Located a few steps from Muni’s 20th and Third Street T-Line stop, the Sea Star is a contemporary bar with a long history. The establishment’s décor – a canoe hangs above the pool table, there’s seaweed-esque wallpaper, a diving helmet sits behind the bar – pays homage to its name and Bay proximity. Its extensive cocktail and beer offerings have been crafted to hook modern humans seeking alcoholic choice and creativity.
The Sea Star’s owners – Alicia Walton, Ryan Gilbert, and Tommy Shaw – have operated it for almost a half-decade, but the location has served as a bar for 120 years. According to a century-old fire map drafted for insurance purposes, the space has been a saloon since 1899.
Flotsam and jetsam reflecting The Sea Star’s enduring history are littered throughout the tavern. Underneath the long bar is a trough that was used as a urinal and tobacco spittoon before Prohibition. It’s currently employed to drain water from rain-drenched coats or as a footrest. Only a handful of San Francisco bars have kept such obsolete devices.
The bar has been christened numerous times since 1899. The current moniker is derived from The Sea Star Club, a name bestowed by the couple who owned the place between 1989 and 2011. That year the proprietor of The Dogpatch Saloon, Christopher Webster, bought, renovated, and renamed the establishment Hogan’s Goat Tavern. In 2013, the owners of Southern Pacific Brewing Company, Anthony LaVia, Chris Lawrence, Andy French, purchased the saloon and rechristened it The Sea Star in homage to its former name. The appellation was kept when the current owners, Walton, Gilbert, and Shaw, acquired it in 2015.
Alicia Walton previously worked at Martuni’s, Elixir, The Bloodhound, and Brass Tacks, and co-founded Comstock Saloon. She won San Francisco’s Ms. Speed Rack, a speed-bartending competition, in 2016, an achievement memorialized on a plaque that hangs behind The Sea Star’s bar. She long wanted to own her own bar, and, along with her co-owners, is committed to serving a diverse, changing neighborhood, periodically providing donations to local schools’ sports team and Planned Parenthood.
Japanese whisky, original and classic cocktails, and numerous beers are offered. Canned beers are priced at roughly $6, draft, $8, with innovative cocktails for $10. There’s ample seating, a jukebox, self-service water station, and multiple televisions typically tuned to local sports games. The cocktail menu features the “Sea Star Maki”, a drink comprised of ingredients typically used in sushi, such as ginger and shiso, and “Czechs & Balances”, a balanced, honeyed beverage which includes a fernet made in the Czech Republic. An annual highlight is installment of the tavern’s Christmas Tree and spirited holiday decor.