The Best Bars in San Francisco Right Now
San Francisco has an abundance of things that seem too good to be true. There are endless amounts of hills with gorgeous views. There are countless adorable puppies just begging to be pet. There are so many good burrito spots that we are actually able to have endless arguments about which is the best. Plus: hikes, skiing just a few hours away, epic surfing, and dim sum and burgers and glorious weirdos and everything else that makes us love this place so much. But especially, the copious amounts of bars.
There are wine bars, dive bars, roof bars, cocktail bars, video game bars, beer bars, sake bars, etc etc etc. Basically, if you want a drink, you don’t have to look too far, too high, or too low. But if you want one of the best drinks with the best vibes, then consider checking out one of these spots, a few of which are newcomers in the past year, and most of which are tried and true favorites that will never disappoint.
Lower Nob Hill
A low-key bar with lots of light, ample seating, and affordable cocktails
One of SF’s newest and popular drinking destinations, Peacekeeper, a cocktail bar from the guys behind Harper & Rye, wows on several fronts. First, there’s the retractable glass skylight that opens when the weather cooperates. When the weather is uncooperative, and the fog rolls in, there’s a fireplace to warm up by. There’s also plenty of seating, a pool table in the back, a cozy nook upstairs with skee ball, and a general open airy vibe that you don’t find at a lot of bars in the town. The cocktails are affordable (for SF, anyway) and favor tequila and mezcal (the idea for the spot came about while in Oaxaca), and there’s also a decent selection of beer and wine. As far as food goes, the only option is chips and salsa, but that works for us. After all, whom amongst us hasn’t filled up on chips and salsa in order to leave more money for drinking?
A sexy lounge with unique cocktails that’s perfect when someone else is picking up the bill
On the fourth floor of ONE65, a quad-level culinary destination with a different French-inspired concept on each floor, is Elements, a swanky lounge with low-lighting, comfortable seats, and gorgeous cocktails worthy of potentially offending your date by pulling out your phone and snapping a pic. For a first date, grab a seat at one of the plush lounge chairs by the window. For a second or third date, find a seat at a cozy candlelit booth. The cocktails are organized by the four elements: fire (bold and spirited), water (vivid and refreshing), earth (verdant and terrene), and air (light and ethereal), and there’s also a selection of snacks and small plates, like oysters, charcuterie, and jamon iberico, as well as a couple of larger options, like a roasted chicken and steak au poivre. For those who don’t have tech money, this is definitely a special occasion spot as cocktails average around $17 and a beef burger will set you back $27
A colorful lounge with seasonal cocktails and creative dim sum
This “lunar-inspired lounge” above Michelin-starred Mister Jiu’s is opulent with dramatically tall red velvet booths, a circular moon gate-esque entrance, soft lighting, comfortable seating, and enough space (5,000-square-feet) so that it always feels welcoming and never overly crowded and works well for groups or duos. The food and drink menus are completely different from what you’ll find downstairs with gorgeous seasonal cocktails inspired by the Chinese lunar calendar and an elevated spin on dim sum favorites, including a few surprises like “chicken in a space suit” xiao, which is basically a very fancy and very tasty take on pigs in a blanket.
This bustling rooftop bar atop the Virgin Hotel draws crowds from all over the Bay Area
Once upon a time in the not-so-distant past, SF barely had any rooftop bars. Frankly, that makes a lot of sense for a city that is routinely draped in a dense fog and requires one to have several layers accessible at all times. But lately temps have been heating up, and so the addition of a few more rooftop bars (Charmaine’s, Rooftop 25, and now Everdene) are quite welcome. Everdene was an instant hit, but what else would one expect from a bar on the 12th story roof of the new Virgin Hotels San Francisco that boasts a DJ and views of the skyline? Despite being 4,000 square feet, Everdene is almost always packed with a crowd, especially after work, but because seating is plentiful, you won’t have to stand for long (unless you’re there to see and be seen, in which case you’ll want to remain front and center in the bar area). The drinks are what you’d expect to find in an SF cocktail bar, but are approachable (and don’t take forever to make since the bartenders are accommodating high volumes of people). There’s also a small snack menu, but our rec is to start with drinks at Everdene and then move downstairs to Commonwealth, the sexy restaurant right off of the lobby, for dinner.
Financial District/Jackson Square
A European-inspired wine bar and bottle shop unlike anything else in SF
We named this wine bar, bistro, and bottle shop from the restaurateur duo behind three-Michelin star Quince and Cotogna as one of SF’s best restaurant openings in 2019, but we’d be remiss in our duty as drinkers if we didn’t also give it a spot on this list of best bars. It’s found enormous popularity for good reasons, mostly the fantastic list of natural wines, as well as a satisfying menu of small and large dishes, like house-made charcuterie, the beloved pate en croute, and butter-slathered stak. The atmosphere feels very Paris-meets-SF, but without any off-putting pretension. Rather, you can make your experience at Verjus what you want: pop in for a casual drink after work or stay and linger for dinner. And, of course, don’t leave without a visit to the retail shop.
Est. 1913 | Cow Hollow
A historic watering hole that serves hard-to-find wines and vodka sodas to a crowd of all ages
Balboa is probably the most controversial addition to this list, but whatever your feelings about the Cow Hollow establishment and the patrons who frequent it, there’s no denying that there’s a reason there’s a standing-room only crowd most evenings. Sure, a part of that is the fact that Balboa has a bit of a “meat market” reputation, but another part of that is the professional bartenders who manage the crowds with a smile, the exceptional wine list, and a kitchen that consistently delivers solid food, including one of the best burgers in SF and, on Wednesday nights only, that famous chicken paillard.
Est. 2018 | Mission
An adventurous bar with tropical cocktails and Chinese food
Obviously, the guys behind Trick Dog couldn’t open a second location and not have it be an instant success, which is exactly what happened with Bon Voyage, a bi-level bar in the Mission with an Asian/African safari-meets-Palm Springs disco party. Every detail is carefully chosen, from the exotic animal statues to the selection of glassware to the glittering disco ball that hangs from the ceiling. The Tiki-ish cocktail menu is extensive, and all of the drinks consist of housemade ingredients and high-end spirits, most of which also benefit from an explanation from the bartender. There’s also a menu of tasty Chinese fare, like dumplings, kung pao chicken, and fried pork spring rolls, which somehow manage to make perfect sense along the drinks.
Est. 2013 | Mission
A rooftop bar in the heart of the Mission with sunshine, city views, and pitchers of margaritas
As soon as the temps soar in SF, people start lining up for a table at El Techo, a bar atop sister restaurant Lolinda with copious amounts of sunshine, views of the city that remind you why you pay so much in rent, plus Latin American street food and cocktails. Best of all, when the sun goes down, the heat lamps and wind screens go up, which means that one can enjoy this friendly spot rain or shine.
Est. 2018 | Mission
A laid-back cocktail bar from the folks behind Lazy Bear with craveable comfort food and exceptional cocktails
True Laurel fancies itself a cocktail bar. And while the boozy beverages are thoughtful, utilize unique liquors and ingredients, and absolutely make the buzzy space worth a visit, it would be a shame to go there and not indulge in some of the comfort food, all of which is exactly what you wish you could make for yourself at home after a night out at the bar or a joint shared with friends, but is leaps and bounds above your go-to oven nachos (specifically, the patty melt which will make your heart melt after just one bite). But this is about drinks, so just know that Nicolas Torres, who is responsible for those and is also a cocktail mastermind, consistently creates forward-thinking cocktails that impress and delight.
Est. 1998 | North Beach
The perfect cocktail bar to take your friends, your parents, and even your parents’ friends
Long the haunt of industry folk all over because of its consistently good cocktails, great late-night food menu, and slightly off-the-beaten-path-yet central location, 15 Romolo is essentially the bar version of your oldest and most reliable friend. Cool enough for judgmental hip people wearing beanies in temperate weather, but accessible enough that you could take your dad there and he wouldn’t embarrass you by asking the waiter to “turn off that EDM crap,” it is the Swiss Army knife of SF bars, and should be in your pocket at all times.
Est. 2006 | Upper Haight
This Upper Haight bar was making craft cocktails before they were even called craft cocktails
One of the revolutionary cocktail bars in the city, Alembic was hip to the tinctures and shrubs and house-made fresh ingredients in 2006, long before the cocktail revolution made sure the word “crafted” was tattooed onto every new place as part of a marketing plan. And with their recent expansion and revitalized food menu, it remains the freshest drinking and eating destination on Haight, assuming you can navigate through the fauxhemians and Lost Sk8er Boi set.
Est. 1998 | Hayes Valley
An excellent spot for a pre- or post-theater/opera/ballet cocktail
The bar that became the standard-bearer for the emergence of Hayes Valley as one of the most dynamic drinking and eating destinations in town opened in 1998 and has maintained its place as the anchor of the entire scene. The brasserie-like bar is one of the most satisfying happy hour destinations in the city, a place where you can get a fantastic French 75 or Sazerac and some oysters and feel powerful and handsome. Oh and they’re absinthe-based drinks are pretty damn good too.
Est. 2014 | Mission
Industry folks head here after work for cocktails and late-night bites
With so many bars opening in the Mission on what seems like a daily basis, it can be hard to stand out, but from the beginning, ABV has shone. Considering the pedigree of its owners (Beretta bartender + Dalva owner + Bourbon & Branch bartender), this shouldn’t be a surprise, but even so, they managed to outkick their quite impressive and extensive coverage, and quickly become the all-around go-to Mission bar. Feel (kind of) healthy and drink their Gin & Celery. Or feel not healthy and eat their grass-fed New Fuckin Burger, with white cheddar cheese, red onion, lettuce, pickles, and special sauce, all loaded up on a Japanese sweet potato bun. Either way, every decision at ABV feels like a good one.
Est. 1941 | Upper Haight
A SF gem with a vintage vibe and killer martinis
Bruno is no longer there, ruling the bar with his somewhat frustrating and similarly exhilarating rules: DON’T sit at the tables. NO more than two drinks per customer. Only order martinis. The Arabian Nights-themed Haight bar is now more relaxed, but owner Bob Clarke has recognized there’s little value in changing a good thing and so it maintains its Moorish vibe, excellent jukebox, and yes, they still make a damn good martini.
Est. 2015 | Union Square
A (somewhat) hidden bar that serves up hand-crafted cocktails and fresh oysters
Let’s be honest: Union Square can be horrible, a terrible tourist swarm of big-box shopping and stupidly expensive restaurants and bad places to drink. But amongst all of that sadness, there is hope in the form of Benjamin Cooper: a small cocktail and oyster bar from the team behind beloved and tiny (and now gone) Big, hidden away upstairs in the Hotel G and serving some of the most creative and delicious drinks you can find anywhere in the city.
Est. 2006 | Tenderloin
Reservations are required at this modern speakeasy-inspired bar where the handcrafted libations well worth the wait
In the beginning, there were no such thing as craft cocktails. But then Bourbon & Branch opened and offered up something different: a speakeasy-style bar. A reservation system. Cocktails that were meticulous and historical and intensely delicious and different. They were at the forefront of what became a national trend that is such a part of our public drinking consciousness now it’s hard to ever remember a time when it didn’t exist. Alums from Bourbon & Branch have snaked out all over the country, creating a family tree of great cocktail bars. But this entire list wouldn’t make sense if we didn’t pay homage to the patriarch.
Est. 2017 | Mid-Market
San Francisco’s sexiest rooftop bar... by leaps and bounds
This rooftop terrace bar at The Proper Hotel has definite LA vibes, but the skyline views, as well as the oh-so-necessary fire pits and heat lamps are pure San Francisco. The cocktails were all created by Josh Harris and Morgan Schick of BV Hospitality, so they’re obviously exceptionally creative and vibrant, and the design comes from Kelly Wearstler, so you know it also fits that bill. Sorry all other SF rooftop bars, but Charmaine’s is now the rooftop bar to beat.
Est. 2007 | Crocker-Amazon/Excelsior
The vibe is laid-back, but the whiskey selection is serious
The Crocker-Amazon/Excelsior area is something of a cocktail ghost town -- mostly fast-food joints and taco stands and gas stations -- but amongst all of that, Broken Record is a diamond in a rough 'hood. With a dead-serious list of whiskey and bourbon, a solid selection of local beers, and great food in the back, it is a triple threat in an area which would gladly accept even singles and doubles.
Est. 1907 | North Beach
This reimagined turn-of-the-century saloon offers classic cocktails with a twist and live music every night
In the madness where Chinatown and North Beach intersect, amongst cheesy tourist traps and dental offices, there exists a soothing respite in Comstock, with fantastic cocktails, affordable and creative beer-and-shot combos, good food, live music with no cover, and fancy-looking ceiling fans that can put you in a trance if you stare at them for too long. Stop by on Friday afternoons when the purchase of two cocktails gets you lunch on the house.
Est. 2017 | Union Square
Art deco décor, French-inspired fare, and some of the best cocktails you’ll find in San Francisco
Inside the Hotel Bijou on Mason Street is a bar and restaurant that manages to be totally glamorous and completely unpretentious all at the same time. Grab a seat at the bar where Adam Chapman’s unconventional, chef-driven cocktails feature unusual ingredients and techniques that will make you think about boozy beverages in a whole new way. You can experience them the same way you dine -- tapas style -- which is what we recommend if you want to truly taste the magic that is Gibson’s bar program.
Est. 2009 | Mission
A cozy hidden bar perfect for a third date
There is something enchanting about just getting to the Hideout. Just at the back of the great bar Dalva, beyond the bathrooms is one of the finest tiny cocktail joints in the city, with maybe five stools at the bar and an ever-changing list of classic and creative drinks. Once you order at the bar and then steal away to an almost pitch-black space upstairs, you feel like you’re drinking in a cool person’s attic.
Est. 2014 | Fort Mason
A decidedly unique coffee shop/bar/museum/library with unusual art and views of the Golden Gate Bridge
The words “hidden gem” get thrown around a lot, but this coffee shop by day, cocktail bar by night is genuinely hidden, jutting out over the water deep in the confines of Fort Mason. But once you do find it, you’ll also find one of the most well-curated and interesting cocktail lists in the city, written by one of the biggest cocktail geeks in said city, who was described to me by Trick Dog’s Scott Baird as a true “bartender’s bartender.”
Est. 1937 | Chinatown
A come-as-you-are dive where the drinks are stiff and the locals play dice
Do you like lanterns? Do you like seedy hangs that have been around since the 1930s that look like they were built by someone who was trying to describe a dive bar and all of a sudden confused it with a tiki bar? Do you like drinking Chinese Mai Tais with questionable mystery Chinese liquor in it? Or maybe a Purple Rain, which just consists of six kinds of booze and possibly some sweet and sour mix? Do you like '80s power ballads playing on the juke box? Well, you damn well should, because Li Po is a Chinatown legend. But, um, maybe don’t order the Purple Rain, actually.
Est. 2013 | Tenderloin
A beer mecca where patrons can be certain every pour is a perfect pour
MB is a Danish spot with 42 beers on tap (including four Mikkellers, unique to this location) and two cask-conditioned ales, served at three different temperatures, depending on the style of beer. Yeah, they take this stuff seriously... so seriously, in fact, that all of the beers on tap are managed by a system dubbed the Flux Capacitor, which controls the exact mix of nitrogen and carbon dioxide used for each tap (no lightning required). There’s also a “secret” downstairs cellar dedicated exclusively to sours. It gets better: Mikkeller Bar isn’t just about the beer. No, there’s also an awesome food menu that involves lots and lots of delicious meat.
Est. 2008 | Mission
A neighborhood tavern for anyone who loves beer and wants to learn more about it
The nice person’s beer bar. Monk’s isn’t large, but it’s vast and obscure collection of beers would be downright intimidating in the wrong hands. Luckily, the bartenders at Monk’s are a friendly bunch, eager and excited to help walk you through all the strange sours, stouts, saisons, and other types of beer that don’t even begin with an S. On top of that, they have a kick-ass food menu (get the pretzels with the beer cheese) and even added some outdoor seats, for those gloriously rare sunny SF days where drinking good beer outside is all but mandatory.
Est. 2006 | Alamo Square
A lively restaurant best known for its burger and outstanding cocktails
Yes, Nopa is a restaurant, and a damn popular one at that. But it also happens to be one of the great bars of San Francisco, with inspired cocktails that change frequently (they once went through a phase of Wu-Tang based drinks and it was glorious) and some of the best bar snacks in Northern California (yes, that includes Sacramento). It is the rare classic place that feels both new and comfortable every time you go there. Now bring back those Wu-Tang drinks.
Est. 2016 | Union Square
Approachable, but unusual cocktails from one of SF’s most popular bartenders
P.C.H is where we go when we’re in the mood for an exceptional cocktail without any of the pretense. The drinks are the brainchild of partner and manager Kevin Diedrich who is known for creating drinks that are affordable and approachable, but also anything but boring. There’s a wide selection of tiki-inspired drinks, but the menu (organized by spirit) really does have something for everyone. You can get a good sense of what to expect from the menu descriptions and accompanying illustrations, but if you aren’t sure what to order, just ask one of the friendly bartenders who will help guide you in the right direction (not like there’s a wrong one though).
Est. 2006 | Tenderloin
The basil gimlet is a must-order at this bar where weekend patrons go to see and be seen
One of the most underrated bars in SF, Rye has quietly been making great cocktails in the Tenderloin for many years now, and it remains one of the most versatile bars in the city -- a great place to go with a group and play pool, or sit by yourself at the bar and inquire about all their different concoctions.
Est. 2009 | Hayes Valley
Yo-ho-ho and over 200 bottles of rum
“Martin Cate is a rum and exotic cocktail expert.” That’s the first sentence introducing you to Cate on his website, and it is accurate (he also has a book on Tiki culture, and it is fascinating). Smuggler’s Cove is his playground -- a pirate-themed Tiki haven filled with amazing kitsch and some of the best tiki drinks in the country. Come early (and often) though -- there is no standing room once the 49-seat capacity is reached.
Est. 2017 | Pacific Heights
This much-needed bar in Pacific Heights nails it with a trifecta of cocktails, beer, and food
This part of Fillmore Street has been in dire need of an awesome bar with exceptional cocktails, quality beer, and tasty fare for as long as we can remember, which is why the arrival of The Snug was so thrilling. Tuck into one of the nooks and sip on contemporary versions of cocktails made with in-house ingredients from or a rotating selection of beers (14 on tap and more in bottles). Comforting, affordable bar fare comes in the form of tater tots, popcorn chicken, and a satisfying burger. Basically, it’s the kind of place that can easily become a second home... even if it’s not close to your first one.
Est. 2013 | Dogpatch
All aboard for the cocktails and jerky at this train station-inspired bar
The Dogpatch is a strange area, dislocated from the rest of the city by 280, and isolated along the water south of AT&T Park. But Third Rail -- from Phil West and Jeff Lyon, of Range fame -- brings you right back into the fold. Innovative cocktails that aren’t ridiculously expensive, a solid beer-and-shot selection (the Rail Shot is always a good move), and homemade jerky make it worth seeking out that patch of land allegedly once rife with dogs.
Est. 1965 | Outer Richmond
The best margaritas in San Francisco. Period.
Though the name says restaurant, trust me, you’re not coming for the food, which plays a side role to the finest tequila lineup in the Bay Area, and what many consider the best margarita in the country. But still get the food, because eating a few tacos will fortify you for another round of margaritas.
Est. 1987 | Lower Haight
It’s worth dealing with the surly bartenders to enjoy the excellent selection of hard-to-find craft beer
The challenging attitude and open disdain practiced by the bartenders and regulars upon helpless newbies who don’t have a strong command of the craft beer scene can be a turnoff at this famous dive beer bar, and there are plenty of great beer bars in the city that will welcome you with much more open arms. But you can’t ignore the fact that Toronado helped to shape and much improve the SF beer scenes, and is one of its founding fathers, and so it has a place on this list. But like any tough father, expect to have to work for its affection.
Est. 2013 | Mission
You’ll find some of the most creative cocktails in all of SF at this trendy Mission staple
One of the best and more creative and innovative cocktail bars in the entire country sits right in the Mission. The Bon Vivants are so damn confident in their ability to produce crowd-pleasing cocktails that they scrap the menu every six months and do something completely different, complete with new crazy menus (they’ve used old record sleeves, Chinese-American takeout menus, a tourist map, etc.). They also happen to have one of the best burgers in the city. It looks like a hot dog. Don’t be scared, you’re in good hands here.
Est. 2015 | Tenderloin
A stunning bar with the largest selection of gin in all of North America
The second of Martin Cate’s joints on the list is an ode to gin, with a steampunk feel. and, as per Cate’s modus operandi, the most extensive and rare selections of the fine juniper-flavored booze in North America. Going to Whitechapel makes you feel like you’re in an underground English subway tunnel that’s been refashioned as a bar serving original gin cocktails (try the Flemish Purl or The Lamplighter’s Story) and a British-Dutch inflected menu of snacks (get the strangely addicted donut-like Poffertjes). Basically, it’s the Dutch-British subway tunnel bar teeming with gin you never knew you needed.
Est. 1977 | Mission
Biker dive with cheap beers and a steady crew of regulars
Though now there are several outdoor drinking destinations in SF, for many years, this biker-friendly/everyone-else-not-that-friendly dive was basically the only game in town for anyone who fancied having a beer (there are 64 on tap) outside on the rare occasion when the SF weather shed its fog jacket. Today, it’s perhaps a little less intimidating than it was before, but remains one of the best places to day drink, especially if you want a Bloody Mary. Which you do.
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