Beverage Director

The Best Bars in San Francisco Right Now

Raise a glass—in person!

red window
Photo by Marc Fiorito Photography, courtesy of Red Window

The world of drinking opportunities in San Francisco has really opened up recently. While we may not be allowed to sit at an actual bar indoors yet, watering holes that don’t serve food are able to open with outdoor seating and those with food can also serve folks indoors (with limited capacity). For those of us who gave up playing mixologist at home months ago, this is very good news indeed. 

Some of our favorite spots are temporarily closed, which is why you won’t see them on this list, but fear not: we have curated a bar guide that won’t lead you astray. Whether you’re looking to sit outside, inside, or on your couch at home, there are tons of options here, which will keep you happy until San Francisco is fully reopened (and beyond). Cheers to the vaccination and the fact that once we’ve all gotten our shots, we’ll be able to take shots with our friends again.

Please remember that regulations in San Francisco still require that you wear a mask at all times (indoor and out), except when eating or drinking. This includes when anyone on the staff approaches your table. And, if you’re able: leave a hefty tip. Everyone who’s been working at bars and restaurants this year deserves it more than ever.

Quik Dog

Mission

When you own one of the most popular bars in SF and a pandemic hits and shuts you down, what do you do? Well, in the case of Trick Dog, you pivot to a casual takeout and delivery concept with “world-famous burgers, fries, and other stuff.” That other stuff is sodas, beer, wine, merch, and, of course, the kind of cocktails that put this bar on the map in the first place, (though slightly pared-down for obvious reasons). Right now, you can only get takeout or delivery, but rest assured, everything is packed with care and travels well. That being said, there’s nothing stopping you from picking up your order and going to town while standing on the sidewalk.
How to enjoy: Quik dog is open for takeout and delivery, seven days a week. You can also order in person.

Available for Delivery/Takeout
Wildhawk
Photo courtesy of Wildhawk

Wildhawk

Mission

One of the things we love most about Wildhawk is the vibe—it feels like you’re enjoying a drink in the living room of some fabulous human with great taste and a flair for the dramatic. Obviously, that’s not a thing we can enjoy right now, but what we can enjoy are the inventive and carefully concocted cocktails. The menu typically has a heavy focus on vermouth, but since it’s limited right now, it’s been concocted so that there’s a concoction for everyone’s taste, including a Cocoa Puffs-infused Breakfast Negroni for those of us whose taste is whatever keeps us from feeling like too much of an adult.
How to enjoy: Wildhawk is open for takeaway and street-side drinking (and snacking) Thursday through Sunday.

Just a few days after Pacific Cocktail Haven, one of SF’s most popular bars, caught on fire, the folks behind it (including bartender extraordinaire Kevin Diedrich) opened the highly-anticipated Kona Street Market. That alone should make you love it, but in case you need a little more convincing, here goes. One day, Kona’s Street Market will be full of 100+ people, all of whom are getting their complicated cocktails in a timely manner thanks to the bar setup. Right now, it looks a little different with limited indoor and outdoor seating (but still with those clever cocktails). The drinks are inspired by places around the world with options like Hard to Say Dubai (Wyoming Bourbon, apple brandy, montenegro, prickly pear, citrus, absinthe, bitters) and Iran So Far Away (Calvados, Gin, quince, celery salted melon seed, pear, basil, bitters). There’s also food from Francis Ang’s Filipino popular Pinoy Heritage pop-up and, if you’re lucky, a chance to pet Kona, Diedrich’s friendly and adorable rescue dog, and the restaurant’s namesake.
How to enjoy: Make reservations for indoor or outdoor seating and/or schedule pickup on Tock.

Propagation

Lower Nob Hill

There’s a time and a place for a super crafty cocktail, but the folks behind Propagation, a new dog-friendly bar in Lower Nob Hill know more often there’s a time and a place for cocktails that are a little less fussy. (But still delicious, of course.) The bar is destined to become a go-to spot as soon as SF truly opens back up, but right now may be the perfect time to visit since you’ll truly be able to enjoy the relaxing powers of the many, many lush green plants. 
How to enjoy: Sip drinks indoors or in the parklet Thursday through Sunday (until midnight!).

The Red Window
Photo by Marc Fiorito Photography, courtesy of Red Window

The Red Window

North Beach

You can’t go to Spain right now, but you absolutely can go to Red Window, a new low-proof cocktail bar and Spanish-inspired restaurant on Columbus Avenue in North Beach. The colorful spot serves cocktails that will rotate seasonally but are always low-proof (which we figured out on our first visit means you can enjoy more of them without any next-morning regrets). And while you also can’t sit at a bar and chat with a bartender right now, you can order a drink from the “Bar Cart” section of the menu and an affable bartender will roll a cart to your table and concoct your cocktail in front of you. (This will stay post-pandemic.) It also must be said that the food—Spanish tapas and pintxos—is fantastic and comforting in just the right way (if not slightly indulgent depending on what you order) and pairs perfectly with the drinks. Favorites include the patatas bravas (best ones we’ve ever had), the crispy mushroom and cheese custard skewer, and all of the croquetas. Red Window has tons of outdoor seating and heat lamps, perfect for a leisurely lunch or dinner.
How to enjoy: Dinner is available for outdoor dining and takeaway Thursday through Sunday and lunch is offered Friday through Sunday.

Available for Delivery/Takeout

Macondray

Russian Hill

Polk Street’s been stepping up its game in recent years and Macondray is definitely helping. The inside is stylish and full of lush plants, but right now the parklet is where it’s at for very drinkable cocktails, like Bunny Poison (gin, rhubarb, celery, cucumber, mint, blanc vermouth, lemon), and frozé and food that will make you feel like you should pop your collar and slip into some boat shoes. That’s a good thing since that food is stuff like a Maine-style lobster roll, crinkle-cut fries with malt vinegar powder, and rock crab-stuffed eggs. 
How to order: Macondray is open for indoor and outdoor dining, Tuesday through Sunday. You can also order online for pickup and delivery.

Available for Delivery/Takeout

Balboa Cafe

Cow Hollow

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 that, in non-pandemic times, there’s a standing-room-only crowd during peak hours most evenings. Sure, a part of that is the fact that Balboa has a bit of a “meat market” reputation, but a bigger part of that is the professional bartenders in white coats who manage the crowds with a smile while making stellar martinis, the extensive wine list, and a kitchen that consistently delivers solid food, including one of the best burgers in SF (because it’s on a baguette, not despite it). Balboa has three parklets, including one that is covered and one that has more of a bar vibe, and indoor dining has tables in both the casual front bar or the fancier white tablecloth back.
How to enjoy: Balboa is open for lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch. Limited-capacity indoor dining, outdoor dining, pick-up (call 415-921-3994), and delivery are available. Reservations aren’t available at this time.

El Techo

Mission

Usually, it takes a warm day to get people to start lining up for a table at this rooftop bar that offers seats in the sun, views of the city that remind you why you pay so much in rent, and Latin American street food and cocktails, but thanks to the pandemic, El Techo is thriving even when the fog rolls in and after the sun goes down. In fact, it’s even warmer than a lot of spots thanks to the heat lamps and windscreens.
How to enjoy: El Techo is open for outdoor dining (the only dining it ever has) beginning at 4 pm on weekdays and 11 am (for brunch) on weekends. Reservations aren’t available, but you can join the Yelp app’s waitlist.

When Absinthe opened in 1998, it immediately became the destination for serious cocktail drinkers. Twenty+ years later and it’s still a fantastic spot to get a drink, as well as a romantic spot to enjoy French- and Mediterranean-inspired fare. After pivoting to a more casual takeout, seat-yourself situation, Absinthe is finally back to its old self with full-service dining (outdoors in the heated parklet only, for now) and creative cocktails in proper glassware. 
How to enjoy: Absinthe is open for lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch. Walk-in seating is available, but reservations are recommended.

ABV

Mission

The Mission has a ton of great bars, but since it opened, ABV has been one of the best thanks to quality cocktails (organized by spirit on the menu) and delicious “snacks” (yes, we are calling a burger a snack—that is who we are now). In normal times, one of the things we appreciate most is that those cocktails and snacks are available until 1 am, but right now we just appreciate that the bar has outdoor seating and a burger topped with special sauce, white cheddar, red onion, pickles, and shredded lettuce on its limited food menu. Prefer your burger with a glass of wine instead? ABV may be known foremost as a cocktail bar, but the wine selection is much better than one might expect.
How to enjoy: ABV is open for outdoor dining Tuesday through Saturday (first-come, first-seated), as well as pickup and delivery.

Available for Delivery/Takeout

The Alembic

Upper Haight

One of the revolutionary cocktail bars in SF, Alembic was hip to tinctures, shrubs, and house-made fresh ingredients in 2006, long before the craft cocktail revolution ruined the phrase “craft cocktails.” Fifteen years later, and this is still one of the best spots for a serious drink that feels playful going down, including the newly added and appropriately named “It’s Been Awhile” (Fred Jerbis Gin, Sun Rhum, Maraschino Liqueur, Spirit Works Sloe Gin). Alembic also has a limited food menu right now (including a fantastic Scotch egg), all of which can be enjoyed in its parklet.
How to enjoy: Drink and dine in the outdoor parklet (no reservations) or order food, cocktails, and bottles to be picked up or delivered.

Available for Delivery/Takeout
Charmaine’s Rooftop Bar & Lounge
Photo courtesy of San Francisco Proper Hotel

Charmaine's

Mid-Market

A swanky outdoor bar with skyline views, fire pits, heat lamps, cocktails, and elevated bar food is needed in SF now more than ever. Sure, this rooftop terrace bar and restaurant has definite LA vibes, but that’s a small price to pay for an afternoon, evening, as well as a legit brunch, that almost feels normal. Favorites from the bar include the Proper Cup, a twist on a Pimm’s Cup; a frozen rum concoction with a Negroni float called Let Me Touch Your Mind; and Fifi the Flea, a tequila situation that is perfect on a sunny day. What’s not a small price to pay is the bill, which definitely reflects hotel bar prices, but for a fun afternoon or evening of feeling somewhat normal, it’s absolutely worth it.
How to enjoy: Open daily with indoor and outdoor dining for breakfast, lunch, and dinner with brunch on the weekends. Make a reservation. Or order online for takeout and delivery.

Available for Delivery/Takeout
Available for Reservations

The words “hidden gem” get thrown around a lot, but this delightful and just a tad bizarre bar (in normal times also a coffee shop and museum) is genuinely hidden deep in the confines of Fort Mason. Once you do find it, you’ll also find one of the most well-curated and interesting cocktail lists in the city, including drinks from around the world and some of the earliest cocktails ever poured. Unfortunately, the entire menu isn’t available right now, but there are still quite a few cocktails you can enjoy there or pickup to take home (including large format options).
How to enjoy: The Interval is open for takeout and outdoor drinking Wednesday through Sunday.

Available for Delivery/Takeout

The Snug

Pacific Heights

For a long time, Fillmore Street was in dire need of an awesome bar with exceptional cocktails, quality beer, and tasty fare, which is why The Snug was such an instant success when it opened a few years ago and remains popular to date. It’s especially popular right now since it has a spacious and heated outdoor seating situation with huge booths that easily fit six and is open for lunch and dinner. Tuck into a Wagyu double smash burger, a brisket sandwich, or a spicy fried chicken, while sipping the kind of cocktails you’d expect to find in Pac Heights (prickly pear, strawberry basil vodka, coconut daiquiri … you get it).
How to enjoy: Grab an outdoor table (no reservations) or curbside pickup Tuesday through Saturday. Delivery is also available.

Available for Delivery/Takeout

Though the name includes the word restaurant, you’re not usually going 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. Of course, if you’re going to be drinking tequila, it can’t hurt to order a couple of tacos and some chips and guac. Usually, we would suggest you try to snag a seat at the bar so you can talk tequila with the super friendly and incredibly knowledgeable bartenders, but you’ll have to wait a while longer for that. Right now there’s limited indoor and outdoor seating, and you can also pop in to grab a pitcher or two of the famous margaritas to take home.
How to enjoy: Tommy’s is open for dinner with limited indoor and outdoor seating Wednesday through Friday. You can also order food and drinks to go while there, or try calling ahead 415-387-4747.

Toronado
Photo by Daisy Barringer for Thrillist

Toronado

Lower Haight

Toronado is “fondly” known for the open disdain practiced by the bartenders and regulars toward anyone who isn’t one of them, but since all interactions now take place in the socially distanced parklet, that’s actually a lot less of an issue than it usually is. Since the famous beer board isn’t visible outside, you can see the 45+ available beers on tap, plus a ton of cans and bottles, on The List on Toronado’s website. This is actually also a good thing since The List offers a bit of a description, so you won’t feel quite as helpless (or piss anyone off) when trying to figure out what to order. (Yes, not knowing exactly what you want when you went to the bar used to be a big issue pre-pandemic.) You can also get sausages from next-door neighbor Berliner Berliner, as well as beer to go. Whatever you decide, it’s worth putting your pride aside to enjoy beer from a bar that is truly a founding father of SF’s beer scene. Just remember: you’ll have to work for its affection.
How to enjoy: Toronado’s parklet is open every day for first-come, first-poured seating, as well as takeout.

True Laurel
Photo courtesy of True Laurel

True Laurel fancies itself a cocktail bar. And while the boozy beverages are thoughtful, utilize unique liquors and ingredients, and absolutely make the spot 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 when the edible kicks in, but is leaps and bounds above your go-to oven nachos. (You can never go wrong with the patty melt, but everything on the menu is worth a try.) But this is about drinks, so just know that cocktail mastermind, Nicolas Torres, consistently creates forward-thinking cocktails that impress and delight. Right now you can get your fill of the food and the drinks at the outdoor tables, to-go, or delivered.
How to enjoy: True Laurel is serving food and drinks indoors and outdoors, Wednesday through Sunday (with brunch on the weekend). You can call orders in ahead at 415-341-0020 or use Tock to make reservations or order takeout or delivery.

Whitechapel

Tenderloin

Whitechapel’s extensive gin menu isn’t fully available at this time, nor is the indoor experience, which is akin to drinking in an underground English subway tunnel, but none of that matters because right now we’ll take what we can get, and Whitechapel’s done an excellent job of giving us exactly what we want: an outdoor beer and cocktail garden called The Barbican in its back parking lot with picnic tables, an extensive gin-centric cocktail menu, local craft beer, cider, wine, canned cocktails, and a British street food menu. 
How to enjoy: The Barbican Cocktail and Beer Garden is open for outdoor seating Thursday through Sunday with brunch on the weekend. You can also order ahead to pick up or order for delivery to get food, drinks, cocktail kits, and bottles.

Available for Delivery/Takeout

Zeitgeist

Mission

Though now SF is full of 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. It looks a little different today: the picnic tables have been transformed into “booths” with umbrellas and walls of glass between them. There’s also a menu with classic comfort foods and, once a week or so, live stand-up. 
How to enjoy: Zeitgeist is open every day of the week. First-come, first-served.

Daisy Barringer is an SF-based freelance writer who is taking advantage of these strange times by exploring San Francisco on foot. Follow her on Instagram @daisysf to see where she goes next. 
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