Answers from Our Experts (7)
Bourbon & Branch is the new classic. We go through this a lot because my bar chef is going through the bar menu for our new restaurant. San Francisco is a very conventional town. They really like their perfect Manhattan. Bourbon & Branch serves that up with tonic and bitters. You feel the artisanal movement of cocktails without them ramping on the symbols.
There’s a great bar called Bar Agricole. It’s really a great place. There’s another small bar called Cantina. There’s Beretta, and then there’s another one called 15 Romolo. They’ve been doing handcrafted cocktails there years before the whole rage started. It’s in a little alley. If you don’t know where it is, you cannot find it. It’s a small little place, and it’s always packed.
My favorite bar in San Francisco is Tosca Cafe — it’s this old opera bar. It’s just atmospherically really pretty and old. It’s in North Beach, the old Italian neighborhood, which is largely pretty cheesy, but this is just a really old gem. It has the longest wood bar from a single piece of wood. It has the Italian espresso makers, and it plays only opera on the jukebox. There’s another place in that neighborhood called Caffe Trieste that’s really great. Those are places I’ve been going for 20 years that haven’t really changed.
There’s a restaurant in SoMa, Bar Agricole, that has a really good bar. I think that Alembic in Haight has made me some really awesome cocktails. Those are the two spots that I’ve been to lately that I can recommend.
The abundance of fine establishments on San Francisco’s restaurant scene is outpaced only by the variety of interesting bars in the city. Many have a rather casual appeal; people in San Francisco want to relax when they go out cocktailing. This list will likely change often, but here are five San Francisco area bars to check out soon:
1. Rickhouse. This fun and cozy whiskey-themed bar is the progeny of the same group that created the legendary Bourbon & Branch and nearby Local Edition, which is on the former printing pad of the San Francisco Examiner. Bartenders have lots of personality, cocktails are well priced and there’s a friendly mix of visitors and locals. Order a Pleasant Evening; really who wouldn’t want one of those?
2. Burritt Room. All-American celebrity chef Charlie Palmer owns the Mystic Hotel, which hides this Victorian feeling bar on the second floor. Order a handcrafted cocktail like the Grapefuit Buck, Monkey Gland or a bowl of gin and champagne punch; they’ll take good care of you. When you get hungry, dig into a stellar burger or a three-course, prix fixe dinner.
3. Smuggler’s Cove. You’ll feel like you’ve wandered into a pirate’s hideaway in this Fillmore area bar that celebrates all the complexity and breadth rum. They’ll regale you with a list of over 400 rums, which add spirit to classic Caribbean, tiki and Cuban rum drinks from perfect Mai Tais and Daiquiris to owner Martin Cate’s original punches, all in a whimsical setting.
4. Cantina. This welcoming spot offers up a tribute to the spirits and cocktails of Latin America — think pisco, tequila, mezcal, cachaça and rum. They’re mixed up with seasonal fruit and herbs to make drinks like the Pisco Punch, Blackberry-and-Cabernet caipirinha, but we’re most fond of the smoky Old Gringo. Saturdays there’s a DJ who plays a thrilling mix of oldies and new pop as people groove on the tiny dance floor.
5. Honor Kitchen & Cocktails. It’s worth the drive to Emeryville (home of Pixar) just across the Bay Bridge to experience this retro bar with a subtle The Big Lembowski theme. Bar maven Alex Smith designed the grandly named cocktails (Queen Anne’s Revenge, Black Sabbath) which hit all the right notes, while the chef turns out top-notch fare like bone marrow, brandade, and perfect Southern-fried chicken with housemade hot sauce and a honey-bacon biscuit.
Whether you prefer a dive joint, a trendy lounge, or sultry speakeasy, there’s a place to quaff in San Francisco that will satisfy your need for a night out.
For something new on the bar scene, head to The Mission and Trick Dog, an eagerly awaited bar opened on January 7 and already accumulating rave reviews from casual cocktailers and connoisseurs alike. The clever Pantone paint swatch bar menu is fun to peruse and has 13 signature Pantone-color cocktails with names like Grandma’s Sweater and Polar Bear.
In the heart of The Haight, Alembic has been a premiere cocktail haunt in the city for a few years now and is still going strong, thanks to its consistently good pours, limited and coveted bar space, and a menu of forgotten classics like the Jack Rose, referred to on the menu as “a home wrecker of a cocktail.” Alembic also boasts several original concoctions that will cause a stir.
Bix has been around so long it can be called a classic. Located down skinny little Gold Street near the financial district, Bix oozes 1920’s supperclub swagger, complete with a smokey-voiced jazz singer and piano in the corner. Order a martini, an old standard, just like Bix itself.
Dress up and head out ot The Redwood Room at the swank Clift Hotel. A blend of plush and modern interior, with the original redwood paneling that spawned the bar's name, The Redwood Room is San Francisco sophistication personified.
For 30+ years, Liverpool Lil's has welcomed people in to its dark and dimly lit rooms for casual food, friendly service, and game day action. San Francisco's version of the neighborhood English pub, Lil's is great for a pint or two, and the setting, across from The Presidio, can't be beat.
San Francisco is a cocktail lovers dream come true. There's the perfect bar for everyone, from the Caribbean-obsessed rum drinker (Smuggler's Cove) to the beer aficionado (Toronado). The best bars, however, are the ones that offer hand-crafted libations in a festive and welcoming atmosphere. New and old, here are five watering holes locals and tourists will love.
Rye is an establishment that's credited with bringing the herb-infused cocktail movement to the forefront. The refreshing basil gimlet is a must drink.
Inventive modern drinks and classic cocktails, like the Pimm's Cup, can be found at 15 Romolo. The circus fare food menu delivers delectable bar snacks to hungry patrons.
Just up the street is Comstock Saloon, the ideal spot for homey Southern-inspired cuisine like shrimp po'boys and pig in a biscuit. Old-school cocktails, think Manhattans and Southsides, are their speciality. The nightly musical performance and slowed down feel of the bar will take you back to a lost era.
Part sports bar, part cocktail haven, Jasper's Corner Tap has an extensive beer list and awesome cocktail selection. The food options are stellar bar staples: salt and pepper fried calamari, deviled eggs, and smoky macaroni and cheese.
Tradition, the newest bar from the owners of Bourbon and Branch and Rickhouse, is by far their best yet. It's a speakeasy with a warm and cozy feel. From the frozen margarita to the potent negroni, the menu highlights the best drinks of the traditional American bar.