Who wants cheap beer?

You do, duh. Our Beer Issue guides you to affordable brews

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Leigh Kelly at Bean Bag Cafe doles out drafts
PHOTO BY BEN HOPFER

culture@sfbg.com

Whether you're unemployed, underemployed, or squirreling away your, ahem, nuts in terror of the post–American Empire Mad Max economapocalypse to come, these are hard times for beer lovers who like their pints out in public. You need cheap suds. Here's a guide to staying within your meager budget while enjoying an oat soda or 10 to help you swallow the bitter pill that is the Bay Area economy. And cheer up, you ol' bugger: it's beer o' clock!

 

THE HAPPIEST HOURS

Most bars have a happy hour, but when you're looking out for numero uno, you notice that some are happier than others. Even among budget-friendly Mission bars (like, I don't know, say, Mission Bar 2695 Mission, SF. 415-647-2300), the happy hour at Elbo Room (647 Valencia, SF. 415-552-7788, www.elbo.com) is generous, as far as duration goes. From 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., you'll have plenty of opportunity to hit on a hipster hottie while sipping a Lost Coast Tangerine Wheat near the Ms. Pac-Man table top.

My blogger friend Jeff Diehl (spotsunknown.com) and I recently dove into North Beach, where we stumbled, literally, upon a real, cheap gem: International Sports Club (1000 Columbus, SF. 415-775-6036). Don't let the name scare you. This place is as divey as a clean, well-lit place gets, with an interesting mix of tourists and scruffy locals. Bartender-cousins Mi and Emily serve up the ultimate poor man's pour: tap drafts for $2.50, from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays — decent drafts like Stella and Widmer.

But possibly the happiest hour(s) for the frugal sud-guzzler can be found at Bean Bag Café (601 Divisadero, SF. 414-563-3634), near the Panhandle. There are no beanbags, but there'd be room for none, as the clarion call of $1.92 pints of hefeweizen brings the thirsty hordes. If you're a bit work-shy at the moment, get there early and beat some of these beasts to the tap.

 

PBR NATION

Obviously, nothing beats a deal with no strings attached. If you're a San Francisco beer lover and you don't know about Toronado (547 Haight, SF. 415-863-2276, www.toronado.com), you're just doing it wrong. For a place so renowned, the big T's tap selection is diverse enough to accommodate the not-so-rich while avoiding the option of Pabst Blue Ribbon.

I say that with the full knowledge that PBR has become something of a cultural touchstone in the city. Why PBR and not Hamm's or Oly? Who knows? I blame Blue Velvet. In any event, there's no shortage of hipster dives that will crack a can for you. (I see no real point of PBR on tap.) For my money, the best is Bender's (806 S. Van Ness, SF. 415-824-1800, www.bendersbar.com). Not only will you find the obligatory $2 can of Frank Booth's favorite bev, but you'll also find my personal favorite canned option, local brewery 21st Amendment's Hell or High Watermelon Wheat, for a mere $2.50. Can't beat that with a stick, not to mention Bender's other assets, such as a tasty grill and a smoky patio.

 

CHEAP? HOW ABOUT FREE?

I talk to beer freaks who have never taken a tour of the amazing Anchor Brewery (1705 Mariposa, SF. 415-863-8350, www.anchorbrewing.com), in Potrero Hill, and all of a sudden it's like they're speaking another language. I just don't understand. I've been taking this tour since my first visit to the city back in 1992, and I still go at least once or twice a year. When I got laid off, my second act, after filing for unemployment benefits, was to book a tour at Anchor.

Comments

Anchor Steam's tour doesn't end in UNLIMITED free tasting. They usually give you a small glass of each beer (five or six different styles, I think), and then a second of your favorite. Still a great experience, but it's not without it's limits.

Posted by Marcos on Sep. 29, 2010 @ 10:05 am

$2.75 drafts, all day, everyday. Including micro brews - they make an interesting "black and tan" using old rasputin imperial stout and bass.

Posted by Sean on Jan. 06, 2011 @ 2:07 pm

You can just go behind the bar and serve yourself to whatever you want. Sometimes the staff pretends to care or threatens to call the cops, ignore them. If they are persistent about paying pull our your shiv and cut em.

Posted by buck on Jan. 06, 2011 @ 3:45 pm

For the impressive selection, Toronado has amazing prices. Just got back from a weekend trip to SF and they were selling pints of Racer X on cask for $5. That's double the alcohol content (as Racer V) for the same price!

Also, all day Sunday at 21st Amendment, they sell cans of their craft beer for $2, which is cheaper than picking up a six-pack of Back in Black from Whole Foods. And after you put a few cheap beers away, you won't even notice the football fans (maybe).

Posted by thesarahbennett on Jan. 11, 2011 @ 11:00 am

Lots of good suggestions here, thought I'd add one more. $1 drafts Thursday and Friday night from 7-10pm at HiFi.

Posted by Nightlife's A Game on May. 15, 2011 @ 10:36 pm

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