Chimney Sweep

How SF surfers rescued the Sundown dive bar Pitt’s Pub

For decades, Pittsburgh’s Pub was the Outer Sunset’s most notorious watering hole.

It opened at 8 am and stayed open until 2 am It had a fireplace without a chimney. Its bathroom door swung open into people’s seats. It was the sort of place where “when you walked in, everyone would stare at you,” according to general manager Jordan Mason, who first came to Pittsburgh’s to play pool when he moved to the neighborhood 12 years ago.

It was, in other words, a proper dive bar: grimy, unfriendly, a little rough. “It looked bad. It smelled bad,” said local surfer Matt Lopez, an Outer Sunset native who speaks with a laid-back California drawl. “There was red in the walls. There were multiple areas where you could see the daylight coming in.”

Andy Olive, another local surfer, said that when he grew up in the area, his otherwise permissive parents warned him never to go to Pittsburgh’s.

But today, it’s a very different bar. Lopez and Olive, its new co-owners, set out to rehab Pittsburgh’s without losing, in the process, some of the funk that always made it special.

Co-owners Matt Lopez (left) and Andy Olive (right) flank general manager Jordan Mason.

Felix Uribe/Special to The Chronicle

Last spring, the two childhood friends reopened the bar. It now officially goes by its longtime nickname, Pitt’s Pub, and it’s gotten a major cleanup. Gone are the chimney-less fireplace, the weird green ceilings, the holes in the walls. Pitt’s is now, to the shock of those who knew it in his previous life, the sort of place that has flower vases on every table.

Although it can probably no longer be categorized as a dive (the bathroom is too nice), Pitt’s 2.0 is certainly not fancy. “Neighborhood bar,” maybe, is more like it. The place is warm and welcoming — no one stars at newcomers anymore. It serves $5 beers but can also make a great Manhattan.

On a given evening, it’s clear that Pitt’s is attracting a wide cross-section of the Sunset. Aging hippies make small talk with Millennials at the bar. Groups invite strangers to join them in a game of pool. Smokers huddle together on the sidewalk outside.

To Lopez and Olive, this scene recaptures something of the San Francisco that they grew up in. “It used to be, you’d go out and mingle with other people,” Lopez said. Nowadays, “people go to a bar with a group and stay with their group.”

“I want this to be a place where you don’t feel like you have to match a vibe,” Olive said.

Bartender Ruari Horan makes a drink at Pitt's Pub.

Bartender Ruari Horan makes a drink at Pitt’s Pub.

Felix Uribe/Special to The Chronicle

The bar at 4207 Judah St. has had several lives. Once known as the Reef, then as Kelly’s Bar No Grill, it became Pittsburgh’s Pub in the late 1990s (named for the hometown of its then-owner, Dan Strickler, according to Lopez). In the pantheon of Outer Sunset dive bars, Lopez and Olive considered Pittsburgh’s to be the diviest — besting Flanahan’s on Noriega and the Riptide on Taraval. The bars got progressively nicer as you went south, they said.

Over time, as this stretch of Judah got swankier — welcoming destination spots such as Outerlands and Trouble Coffee — Pittsburgh’s was a remnant of the old Outer Sunset, a stubborn holdout against third-wave coffee culture and restaurants that drew two-hour waits.

Then, soon after the pandemic shutdowns began, Pittsburgh’s owner retired and sold the bar’s liquor license. When Lopez, who also owns the upscale, craft cocktail bar White Cap on Taraval Street, heard that it was available, he jumped at the chance to bring it back. He signed a lease and obtained a new liquor license. The new one, incidentally, permits live entertainment, so Lopez is planning for DJ sets and small bands.

He asked Olive, a high school classmate and surfing buddy, to help him give the place a face lift. It was a full demo, taking those walls down to the studs to get rid of the rot. Pitt’s is now spiffed up, though it will still look recognizable to those who knew it before. There’s still the same long bar, the pinball machines and a pool table.

Alejandro Torres (left) and Marlo Torres at the new Pitt's Pub.

Alejandro Torres (left) and Marlo Torres at the new Pitt’s Pub.

Felix Uribe/Special to The Chronicle

Cleaning up a dive bar while retaining something of its character is a delicate act. It’s been undertaken before: A similar story unfolded at the Richmond’s 540 Club, which a group of longtime regulars bought and reopened this year. Like Pitt’s, the 540 is a lot cleaner than it used to be, but its dive-bar spirit remains intact. The 500 Club, in the Mission, also got a new owner a couple years ago — native San Franciscan Ali Razavi — but still feels like itself.

Rather than converting these old, sometimes tired-feeling bars into something entirely new — into a high-end cocktail lounge, say — there appears to be a renewed appetite in San Francisco for preserving these institutions, keeping them easygoing and affordable.

By the time Lopez and Olive were ready to open their new Pitt’s, in April, they worried that the crowd might have wandered. It had been closed for two years by then. The sign was down, the windows boarded up. Surely the regulars had found new bars to be regulars at.

But on the first day, a stream of those regulars showed up, Lopez said, ready to greet their old haunt. Since then, Pitt’s has been cultivating new sets of regulars, like a group of nurses who come in after their shift at the VA hospital, and another set of friends who went to high school together who gather here every Sunday afternoon.

On a recent weekday, I watched as a man entered, ordered half a beer (Mason said he happily accommodates strange requests like these and prorates the price), played a game of pinball, then left — all within a 15-minute span. He comes in and does that almost every day, Mason said.

A family looks into Pitt's Pub on Judah Street.

A family looks into Pitt’s Pub on Judah Street.

Felix Uribe/Special to The Chronicle

Inside, you can feel Lopez and Olive’s nostalgia for the Outer Sunset of their youth. The walls are lined with San Francisco memorabilia — historic shots of the Cliff House, the beach, the Golden Gate Bridge while under construction. The ultimate nostalgic touch might be that groups of strangers here are actually mingling with each other.

Many customers are drinking those $5 Tecates. Others have traded up for craft beers such as Russian River’s STS Pilsner or Alvarado Street’s Mai Tai IPA. The draft cocktails ($12), which include an especially spicy, ginger-forward Moscow Mule, are popular, though the drink that Mason hopes will become Pitt’s signature — a very boozy Hurricane ($16) — is limited to two per person per night.

Is Pitt’s, like Outerlands and Trouble Coffee before it, becoming the Outer Sunset’s latest destination, drawing folks from all over the city to Judah’s chilly, windswept extremities? maybe But Mason suspects it’s more drawing out his own neighborhood, providing a gathering place that reaches more local residents than Pittsburgh’s did in the past.

The Outer Sunset tends to attract a self-selecting crowd, Mason said. “We’re really at the edge of the world out here.”

Pitt’s Pub. Open 3 pm-midnight Monday-Thursday, 3 pm-2 am Friday, 2 pm-2 am Saturday and noon-midnight Sunday. 4207 Judah St., San Francisco.

Esther Mobley is The San Francisco Chronicle’s senior wine critic. Email:

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