knows that! Silly tourist girl). Anyways. We ordered the drinks, they were made absurdly quickly (the bartender was a wizard, I’m pretty sure), and they tasted like…delicious coffee, topped with thick creamy cream, with a burning sensation as my tastebuds awoke and realized that whiskey was somehow sneaking into my mouth. I think I might have coughed a little because those irish are not messing around when they put booze in their coffee! If you like creamy coffee mixed with a nice healthy shot of whiskey to warm you up on a chilly day, this is definitely a place to go. It’s also the place everyone else who has the same thought as you, plus all the tourists, plus all the locals who look down on tourists go to make fun of them, and probably a lot of other people will be. Go once to say you’ve been, then probably just carry around your own whiskey and dump it into your daily Starbucks if you feel like that’s something you want to enjoy on a more regular basis.
Home of the Irish Coffee
Noelle G. Mar 28, 2013
This place claims to be the place where Irish Coffee was invented, and while I very much doubt that is actually the case, they still have one of the best Irish Coffees I've ever tasted. Yes, this place is a tourist trap, and no, the food isn't the greatest ever, but it has a pretty decent atmosphere and the trip is worth it for the Irish Coffee alone. The restaurant is across the street from the Fisherman's Wharf end of the cable car line, so it's easy to get to as well.
Great place!
Kaile K. Nov 30, 2012
The Buena Vista is a great restaurant with a lot of San Francisco history. Apparently irish coffee was invented here! Its a seat yourself place where you share tables with complete strangers. Some people wouldn't be into that but I think its great and really contributes to the social atmosphere of the restaurant. Definitely try to get a table by the windows so you can enjoy the views of the bay. The food is really good as well, its hard to go wrong with their menu selections. If you're in San Francisco, definitely try to go to the buena vista!!
Surprisingly good despite being in a tourist hell hole
Nick S. Sep 17, 2012
San Francisco has plenty of tourist traps. And then there are the absolute tourist traps that you just find yourself going back to again and again. The top of my list is Buena Vista. I wonder if the locals go there--pretty sure that they don't unless they have friends visiting and they want to do a touristy thing that they aren't absoulutely sick off... Would this place work in Miami? Not a chance... but people don't go to SF for the weather and on a cold foggy afternoon with the bone chilling wind coming off of the bay, a hot alcoholic drink is just the ticket. As the waitresses shout out numbers "6", "2", "4" the bartender lines up glasses. Throws a couple of sugar cubes in each and grabs the coffee pot, one pour from end to end.... stirs the glasses and splashes out some coffee from the ones that are too full... then does the same thing with the whiskey, adds some cream and he is done. 45 seconds... 12 Irish coffees... the waitresses are already shouting more numbers at him. I don't know how they brew the coffee fast enough! Simple and good. A romantic memory and a place you will remember. You enjoyed it and when you come back to SF in five or ten years you will probably head here. Oh you might say you are going to Fisherman's wharf--but it is really the Buena Vista you are heading for. It is busy! It isn't cheap! Every employee has attitude! Not the cleanest place. But it is what it is and what it is can only be created by time and tradition. You couldn't build a new Buena Vista cafe.
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