The Best Bars in San Francisco Right Now
You could use a drink.
Right now, because rules are rules and SF is doing its best to keep us safe, most bars aren’t open. Hopefully, they’ll be back soon, but in the meantime, we are lucky to still have a slew of bars where we can either enjoy libations in an outdoor setting, take them to-go, or get them delivered. After all, the need for happiness/relaxation/escapism/etc. in the form of a drink has never been more needed than now.
Just keep in mind that, according to the law, if you want to enjoy drinks outside or get them to-go, you have to also order food. Oh, and wear a mask unless you’re seated and actively eating and drinking, don’t go anywhere if you have a fever or other COVID symptoms, wash your hands for way longer than you usually do, and tip better than you ever have in your entire life. And most of all: enjoy!
Most of the reasons we love this slightly hidden haunt are temporarily on hiatus, which means there’s no late-night food, no jukebox with something for everyone, and no canoodling in a booth with another human, a plate of poutine, or both. What is still available is sherry in several guises, batch cocktails for two to three or “8 to 10” (the Pimm’s Cup is always a winner), a decent selection of wine and beer, and some splurge-worthy bottles of booze. You’ll have to either pick ‘em up or have ‘em delivered, but it’s worth it to keep a beloved spot in business, plus the aforementioned poutine, as well as a couple of other bar food favorites and a Basque picnic box for two, are also available.
How to order: Pickup and delivery available Tuesday through Saturday; orders placed before 2pm can be delivered the same day within SF city limits for a fee of $10.
Absinthe Brasserie & Bar
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. Of course, that anchor is a little different these days and comes in the form of a seat-yourself-parklet (which expands on Friday nights and all day on Saturdays and Sundays when Hayes Street is closed to cars). There are picnic packs and cocktail hour packs, a celebration-worthy “Champagne & Caviar” kit, and just enough signature cocktails (for one or three people) to keep one to three people in your group happy. Hey, we’ve never had a martini served to-go, but we’re not opposed to trying it.
How to order: Takeout and delivery are available from noon to 8pm, Wednesday through Sunday.
The Mission has a ton of great bars, but since it opened, ABV has been one of the best. Considering the pedigree of its owners (Beretta bartender + Dalva owner + Bourbon & Branch bartender), this isn’t a surprise, but what’s perhaps a little surprising is that the food and cocktails now are just as good as they were then, if not better. Right now, the only options are pickup and delivery; we prefer pickup since you can get a slew of cocktails (for “three” or in a park-friendly single serving to-go cup), as well as some tasty grub (the burger, hot dog, and fish tacos are all favorites) to enjoy in Dolores Park. Looking for something to take home for later? There are also lots of bottles for sale, including some pricey Japanese whisky and Scotch, plus plenty of affordable options as well.
How to order: Order for pickup or delivery from 4:30pm to 8:30pm, Tuesday through Saturday.
One of the revolutionary cocktail bars in the city, Alembic was hip to the tinctures, shrubs, and house-made fresh ingredients in 2006, long before the craft cocktail revolution ruined the phrase “craft cocktails.” And though you can’t currently enjoy any of the magical elixirs inside of the bar and restaurant, you can pick up a selection of classics and specials in single-serving jars, four serving jars, and even 1 liter jars (enough for eight) served with to-go cups and ice, so you can head straight to the park and enjoy. There are also cocktail kits, rare bottles, as well as wine, beer, and a couple of things to munch on. Don’t feel like navigating the chaos that can be Haight Street? You can also get everything delivered.
How to order: Alembic @ Home is available for curbside pickup or delivery Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 1pm to 6pm. For pickup, there’s no need to order ahead of time; you can just pop by the window and ask for what you’d like.
Charmaine’s Rooftop Bar & Lounge
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 order: Open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner with brunch on the weekends. Closes at 10pm Sunday through Wednesday and 12am Thursday through Saturday. If you want to dine in, reservations are highly encouraged. A $75 per person minimum is required for reservations Thursday through Saturday from 5pm to close. Takeout is available every day from Caviar.
The Interval at Long Now
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. Once you do find it, you’ll also find one of the most well-curated and interesting cocktail lists in the city. The entire menu isn’t available right now, but there are quite a few cocktails you can order to pick up ranging from a classic mojito to a gimlet with Navy-strength gin to an Oaxacan old fashioned with Reposado tequila, mezcal, Ancho Reyes chile liqueur, agave, and chocolate bitters. Stop by and grab a single serve drink to enjoy while cruising around Fort Mason, as well as four packs and larger format drinks to take home. There’s also wine, beer, and since it doubles as a coffee shop, plenty of those drinks as well.
How to order: Place to-go orders in person or online. Check for hours.
The nice person’s beer bar. Monk’s isn’t large, but it’s vast and obscure collection of beers could be downright intimidating in the wrong hands. Luckily, the bartenders and servers at Monk’s are a friendly bunch, eager 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 the fried chicken sandwich) and outdoor seating, so you can enjoy it all there. Of course, this is 2020, so there’s also a lengthy beer and wine list for those who’d prefer to grab their food and drinks to-go or have it delivered.
How to order: Outdoor dining is available for walk-ins and by reservation, and the entire menu is also available for pick-up or delivery on ChowNow. Hours are from 12pm to 10pm, seven days a week.
Pacific Cocktail Haven
PCH 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. The bar has recently partnered with Filipino food pop-up Pinoy Heritage in order to comply with California’s gotta have food to serve booze law. Enjoy it there in one of the three parklets with artificial grass floors, lots of greenery, and lattice walls (so you don’t even feel like you’re sitting on Sutter Street) or pick it up to enjoy at home.
How to order: PCH is open for outdoor and to-go service from 4pm to 9pm, Tuesday through Saturday.
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 an adorable outdoor seating situation with booths and plastic partitions and is open for lunch and dinner five days a week. Tuck into a wagyu double smash burger, a brisket sandwich, a spicy fried chicken, or a salad or whatever, while sipping the kind of cocktails you’d expect to find in Pac Heights (prickly pear, strawberry basil vodka, coconut daiquiri... you get it, beer, wine, or whiskey from some pretty special bottles).
How to order: The Snug is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11am to 10pm for outdoor dining, curbside pick-up, and delivery.
The Dogpatch is a strange area, fairly dislocated from the rest of the City, but it’s worth a small “commute” to hit up Third Rail, a collaboration between Phil West and Jeff Lyon, of Range fame (which, for those new to this town, was one of first restaurants in the Mission to offer fine dining and was impossible to get into during its heyday). Unfortunately, the innovative cocktails are currently only available bottled and to-go, but that’s maybe not such a bad thing since it means you’re “forced” to get a minimum of two drinks and have the option to get a large format that serves six. The cocktail menu is split up between “citrusy” and “spirit-forward” and if you want to walk out with any of them, you’ll have to also order food, which isn’t a big deal since there are plenty of options from nearby neighbor the Wooly Pig, as well as Third Rail’s famous homemade jerky.
How to order: Order online or in person for takeout, available Friday from 5pm to 9pm, and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 3pm.
Though the name says 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. Normally we’d tell you to get the food anyway, since eating a few tacos will fortify for you another round of margaritas, or whatever tequila the bartender is pouring, but right now you actually have to order it because of laws and whatnot. (Pro tip: Chips and salsa counts.) Everything is only available for curbside ordering and pick-up, but there are even more options, including a DIY margarita kit, and some amazing bottles of tequila, as well as the go-tos, including pitchers of margaritas.
How to order: Call ahead for to-go orders (415-387-4747) or order in-person.
Toronado is “fondly” known for the open disdain practiced by the bartenders and regulars upon 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. The required food comes in the form of sausages from next door neighbor Berliner Berliner and since the famous beer board isn’t visible outside, you can see everything available 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. Not in the mood to eat a sausage while you drink your beer? That’s not something we can comprehend, but to each their own: you can also get a bunch of beer to go. Either way, 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: Like you would with any tough father, you’ll have to work for its affection.
How to order: Toronado’s parklet is open from noon to 8pm, Tuesday through Sunday, which is also when you can stop by to get beer to-go.
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 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. Right now you get your fill of the food and the drinks at the outdoor tables, to-go, or delivered.
How to order: Place takeout/delivery orders or book reservations for patio seating via tock or call orders in ahead at (415) 341-0020. Hours are Wednesday through Friday from 4pm to 9pm, and Saturday through Sunday from 11am-9pm (with brunch from 11am-2pm).
Whitechapel’s extensive gin menu isn’t fully available right now, and nor is the indoor experience, which is akin to drinking inn 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 to get: an outdoor beer and cocktail garden called The Barbican with picnic tables, a gin-centric cocktail menu with 10 drinks (plus all of the gin classics), local craft beer, cider, wine, canned cocktails, and British street food menu with fish and chips, falafel, and grilled cheese and chutney, to name a few. There’s also brunch (who can resist a breakfast poutine?) and, for now at least, guest bartenders every weekend from the bars that aren’t able to be open or serve outdoors.
How to order: The Barbican Cocktail and Beer Garden is open Thursday and Friday from 4:30pm to 7:30pm, Saturday from noon to 7:30pm, and Sunday from noon to 5pm. Brunch is available on Saturday until 3:30pm and all-day Sunday. You can also order ahead to pick up food and cocktails or order for delivery.
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. It looks a little different today: The picnic tables have been transformed into “booths” with umbrellas and walls of glass between them, so that you can see everyone else, but you’re not directly sharing their air space, and you absolutely have to order food to sit down at one of them. Only problem: You order your food first, so if when it’s ready, if there aren’t any tables, you’re out of luck as a bouncer is going to make you leave the establishment with it right away. Since there’s live music some days and games are being projected onto the wall, that means there’s a good chance tables will try to linger past the one-hour time limit, but if the dive bar is anything like it was in the past, we’re pretty sure someone will be there to, ahem, kindly let them know it’s time to skedaddle.
How to order: Line up six feet apart to order and eat and drink it there (if seating is available) or take it to go (but don’t eat or drink right outside unless you want to get yelled at). Credit cards are preferred. Current hours are Monday through Wednesday, 4pm to 8pm; Thursday, 4pm to 9pm; Friday, 3pm to 10pm; Saturday, 1pm to 10pm; and Sunday, 1pm to 6pm.
We usually think of Horsefeather as one of those great neighborhood spots you hit up again and again if it’s within walking distance, but right now (and, okay, probably always), it’s a destination-worthy bar and restaurant because it’s got the three most important things for a cocktail bar to have right now: Fantastic outdoor seating in the form of an atrium with lots of greenery, as well as a parklet, cocktails for every whim, and a food menu with irresistible options like a double cheeseburger, a chicken katsu sandwich, fried chicken, wild mushroom (hand-made) pappardelle, duck fat fries, key lime pie, and some spiced carrots and a poke bowl if you’re trying to eat light.
How to order: Open for dining in (reservations available) and take out from 1pm to 11pm, Monday through Friday; 11am to 11pm on Saturday; and 11am to 10pm on Sunday.