Food & Drink

Where SF Bartenders Drink: 60 Bartender-Approved Bars

Published On 06/04/2015 Published On 06/04/2015
Loló

Bartenders know way more (WAY MORE) about bars than anyone we know. So we surveyed 18 of San Francisco’s best ones for their recommendations -- the places they hang out during their precious few nights off, from shot-and-a-beer dives and artisan cocktail dens, to exclusive clubs and historic SF institutions. These are the 60 spots that earned their stamps of drink-pproval.

15 Romolo

North Beach
“The quintessential bartenders’ bar in North Beach.” - John Codd, Gaspar Brasserie

“A definite trendsetter with way better food than you'd expect and they always make me feel like I am coming home.” - Larry Piaskowy, The Alembic

“Probably hands down the best in Sherry cocktails across the country. Tucked away in an alley in North Beach, but not to be missed. A very talented crew of bartenders that create an inventive, but approachable cocktail menu. Go early in the week as the weekends tend to get very, very busy.” - Kevin Diedrich, BDK

Melissa Chow/ABV

ABV

Mission
“Coors Banquet Beer and amazing burgers, after a nice long work shift. Game over.” - John Codd, Gaspar Brasserie
 

Bar Agricole

SoMa
“Sitting in front of Craig Lane is a lesson in hospitality.” - John Codd, Gaspar Brasserie

Daisy Barringer

BDK Restaurant & Bar

Tenderloin
“The cocktail program there is really amazing and you get great service from any of the bartenders working there. The food is also delicious and it's great for sharing. The beers on tap are also a plus, especially the Fort Point taps. Kevin Diedrich is also nice to look at.” - Brian Means, Dirty Habit

Grant Marek/Thrillist

Benjamin Cooper

Tenderloin
“It's hard to find, but that adds to its charm. They boast an always-rotating cocktail list and if there isn't something on the list that sounds good -- I'll find it hard to believe -- but you can always throw a few words at them and they'll come up with something awesome to put in your mouth.” - Kai Villegas, Brewcade

“My new favorite spot in SF: great cocktails, intimate space, and very entertaining bartenders that know their way around the spirit world and the human palate.” - Christina Henderson, 398 Brasserie

“I’ll have whatever Mo (Hodges) is making.” - Josh Trabulsi, Burritt Room

“Mo and Brian are doing great things. And they’re super fun.” - Ken Luciano, Forgery
 

Beretta

Mission
“Beautiful and inspired cocktails plus late-night mortadella plus Barolo Chinato.” - Nora Furst, Lolinda
 

The Big 4

Nob Hill
“
My favorite cocktail spot. If you wanna get dressed up and have a cocktail, this is the definitive place. Martinis and Negronis are a must. Ty and Jeff are hands down two of the classiest bartenders in the city.” - Jonny Raglin, Comstock Saloon

“... I hope it stays the same for years to come. The theme literally chronicles our city’s forefathers, as the walls are decorated with City heirlooms. It’s interesting, it’s classy, and Willie Brown mentions an experience at The Big 4 in the first chapter of his memoir. When the former mayor approves of the Big 4, who am I to argue?” - Eric Passetti, Cafe Terminus, Rx, Natoma Cabana

Blackbird

Blackbird Bar

Upper Market
“My favorite cocktail in SF is the Leather Bound Book at Blackbird... it tastes remarkably like the name implies.” - Larry Piaskowy, The Alembic
 

Bow Bow Cocktail Lounge

Chinatown
“I approved of Bow Bow in Chinatown following my first experience where an over-served customer wet his pants and was chased out the door by a 60-year-old lady wielding a vintage wooden baseball bat in an evening gown. Subsequent visits have been similar... and the price of a Tsingtao is different every time.” - Eric Passetti, Natoma Cabana, Rx, Cafe Terminus

Joe Starkey

Brass Tacks

Hayes Valley
“My favorite neighborhood bar. Matty and Anthony have successfully established their identity in Hayes Valley as the definitive watering hole.” - Jonny Raglin, Comstock Saloon
 

Burritt Room

Union Square
“My go-to spot. Everyone who works there is awesome. You know you’ll get a good drink.” - Ken Luciano, Forgery
 

Casanova Lounge

Mission
“Still a Mission classic. It’s where I hung out before I opened Elixir.” - H. Joseph Ehrmann, Elixir
 

Club Deluxe

Upper Haight
“I wouldn’t change a thing about Deluxe. It’s a bit worn, but not in a way that requires updating -- the ware fits the vibe. I like the idea of a bar dedicated to jazz music; it’s the type of place to turn your cell phone off and be alone with you thoughts. No TVs, no bros; just people who are there for the same reason you are, a little distraction and relief from reality.” - Eric Passetti, Natoma Cabana, Rx, Cafe Terminus

Comstock

Comstock Saloon

North Beach
“Tasty tidbits, classic cocktails, sassy bartenders, and great tunes. Also: free lunch with purchase of two adult beverages.” - Christina Henderson, 398 Brasserie

“When you need a really well-made cocktail and a bite to eat. One of my all-time favorites.” - Jacques Bezuidenhout, Forgery

“About as good as it gets when you want a straight-forward bar experience, good bites, and a classic saloon.” - H. Joseph Ehrmann, Elixir
 

Dirty Habit

SOMA
“The re-concepted Fifth Floor is now a destination bar for all that come to the city. One of the biggest selections of spirits in the city, it also has a very inventive cocktail menu. The cocktails might bring you here, but the food will make you stay all night. A great combination of great drinks and food that should not be missed.” - Kevin Diedrich, BDK
 

Doc's Clock

Mission
“The best kind of dive, a place for anyone and everyone. Jägermeister, shuffleboard, and well-seasoned fixtures.” - Nora Furst, Lolinda

Grant Marek/Thrillist

Dogwood

Oakland
“Awesome drinks, but they’re dedicated to keeping it neighborhood-based so it’s really affordable. Well drinks for just $5 and a dozen specialty cocktails for $8 or $9.” - Vita Simone, Benjamin Cooper
 

Drexl

Oakland
“This is a beautiful bar with a big enough space to go with a whole crew. My favorite days are Sunday and Monday when Alex Condé works -- his dealer’s choice drinks are awesome.” -Vita Simone, Benjamin Cooper
 

Elbo Room

Mission
“The first bar I ever went to in SF and still a gorgeous spot. It’ll be a real shame when it’s replaced by a condo building, so get there now.” - H. Joseph Ehrmann, Elixir
 

Emperor Norton’s Boozeland

Tenderloin
“From the creators of Bender's Bar comes this little rock & roll gem. Stiff drinks, a fun selection of games, and a spacious back patio that's great for day drinking.” - Christina Henderson, 398 Brasserie
 

Flora

Oakland
“It seems like a simple idea now to be able to go to a great bar with great cocktails, great bartenders, and great food, but it wasn't always that way. When these guys opened, everyone had to elevate their game. Years later, they're still cranking.” - Dustin Sullivan, Fog City

Forgery

Forgery

Mid-Market
“It's newly opened, but Ken Luciano and Jacques Bezuidenhout have put together a beautiful bar with a great list of cocktails and beers that represent their style. There's always a friendly face behind the bar and a cold beer or cocktail waiting for you.” - Brian Means, Dirty Habit
 

Gino and Carlo

North Beach
“Old-school bar [that] opens at 6am. The owner is ALWAYS there and is such a character.” - Ken Luciano, Forgery
 

Hard Water

Embarcadero
“Whiskey! Lots of whiskey.” - John Codd, Gaspar Brasserie
 

Hideout (at Dalva)

Mission
“Awesome cocktail bar with a dive bar feel where you can find Bar Manager of Lazy Bear, Nicolas Torres, testing out new mixes.” - Kai Villegas, Brewcade

“Great dive with a great beer selection and badass cocktails. I love bringing groups and hanging in the upstairs room.” - Matt Grippo, Blackbird Bar

The Hog's Apothecary

The Hog's Apothecary

Oakland
“This is THE place when looking for brewery-fresh beer that you've never had or that you want more of. Sayre Piotrkowski is always on the lookout for the freshest beer and that makes for an amazing beer-drinking experience. They also have some amazing food. Go there for brunch -- it’ll make your taste buds explode.” - Kai Villegas, Brewcade
 

Holy Water

Bernal Heights
“Small, quaint bar in Bernal Heights. Wonderful cocktails, homey vibe. Friday nights they have a BBQ station. It’s a great place to chill.” - Justin Carr, Tosca Café, Forgery

“Great classic cocktails, excellent beer list, stumbling distance from my house.” - Nora Furst, Lolinda
 

Hopwater Distribution

Nob Hill
“A wide selection of rotating taps with some of the most friendly bartenders in the city. They’re maybe only pouring beer, but they provide great conversation and know how to work a busy bar. A favorite of mine since it sits in my backyard.” - Kevin Diedrich, BDK
 

Hotsy Totsy Club

Albany
“Cocktails, tacos, and an amazing back bar. It’s always worth the journey.” - John Codd, Gaspar Brasserie

The Interval at Long Now

The Interval

Fort Mason
“Sometimes I need a bit of intelligence when I’m drinking. I don't get to The Interval nearly as often as I would like to, but it's been on my mind a lot. Very well designed and the drink list reads like a book in a good way. You can get a small history lesson while reading it and it pays respects to modern and vintage bartenders. The space is beautiful and stimulating and if you come on the right night, you can sit in on lectures about long-term thinking and the like.” - Matt Grippo, Blackbird Bar
 

Loló

Mission
“This is my spot. Where we go to wil’ out. Also, amazing food.” - Justin Carr, Tosca Café, Forgery
 

Lone Palm

Mission
“One of those out-of-the-way bars that still feels like it did years ago. Makes you feel like you’re somewhere maybe you shouldn’t be.” - H. Joseph Ehrmann, Elixir
 

Louie's Bar & Grill

FiDi
“The ultimate industry bar. The energy is good, the drinks are strong, and the bar food comes from a Michael Mina veteran. Count me in.” - Dustin Sullivan, Fog City
 

Lucky 13

Duboce Triangle
“Cheap canned beer, whiskey, and punk rock. I like those things.”  - Larry Piaskowy, The Alembic

Amy Copperman/Thrillist

Madrone Art Bar

Divisadero
“I always loved the vibe at Madrone. Great neighborhood vibe, but very driven by art and nightly events. Check out some art or live music, grab a beer, or the Ike Turner, if you’re feeling up to it.” - Matt Grippo, Blackbird Bar
 

Make Westing

Oakland
“Where Oakland goes to meet. It’s a great crowd and very diverse. This spot caters to all. And they have a good liquor selection, nice snacks, and bocce ball.” -Vita Simone, Benjamin Cooper
 

Marina Lounge

Marina
“If you're craving a beer and a shot, there are no better bartenders to get it from. These guys have been behind the plank since before you were drinking Pedialyte. You will become a regular on your first visit.” - Dustin Sullivan, Fog City
 

Mill Valley Beerworks

Mill Valley
“This place is on absolutely NO ONE'S radar, but they are cooking some of the most heartfelt, rustic California cuisine anywhere. Pair that with a beautifully curated beer menu and you have a once-a-week kind of spot for me.” - Dustin Sullivan, Fog City
 

Missouri Lounge

Berkeley
“A dive bar with a huge patio. This is the place you can chill and drink in a corner, so it’s a huge industry spot.” - Vita Simone, Benjamin Cooper

Flickr/Jamie

Mucky Duck

Inner Sunset
“Good beer selection, reasonably priced whiskey, sports on small TVs -- it reminds me of the South Side of Chicago.”  - Larry Piaskowy, The Alembic
 

The New Parish

Uptown Oakland
“The drinks are simple, but it’s got an awesome front patio and live music. I’m there almost every Sunday.” - Vita Simone, Benjamin Cooper

Alanna Hale

Nopa

Divisadero
“Nopa. Hands down the place where I have consumed the most food and beverage in the six years I've lived here. One of my favorite cocktails in the entire city and beyond is the Eucharist. Simple, elegant, three ingredients. Yanni (Kehagiaras) has a skill with simple cocktails I don't see often.” - Matt Grippo, Blackbird Bar

“I live one block from Nopa, so it is my haven away from work and home. I probably go there just a little too much. Not only is everything consistently good, but they also have the Blue Bottle cocktail. I order it with Santa Maria rum and it's amazing, basically a fancy espresso martini.” - Shirley Brooks, The European

“My absolute go-to is Nopa. I love it there." - Christina Cabrera, Old Bus Tavern
 

The Occidental

North Beach
“I'm not too much of a smoker, but I do enjoy the occasional cigar. It's nice to get over here after work and have a shot and a beer with a good cigar.” - Brian Means, Dirty Habit
 

Pop's Bar

Mission
“A dive bar done well. Good setup, simple offerings, friendly neighborhood feel, but without the bad vibes that come with other dives. I hear they have a fun bingo night occasionally.” - Matt Grippo, Blackbird Bar
 

Prizefighter

Emeryville
“I started as a customer and loved it so much, I asked for a job. I tend to do that at every place I’ve worked. This is a big industry hangout. They have a really educated staff. 670 bottles of liquor, eight draught beers, and a beautiful patio.” - Vita Simone, Benjamin Cooper

Royal Cuckoo

Mission
“My favorite hideout bar. Dimly lit, proper Manhattans, killer vinyl, an organ. Yes. Yes. Yes.” - Jonny Raglin, Comstock Saloon
 

Rye

Tenderloin
“You're bound to run into a number of awesome bartenders on either side of the bar. It’s where bartenders go to drink” - Christina Henderson, 398 Brasserie

“What a great room to drink in, always great bartenders and good spirits.”  - Larry Piaskowy, The Alembic

“THE local watering hole. A classic. It hosts a bunch of bartending competitions.” - Vita Simone, Benjamin Cooper

“One of my favorite go-to bars here in the city. Solid cocktails and even better bartenders. They treat everyone like they're in the industry and I think that's a big deal to a lot of consumers. Vince might also be able to teach you what ‘Kickin' Chicken’ is, too, if you ask nicely.” - Brian Means, Dirty Habit
 

Shanghai Kelly’s

Russian Hill
“It’s a Steelers bar! So it was my home when I first moved here. Great neighborhood bar. I still love it.” - Ken Luciano, Forgery

Flickr/Bentley Smith

The Slanted Door

Embarcadero
“My favorite restaurant bar. Erik Adkins is still the best. The food is still the best. The service is always top notch.” - Jonny Raglin, Comstock Saloon
 

Smuggler’s Cove

Hayes Valley
“If I could go here every day I would. When a bar can make you actually feel like you're escaping the city and are transplanted somewhere else, they're doing something right. Not to mention their cocktails are on point, Demerara Dry Float? Yes please.” - Brian Means, Dirty Habit

Flickr/nadja robot

Specs

Chinatown
“Just go. No explanation needed. And when you’re done, go across the street to Mr. Bing’s.” - H. Joseph Ehrmann, Elixir
 

Summer Place

Tenderloin
“Love this divey, hole in the wall. A classic.” - Jacques Bezuidenhout, Forgery
 

Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant

Outer Richmond
“The best for tequila and margaritas.” - Jacques Bezuidenhout, Forgery
 

Trick Dog

Mission
“Innovative drinks, warm bar staff, good food, open late.” - Nora Furst, Lolinda
 

Trou Normand

FiDi
“Their charcuterie tastes like angels made it, and they are making some of the cleanest, most refined cocktails I've ever tasted -- not just in San Francisco, but in the entire country.” - Dustin Sullivan, Fog City

“Best charcuterie in the city in my opinion with a great Brandy-focused bar program. Thad Vogler nails this concept on the head with his simple approach to cocktails and his bar. Very clean, crisp, and to-the-point cocktails. No fuss here.” - Kevin Diedrich, BDK
 

Uptown

Mission
“My fave dive bar. It used to be my local bar and 10 years later, still has the same bartenders. It's a shining example of how things used to be in the Mission.” - Jonny Raglin, Comstock Saloon

Flickr/Digital Archaeology

Vesuvio Café

North Beach
“I lived in North Beach for a stint and this was always a great place to meet some people or blend in with locals. Located on Kerouac Alley, I used to daydream about drinking with ol' Jack back in the beatnik days.” - Matt Grippo, Blackbird Bar
 

The Wild Side West

Bernal Heights
“Awesome neighborhood bar, funky garden out back, salty bartenders, Missy Elliott on the jukebox, pool table. Enough said.” - Nora Furst, Lolinda

Joe Starkey

Wingtip

FiDi
“Not the most accessible bar in the city, but if you get the chance to get up to the 10th floor, it's well worth it. Brian MacGregor has curated a very impressive whiskey selection along with a very approachable cocktail menu.” - Kevin Diedrich, BDK
 

Zuni

Upper Market
“When inside of an attractive restaurant, I suppose it’s easy to overlook the bar, but at Zuni the bar is a centerpiece. Before entering the restaurant you can see the bottles from Market St, not to mention I have a lot of respect for a place that’s never had bar stools. The back bar is carefully selected, and they’ve been making cocktails well since before that was a thing. It’s the type of restaurant bar where both weird friends and parents will approve.” - Eric Passetti, Natoma Cabana, Rx, Cafe Terminus

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Amy Copperman is a drinker, I mean, writer in San Francisco. She’ll have whatever they’re having.

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