The saratoga | Ed Anderson
Food & Drink

The Best Cocktail Bars in San Francisco

Updated On 07/20/2017 at 05:51PM EST
Ed anderson

The Saratoga

Tenderloin

This two-story bar in the historic Saratoga hotel building is so sexy and glamorous, it almost feels a little out of place in the TL. The vibe is pure swank and elegance, in a way that feels very not San Francisco, but is a welcome addition. See: brass-studded leather seats, a Carrera marble bar, vintage art, and a multi-tiered glass chandelier that hangs above the stairwell. But even with such stunning design elements, the cocktails are really in the spotlight at The Saratoga. The program focuses on “lost and forgotten” spirits, like Chartreuse, Pimm’s, Benedictine, and Fernet (though we have to argue the latter was never forgotten in San Francisco). And there are over 800 spirits from which to choose.

ABV

Mission

We often find ourselves at ABV because it serves delicious “snacks” (chicken tacos, falafel lamb dogs, and a great burger) until 1am every single night of the week. But as tasty as the food coming out of the kitchen is, none of that would matter if the drinks being concocted behind the bar weren’t equally as delicious -- if not even more so. The menu is organized by spirit (whiskey, rum/brandy, agave, gin/vodka), which helps narrow things down when you’re not quite sure what you’re in the mood for, and most of the cocktails have three or four ingredients, which turns out to be just enough to take a simple cocktail to a whole new level... without a super-long wait.

Blackbird

Blackbird

Duboce Triangle

Blackbird calls itself a neighborhood bar, but if there were neighborhood bars like this all over SF, we’d never venture more than a few blocks from home. Luckily, Blackbird is in a fairly central location, so you can probably find an excuse to stop into the gorgeous bar. Check out their latest art show, play a game of pool, and, most importantly, sip on cocktails from the seasonal menu, or our favorite: order a Pimm’s Cup on draught.

Bar Agricole

SoMa

If you truly love cocktails, Bar Agricole is a must-add to your cocktail bar bucket list. The handcrafted libations are known for being some of the best in the country (the restaurant has been a James Beard Foundation Award nominee for “Outstanding Bar Program” every year since 2012) thanks to fresh ingredients and techniques, and the fact that you can enjoy them at the sleek, stylish bar, or in the lush (heated) garden only makes them taste that much better. At first glance, it may seem that these are all cocktails you’ve seen before (Tequila Daisy, Rye Gin Old Fashioned, Scotch Sour), but at first sip, you’ll realize they’re anything but.

Alison Webber Photography

Pacific Cocktail Haven

Union Square

We were pretty elated when notable bartender around town Kevin Diedrich officially opened PCH, so it’s no surprise that this joint made the list. The vibe is pretty relaxed during the week (go at your own risk on a Saturday night), which means there’s a good chance you’ll be able to get a seat at the bar to watch the magic happen. There are 19 innovative cocktails on the menu, sorted by spirit, with a couple of low-ABV options and decidedly non-low ABV punches (which serve five to eight people) as well.

Smuggler’s Cove

Hayes Valley

Smuggler’s Cove is three levels of sensory overload -- in the best way. From the décor (the entire bar is draped in vintage tiki artifacts, historical nautical pieces, and colorful lights) and the exotic and flavorful rum and tiki drinks (there are over 80 cocktails on the menu and over 550 rums on the shelves) to the coziness of it all (the bar only holds 49 people and when we say “cozy,” we’re not exaggerating), this bar is insanely popular for good reason, and is the perfect choice for when you need an escape. Just be prepared to wait in line on the weekends; don’t worry, it will surely make the first cocktail taste that much better. That’s simple math.

15 Romolo

15 Romolo

North Beach

15 Romolo is sort of like the Room of Requirement in Harry Potter -- it becomes whatever you need it to be, whether that’s a cozy spot for a first date, a place to go with out-of-town friends, or just a neighborhood bar that serves damn good handcrafted cocktails. Go during happy hour (from 5pm to 7:30pm daily) for the $7 Pimm’s Cup made with "anything but Scotch"), but don’t be surprised when you’re still there hours later, feeding dollar bills to the jukebox and sipping exquisitely executed drinks.

Flickr/jennifer yin

Alembic

Upper Haight

When Alembic opened over a decade ago, the bar program was one of the most inventive and exciting in all of San Francisco. It may have even been the first time many of us used the word “mixologist” when referring to the person behind the bar creating such compelling cocktails. A lot can happen in 10 years, but when it comes to Alembic, it’s only been good things. The space has expanded, the food (equally as creative as the drinks) has only gotten more interesting, and the drink menu, still organized by “New School” and “The Cannon,” has been refreshed, but is as delightful as ever.

Benjamin Cooper

Union Square

Even though navigating your way to this spot can be a bit confusing (here's how it's done), it’s worth the effort once you're settled into this cocktail den, where bartenders serve up a rotating menu of adventurous drinks with creative ingredients -- and three types of oysters with which to enjoy them.

Comstock Saloon

Comstock Saloon

North Beach

Comstock is another place where you instantly feel like you’ve stepped back in time when you walk through the front door. The 20ft mahogany bar from 1907 is original to the space, as are the tile floors. And the wallpaper, antique fans, and hardwood booths lining the walls only add to the Barbary Coast ambiance. But the drinks and the spirits list are the real hero of this watering hole: the cocktail list has all of the pre-Prohibition classics you love, including a Manhattan, Sazerac, and Pisco Punch, but you don’t want to miss out on the famous Cherry Bounce (bourbon, cherry brandy, lemon, Angostura, Champagne) nor, for that matter, the $7 shot-and-beer combo during happy hour.

Bourbon & Branch

Tenderloin

Sure, Bourbon & Branch no longer has that mysterious speakeasy appeal it did when it first opened, but just because this place is now much easier to get into doesn’t mean its value has declined. After all, the only thing that’s changed is its accessibility, and we’ll argue that’s a good thing. When you walk inside, it feels like you're going to an era when alcohol was outlawed (the space was a real speakeasy during the Prohibition, and the secret tunnels and passages still exist to prove it). Make a reservation at the main bar if you can, but if not, stop by the library, where you don’t need one (ring the buzzer and use the password "books" to be admitted). Leave your cell phone in your pocket, and don’t even think about Instagramming your cocktails, gorgeous though they are. The "House Rules" prohibit both. Oh, and be prepared to wait for your drink: the cocktails are complicated. But you'll find out that's a good thing.

Forgery

Forgery

Mid-Market

This 2,000-square-foot bar was once home to a printing press and a glass blowing studio. And though those things are both pretty cool, we’ve found that we have a lot more appreciation for the open space now that it’s home to a laid back cocktail bar that serves quality cocktails without the mustache wax and pretense you’ll find at some other SF spots. There are over 300 spirits to choose from, but we always start with a "Forgery Original" before moving on to one of the classics with a twist. The Fall Gimlets and Sour Cherry Negroni are also favorites.

The Interval at Long Now

The Interval at Long Now

Fort Mason

It’s worth the trek to Fort Mason to experience The Interval at Long Now, which is part bar, part café, and part museum, but has one of the most extensive cocktail menus you’ll find, including drinks from around the world and some of the earliest cocktails ever poured. While you sip, explore the space, which dates to the 1930s, when it was a forge and machine shop, and be sure to check out prototypes of Long Now’s 10,000 year clock and The Chime Generator, a mechanical computer that generates a unique bell sequence every day for 10,000 years.

Charlie Villyard

Laszlo

Mission

Foreign Cinema’s entrance bar got a makeover that no one realized was needed, but totally changed the music bar’s space for the better. The bar feels lighter and cleaner, but without sacrificing staples like the vintage European movie posters that line the walls. A booth in the upstairs mezzanine is the perfect date spot, though you also can’t go wrong with a spot at the bar, where you can order film-inspired cocktails. And the entire Foreign Cinema menu, so, hooray. 

Flickr/Scott Schiller

Rickhouse

Financial District

It can be hard to find a seat at Rickhouse -- especially right after work when everyone crowds the bar -- but that’s not a reason to pass up the chance to drink some of the most superior beverages in the city. The spirit selection is so extensive that a rolling ladder is required to reach the bottles on the highest shelves, but whiskey takes the spotlight here. 

Tradition

Tenderloin

Like Bourbon & Branch, Tradition is another cocktail bar where a reservation isn’t required, but will only elevate your experience. Plus, that’s the best way to be seated at one of the "snugs," the nickname for one of their nine nooks, each of which pays homage to a different drinking culture. There’s also a good selection of house-blended and aged spirits, plus huge punch bowls to share.

Trick Dog

Trick Dog

Mission

Thanks to a fun and creative rotating menu with different themes (previous iterations have included the Pantone color wheel, SF tourist map, Chinese restaurant, and a calendar of dogs), it’s pretty much imperative that you visit Trick Dog at least once every six months to check out what the guys behind the bar are pouring. This place gets packed, and it can be hard to find a seat (despite the fact that there are two levels) but that’s all part of the fun, as it’s one of the few places in SF where people seem to chat with strangers; everyone's always curious to know what you’re drinking, and if they should order that next.

Matthew Millman

Wildhawk

Mission

After years of reclaimed wood tables and concrete floors, we’re elated that Wildhawk brought back glamour and sex appeal to the SF cocktail bar. The bar itself is stunning, with tin ceilings, original floors, and lots of color and texture, and is the kind of place where you can get ensconced in a comfy chair and stay a while. The menu has a heavy focus on vermouth, but there are also specialty cocktails, including a Cocoa Puffs-infused Breakfast Negroni and a house martini (that’s two servings), so there’s truly something for everyone.

Whitechapel

Tenderloin

You don’t have to love gin to appreciate the ambiance and drinks at this stunning Victorian-era/abandoned London Underground station-themed bar, but it will certainly help, considering that this place offers over 400 types of the spirit on the menu, and over 120 cocktails that feature or include it. Don’t worry though; this isn’t like the gin drinks you drank in college that turned you into a bit of a lunatic (no? Just us?), this is the kind of gin experience you can enjoy in elegant surroundings, and not even regret a little bit the next day.

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The Best Spots to Watch the FIFA World Cup 2018 in San Francisco

Published On 06/08/2018
T he World Cup comes around every four years and like many cities in the country, San Francisco is full of both die-hard footy fans and general fans of excuses for morning drinking. With both the US and Ireland out of contention this year, many fans in SF -- and many patrons of our dozens of Irish bars -- are going to have to find new teams to root for this time around. (And you can bet the Irish bars will be rallying around whichever team is playing against England that day.)
Below we bring you our picks for the best places in SF to watch all the matches, some of which will be heavily attended by certain national contingents, but many of which will feature a mixed bag of fans. Note: The World Cup is in Russia this time around, which means the live games will be airing mostly between 5am and 11am -- with some bars choosing to replay recorded games in the evening hours.

Abbey Tavern

Inner Richmond

Best for: Fans who definitely don't like England
While you’ll find fans of Spain, Mexico, and Germany at this Inner Richmond pub, there's definitely one team you can be assured they will not be supporting. “I would say there’ll be a lot of rooting against England,” says a rep at Abbey Tavern, now that Ireland is out of the running. The bar is planning to do a $5 Moscow Mule special, because Russia. And even though they don’t normally serve food, they’ll have some finger food spreads for the biggest game days. And while they don’t plan to open up for the 5am matches, the Abbey will be open for 100% of the 7am, 8am and later games.

Aces

Tenderloin

Best for: Beer-shot combos and surly regulars
Yes, this is a Yankees bar where ex-New Yorkers gather to watch the NY Giants and New York Jets during football season. But this Tenderloin watering hole likes some soccer too, and given that it’s one of the few bars in town that opens at 6am daily, this will be a reliable spot to catch some of the earlier games live. Just be forewarned this place has a lot of loyal regulars and one surly bartender in particular who generally covers the early morning shift. They offer a daily “BJ” special which is a Bud Light and a shot of Jameson for $4. And if you call ahead you can reserve the round “poker table” booth for you and your friends.

Barrel Proof Bar & Restaurant

Barrel Proof

Mission

Best for: Cheap beers, good food, and a side of soccer
This handsome new Mission spot with 30 flat-screen TVs has only been open three months (in the former Cease & Desist space) but they plan to cater to the soccer fan base in the ‘hood as much as they can -- though don’t expect them to open much before 11am until the second or third round, depending on demand. Mondays feature $5 cocktails, drafts, and food and $3 bottles and cans. There’s a special World Cup menu and some other drink specials in the works, but those aren’t finalized so check Facebook for upcoming details. Also, there are barrel-aged cocktails ($16), and the food menu is pretty impressive for a sports bar, with a great chicken karaage sando, and a tuna and rice poke bowl.

Blackthorn Pub

Blackthorn Pub

Inner Sunset

Best for: Those who don't really like the whole "soccer bar" thing
Barrel Proof’s sister pub in the Inner Sunset has a great setup for sports fans with ample seating and 20 TVs, but because this isn’t really known as a soccer bar, this won’t be a go-to for the early-round, early-morning matches. That said, Blackthorn offers some great barrel-aged cocktails ($12) and boasts a nice whiskey selection, and while they don’t serve food, they welcome you to have food delivered with a book of delivery menus up at the front of the bar. They expect to be busy for the semi-final and final matches, but based on the showing during the 2014 World Cup, they’re sticking to regular hours (i.e. opening at 10am on weekends).

The Chieftain

SoMa

Best for: Irish food, tacos, and a good crowd
Workers in SoMa can duck out of the office to catch matches at The Chieftain, where they’ll be airing most of the 11am games live (and opening at 10:45). In addition, they’ll open up for the 9am Peru vs Denmark game on June 16, and at 8am on June 17 for Germany vs. Mexico. There are daily food and drink specials and plenty of hearty Irish fare here, as well as al pastor tacos every Tuesday for $11.

SF Rec and Park

City Hall Plaza

Civic Center

Best for: Family-friendly fun outdoors
As they have for past World Cups in 2010 and 2014, the San Francisco Rec and Parks Department sets up a big screen in the plaza outside City Hall for free family viewing of the biggest, later-round matches. So far they have not posted the schedule of games they’ll be screening, so check the calendar here for updates.

Danny Coyle's

Danny Coyle's

Lower Haight

Best for: Getting rowdy with fans of Germany, England, and Ireland
This Irish sports bar in the Lower Haight -- part of the triumvirate that includes Mad Dog in the Fog and Nickie’s -- can always be counted on to follow soccer, and they say they plan to air each and every game no matter the hour. Judging by crowds that gathered here during the 2010 and 2014 World Cups, Danny Coyle’s will most definitely be a magnet for fans. Despite this being an Irish bar, there’s a big contingent of England fans (they regularly show English Premier League games here), as well as a contingent of Germany fans as well. And there will be drink specials throughout the rounds, TBD.

El Farolito Bar

Mission

Best for: Burritos and Mexican beers
The Mission is going to be on fire with soccer fever as soon as the World Cup starts, but a nexus of Mexican fandom will be El Farolito’s next-door bar, which always opens at 10am but you can bet they’ll be open at 8am when Mexico plays their first match against Germany on Sunday, June 17, and again at 8am on Saturday, June 23 when they play South Korea. Bottled Mexican beers will run you $5 on average, but the built-in bonus here is being able to order up burritos from the taqueria, via the bartender, and have them brought over to you without taking a break from drinking/soccer watching.

The Dubliner Noe Valley

The Dubliner

Noe Valley

Best for: Grabbing a Guinness with the older crowd
Noe Valley soccer fans won’t have to travel further than The Dubliner to watch most of the matches, though the bar doesn’t plan to open before 11am -- except on Sunday, when they regularly open at 10am It’s also the best place in the neighborhood for a properly poured Guinness. There are daily $5 drink specials here, but don’t expect too much of a young crowd -- this place tends to skew a bit older, and is the local pub for many longtime Noe denizens.

Giordano Bros.

Mission

Best for: Brazil fans and good sandwiches
“We had some of the biggest crowds we’ve ever had during the last one,” says a manager at Giordano Bros.’ Mission outpost, which was then just newly open in 2014. Interestingly, this Pittsburgh-centric spot was a magnet for Brazil fans, and that may prove true again, but as a dedicated sports bar, you can bet you’ll find fans of many teams congregating here. Also, they make a mean sandwich, and it comes stuffed with French fries. Drink specials are still TBD, but the bar will be opening early for a lot of the matches, though probably not the earliest ones that kick off before 8am Definitely expect this place to be packed with fans for the later rounds and final matches.

The Irish Bank

The Irish Bank

Financial District

Best for: Grabbing an Irish breakfast
Down in the Financial District you can catch all the 11am and later matches at The Irish Bank, with the exact schedule of games still to be posted on their website. The place is inviting and cozy, with a full food menu including a proper Irish breakfast, and some solid fish and chips.

Curiously, this place has been a draw for fans of Uruguay and Brazil in past years, so look for those contingents to gather for those countries’ matches. The Irish Bank also will consider opening early for the later round matches, depending on interest.

Final Final

Cow Hollow

Best for: Morning beers and early games
This locals-only spot in the Marina is a go-to for all sports seasons, and World Cup season is no exception. With 11 flat screens and a spacious U-shaped bar, as well as draft cocktails, food, and 24 beers on tap, Final Final will have your soccer-watching needs met. The bar plans to open for all of the 7am and 8am games, and there’s always free popcorn available. But the fans here tend to skew younger, i.e. mid 20s.

Hi Tops

Hi Tops

Castro

Best for: Food and fun in an LGBTQ-friendly space
LGBTQ sports fans already know to head to Hi Tops to watch big games in a friendly space. And while the bar doesn’t plan to open earlier than usual (11:30am) for any of the games, they will be showing as many rebroadcasts and live games as possible. The bar boasts 20 HDTVs and ample seating, especially for the die-hard fans who’ll be showing up early. It’s a gay bar but everyone is welcome, and the place has an acclaimed bar food menu that includes brunch items like a breakfast burrito, and an excellent fried chicken sandwich.

The Kezar Pub

Upper Haight

Best for: Beer and wings for breakfast
“Opening at 4am for soccer matches is nothing new for us,” says a manager at The Kezar Pub in the Upper Haight. “We can start serving drinks at 7am.” Also, there’s a full menu of bar food, and who doesn’t love Buffalo wings for breakfast? The passionate soccer fans here don’t all necessarily root for the same teams, but this will be a prime spot to head for games with the earliest start times like France vs Australia on Saturday, June 16, and Colombia vs Japan on Tuesday, June 19. Check the Facebook page for updates on TBA beer and drink specials.

Mad Dog in the Fog

The Mad Dog in the Fog

Lower Haight

Best for: Taking a break from the games in the beer garden
This dedicated soccer-centric bar in the Lower Haight will, as they always have, open for each and every game no matter the hour. The place boasts 16 TVs and some good Buffalo wings, as well as a semi-secret beer garden out back if you need some air. Serious fans of English teams congregate here on the regular, so you can guess that England’s matches will be well attended here. But Barcelona fans also know this place, as do soccer fans generally, so expect a mixed back and lots of screaming “Goooool!”

Minas Brazilian

Hayes Valley

Best for: A delicious caipirinha and Brazilian food
Brazil fans are going to be scattered throughout the city -- and there is a pretty large contingent of Brazilians residing in SF, in case you weren’t aware. But you can bet, as during previous World Cups, there will be some enthusiastic soccer fans gathering at this little Brazilian spot on Franklin off of Market. In addition to some authentic Brazilian food, the bar here has probably the biggest collection of cachacas in the city, and the caipirinhas can’t be beat.

The Napper Tandy

The Napper Tandy

Mission

Best for: Two-for-one margs and burgers
Opening times may vary at this 24th Street Irish pub, but likely the Napper Tandy will be open by 8am for most of the game days -- and this was a popular spot for World Cup viewing back in 2014 (for rooting against England, naturally). Wednesdays feature $4 beers, and Thursdays offer two-for-one margaritas, and every day there’s a food menu featuring some great tater tot nachos, corned beef quesadillas, and solid burgers -- also don’t miss the pork belly Benedict on the weekends.

SF Mix

The Mix

Castro

Best for: Unbeatable drink specials
For gay soccer fans who A) smoke cigarettes, or B) want to catch the earliest games live, The Mix will be the place to go in the Castro. This all-inclusive bar with a very diverse crowd has multiple screens both at the inside bar and on the outside smoking patio, and they open at 7am on weekdays and 6am on the weekends, with or without a World Cup going on. They plan to show as many of the matches as possible, and for the games that kick off at later in the morning, you can take advantage of happy hour starting at noon every day. Drink specials include $2 domestic drafts on Mondays, $3 for any beer on Wednesdays as well s $5.50 Hangar 1 cocktails, and $2.50 Tecates and $5 Tito’s cocktails all day Thursday.

The Pig and Whistle Bar

Inner Richmond

Best for: Getting a proper Guinness
This is a bar where they’ll be rooting for England, but as a bartender tells Thrillist, “We get people of all nationalities in here. For the last World Cup we had a lot of Portuguese and Spanish fans for some reason.” Specific drink specials for the World Cup are still TBD, but they do boast that they “pour one of the best Guinness' in San Francisco,” always with a proper head, and in a 20-ounce glass.

Schroeders SF

Schroeder's

Financial District

Best for: Finding a seat and watching Germany play
For an authentic German beer hall experience, wherein Germany fans can watch their team score, look no further than Schroeder’s down in the Financial District. With a cavernous space and plenty of seating, you likely won’t feel too hemmed in here, but be warned that since this isn’t typically a sports bar, there are only a couple of TV screens up front. The bar plans to show every match that Germany is playing, even the early ones -- and there will be breakfast served for all the morning matches. Drink specials are TBD.

San Francisco Athletic Club

Western Addition

Best for: Finding a TV to play whatever game you're looking for
Divisadero's San Francisco Athletic Club first opened its doors at the opening of the 2014 World Cup, and since then they’ve become one of the top spots in town for watching Giants, Warriors, and 49ers games, and everything else you can think of including plenty of soccer. This place has 28 flat screens including two 80-inchers, and they’ll likely all be tuned to the World Cup once it starts. They’ll be opening for most or all of the games that kick off at 5am, and this is a place that attracts a lot of different fan bases -- but there’s a big Colombian contingent that comes here, so this place could be the prime spot to catch Colombia’s matches against Japan (June 19 at 5am), Poland (June 24 at 11am) and Senegal (June 28 at 7am). They also serve breakfast on weekends, and bar bites always.

Tempest

Tempest Bar

SoMa

Best for: The casual watcher who enjoys a great burger
This bustling SoMa dive is a go-to spot for Giants watching, but they’ll be airing as many World Cup games post-11am as they can, for soccer fans in the ‘hood. They won’t, however, be opening any earlier than that. Drinks are pretty cheap here in general, especially for SoMa, and the place has an attached food window called The Box that makes an excellent burger, which you can bring into the bar to eat.

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