San Francisco Athletic Club, a sports bar on steroids 

click to enlarge S.F. Athletic Club
  • Nathaniel Y. Downes/Special to the S.F. Examiner
  • S.F. Athletic Club co-owner Neil Holbrook intended to create an “old gentlemen’s club sports bar.”
What would happen if sports fanatics designed a space from the ground up to fit their idea of the ultimate sports bar? That’s the question the San Francisco Athletic Club seeks to answer.

With a whopping 28 large-screen televisions, it doesn’t matter if you’re sitting at the bar, ensconced in one of the spacious leather booths or perched on the vintage bleachers: Wherever you’re sitting, you won’t even have to turn your head to have the perfect view of whatever game you’re watching. And with that many screens, there won’t be many disagreements about which game should be on.

“In Ireland, there’s no such thing as having 12 games on at the same time,” says co-owner Neil Holbrook. “Here, it’s no problem.”

Holbrook, who came to the U.S. 13 years ago, is no stranger to the bar industry. His father, who lives in Dublin, Ireland, put him to work at the age of 10 helping clean up the bar he owned. Holbrook also spent a year tending bar in Australia, and worked for almost a decade at Kezar Pub, a San Francisco sports bar famous for having 49ers Hall of Famers among its patrons.

Holbrook opened the San Francisco Athletic Club with former Kezar Pub co-worker Miles Palliser and their buddy Ezra Berman, who they knew from playing soccer together. While this is Holbrook’s first restaurant venture, Palliser and Berman also own The Corner Store restaurant in the Richmond district. Holbrook said they contemplated turning that venue into a sports bar, but decided it wasn’t big enough to fulfill their vision.

“We wanted to evoke the feeling of an old gentlemen’s club sports bar,” Holbrook noted. “There were a lot of bars in The City that just put up additional TVs and called themselves sports bars. We knew we could do better.”

Contrasting with the modernity of the multiple flat-screen monitors, the bar surface was created by piecing together repurposed wood from an Oregon basketball gymnasium’s floor. The bleachers were sourced from an old New York hockey rink, and the antique punching bags hanging from the ceiling are a nod to the original San Francisco Athletic Club, a boxing gym destroyed by the 1906 earthquake and fire.

While some restaurateurs like to do soft rollouts, Holbrook and company put themselves on the hot seat from the very start, opening June 12 just minutes before the start of the first 2014 World Cup game. Thanks to the World Cup, Americans now have a lasting fascination with soccer, and they turn out in droves on days when important soccer matches are featured at the bar, Holbrook said.

Menu items pay tribute to ballpark food, but with enough uniqueness to intrigue foodies and gastropub connoisseurs. Order an all-beef Ballpark Dog, for example, and you can get it wrapped in bacon with caramelized onions, peppers and aioli. Opt for chicken wings, and you will have four varieties to choose from, including Sriracha Chili, Chipotle BBQ, Dry Jerk Spice or Classic Buffalo. Order a giant Classic Ballpark Pretzel, and you’ll likely fall in love with the cheese sauce that accompanies it. Dubbed queso borracho, which means “drunken cheese,” it’s made from cheddar and beer.

And speaking of beer, there’s plenty on tap, and local breweries such as Lagunitas, Speakeasy and Anchor are well represented. If you prefer bottled beer to draught, you can order it by the bathtub: Your server will deposit a small, porcelain tub at your table loaded with ice and 24 bottles of beer.

Of course, some non-local beers are also on tap.

“We had to put in the Guinness,” Holbrook said, “because otherwise my father wouldn’t come and visit me!”


San Francisco Athletic Club

1750 Divisadero St.

(415) 923-8989

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