San Francisco’s R Bar is modern-day ‘Cheers,’ where everybody knows your name 

This hole-in-the-wall dive bar near Polk Gulch is where bartenders and people in the restaurant trade come to drink — mainly Fernet Branca, that vaguely medicinal, bitter spirit favored by many bar people. While it is definitely not fancy, it may be among the friendliest of places to drop in for a pop, particularly to chat up owner-bartender Chris Fogarty, who seems to know every bartender in town. This watering hole has been a bar since 1940, one of the few straight bars in the historically gay neighborhood. Food is not served at this no-frills spot (not even potato chips), but it does have a good jukebox and lots of room for dancing. It’s the modern-day Cheers, where they will remember you and know your name.

R Bar, 1176 Sutter St. (between Polk and Larkin streets), San Francisco, (415) 567-7441

What makes this drink distinctive? It’s easy and girls like it.

What’s the crowd like here?
A lot of bartenders, a heavy industry crowd. We sell more Fernet Branca than anywhere in the U.S., including San Francisco. But I don’t know if we really sell the most because we give a lot away. It kinda became a calling card in The City. It became the San Francisco treat.

How long have you been a bartender? I’m a San Francisco native and grew up five blocks away. I started bussing tables when I was 5 years old. I’ve worked at Perry’s on Union Street where I started as a busboy, then became a waiter and finally a bartender. I’ve worked at Holy Cow, the Blue Light, the Balboa, Pier 23, the Matrix.

What do you like about bartending? Getting drunk, getting laid, making money, having fun. My dad told me it’s the only profession where you can show up at work hungry, horny and hung over, and if you’re any good, you’ll fix all three things by the end of your shift.

How has the neighborhood changed? When my partner Tod Alsman and I bought it eight years ago, there used to be about 50 prostitutes on the street. It was an Irish DJ bar, and the people were all drugged-out. It was a s--- hole. We had no money so I bartended seven days a week, swamping the bathrooms and mopping the floors.

What’s the most popular drink here? Shots and beers. Eight bucks for a shot and a beer — Jamison or Fernet and 16-ounce Bud Light. We sell Bud Light for $3; [it’s] $2 for Busch or Olympia.

What’s the strangest experience you’ve had bartending? It was late one night and a buddy was here dancing with a girl he just met. She fell down on the floor, but when he looked down, he still had her hand in his hand. Her prosthetic hand had come off. It still had the R Bar stamp on it. He was mortified. She just got up, put the hand in her purse and walked out. I’ll never forget the look on his face.

Featured recipe

Orange Julius


  • 1½ oz. Licor 43 (Cuarenta y Tres)
  • 1 oz. fresh orange juice
  • Splash of soda

Stir ingredients with ice. Strain into martini glass. Garnish with orange slice.

About The Author

Donna Domino

Pin It

More by Donna Domino

Latest in Food & Drink

© 2019 The San Francisco Examiner

Website powered by Foundation