December 21st is the longest night of the year -- almost 15 straight hours of darkness. Nerds like to call it the "Winter solstice". We like to call it the "Best Night of Your Life", because that's damn sure what it could be, if you spend it at the city's best Thrillist-approved happy hour spots, cocktail bars, nightclubs, etc. Check out our picks for SF's best cocktail bars below, and make sure to fully map out a perfect evening with our itinerary builder.
This three-years-in-the-making Thrillist 47 standby from tipple titan Bon Vivants has quickly become one of the best cocktail bars not just in SF, but in America. There literally (and figuratively?!) isn't a bad drink on the menu.
Upper Haight may not strike people as the place to go for good cocktails, but it's actually home to one of the city's best mixed drink bars, Alembic, where cocktail descriptions read more like stories. Pro-drinker tip: get the Vasco da Gama (Buffalo Trace bourbon, garam masala-spiced apple syrup, and a splash of Islay Scotch).
This TL bar may be a little dicey to get to, but it's totally worth it -- especially if you've made a reservation for a booth, and especially especially if you've ever gotten the Speakeasy booth, and especially especially ESPECIALLY if you've ever gotten the Speakeasy booth and sipped on an Afternoon Tea Sour while in it. Coolest part by far: they've got eight full-on drink menus (one for Tiki-drinkers, one for dive-drinkers, etc.), meaning you could keep coming here for weeks without ever drinking the same thing.
This not-quite-in-the-Castro bar boasts a truly impressive cocktail list displayed on brown packing paper on the wall. Absolute-must-tries count the Adios My Friend (a classier, barrel aged-er AMF) or the Gosling Rum (Old Overholt Rye, yellow Chartreuse, lime, and cream soda combining Rye N. Gosling). Hey girl, indeed.
In a part of town mostly known for its clubbiness/auto repair-iness, Alchemist pairs great 'tails with rotating bartender pop-ups, so you'll never grow bored. We pity the fool who hasn't tried the B. A. Baracus (Scotch, lemon, ginger & habanero syrup, and cider).
Just how serious is Maven about its cocktails? This serious: every single menu item has a paired cocktail listed next to it. If you want a side cocktail while you're getting your recommended pairing on, we'd highly recommend the 5 Spot (aged rum, ginger, lime, maple, Thai basil & five spice), and the perfect-for-Winter-which-is-year-round-here Fireside Cocktail (rye, lemon, egg white & Winter spice).
With a menu run by one of the dudes who fixed up peoples horrible drink programs on the show Bar Rescue, this tipple spot sports a cocktail menu that separates sippables into five categories: Approachable, Complex, High-Octane, Low-Octane, and Social... which, oddly enough, could describe the phases you go through when drinking.
If you haven't tried the Muir Woods (Monkey Shoulder Scotch, Drambuie, egg white & lavender), then clearly you're not reading a certain awesome men's interest site nearly enough.
1. Trick Dog3010 20th St, San Francisco
2. The Alembic1725 Haight St, San Francisco
3. Tradition441 Jones St, San Francisco
4. Alchemist Bar & Lounge679 3rd Street, San Francisco
5. Maven598 Haight St, San Francisco
6. Bergerac316 11th St, San Francisco
7. Park Tavern1652 Stockton St, San Francisco
8. Blackbird2124 Market St, San Francisco
Brought to you by The Bon Vivants, Trick Dog in The Mission's a marble- and steel-adorned cocktailery serving drinks from a Pantone-inspired menu with names from favorite song titles, along with bar bites like beer nuts, pickles, and cracklins.
The Alembic is known for its encyclopedic menu of spirits and handcrafted cocktails. The whiskey selection in particular reads like a written history of brown spirits, featuring American bourbon, whiskey, and rye alongside single-malt and vatted Scotch whiskey. The draft beer list is a nod to those with an appreciation for local craft brews and the food menu is filled with atypical bar snacks like pickled quail eggs and jerk-spiced duck hearts. As for the space, it's a trendy, rustic, dimly lit affair.
If you're looking for speakeasy vibes, make a reservation at Tradition. This laid-back spot has nine "snugs," or high-walled booths with stained-glass windows, each of which is dedicated to a certain cocktail era. Each is charming in its own way, with vintage art and a unique style. The in-house agers make their way into shot glasses and more than 80 cocktails, served by friendly bartenders decked out in suspenders.
The Alchemist is a little bit dive bar, a little bit steampunk, and a little bit speakeasy all rolled into one. The SOMA watering hole is helmed by some seriously talented bartenders who whip up cocktails using Chinese herbs and liqueurs you've probably never heard of before. A guest bartender program showcases new mixologists and gives you a reason to keep coming back for more.
Maven is a chic bar and restaurant in Lower Haight that pairs all of its dishes with different cocktails. The highlight of the menu is the burger, which begins with beef that's ground with a few dashes of angostura bitters and is paired with the Mr. Wiggles cocktail, made with bourbon, amaro, vermouth, and bitters. The bar's morning cocktails make it a popular brunch spot, as do the duck hash and Bananas Foster French toast. The seating is all communal, and the best seats in the house are either on the second-floor loft or at the chef's counter.
Inspired by the French mansion where The Rolling Stones recorded “Exile on Main Street,” Bergerac is packed with plush couches and elegant decor on the first floor, and a perpetually packed dance floor upstairs. Visitors who opt for the chill downstairs vibe will find themselves sipping on drinks created by incredibly talented bartenders, and small plates of indulgent comfort food like roasted bone marrow and Parisian Gruyere gnocchi with braised duck.
If you're looking for a restaurant in North Beach packed with San Franciscans of all neighborhoods, head to Park Tavern. This upscale spot is homey and bustling, and the food is part Southern comfort, part English pub. Every table gets the famed lamb-and-beef Marlowe burger and a starter of smoky deviled eggs, but those in the know will get an extra order of eggs to put on their burger. Park Tavern is also a bonafide brunch hotspot with the best Bloody Marys and a menu filled with griddled goods (pancakes and more pancakes) and savory eggs. And that burger.
Blackbird's a rustic, casual watering hole outfitted with a long mahogany bar, large booths of orange leather, stumpy cocktail tables cut from tree cross-sections, a pool table, and a photo booth. This neighborhood joint tempts the locals with its wines by the glass, artisanal craft beers, and oak-aged cocktails. It offers a daily happy hour from 5-8pm with $1-2 off draft beers and $2 Bud Lights and PBRs.