Food & Drink

San Francisco's Best Secret Bars (and How to Get Into Each)

Published On 10/07/2016 Published On 10/07/2016
The Speakeasy
Peter Liu/Courtesy of The Speakeasy
Peter Liu/Courtesy of The Speakeasy

The Speakeasy

Chinatown

Your speakeasiest speakeasy experience possible is The Speakeasy. It’s not simply a bar to hang out in but a three-and-a-half hour, 35-character interactive “choose your own adventure” theater experience that faithfully emulates a Prohibition-era speakeasy visit. You can drink with flappers and gamble with corrupt politicians in a genuinely immersive 1920s speakeasy experience. For a price, you can even buy the role of the mayor of San Francisco (we know you’ve been practicing for years).
How to get in: You buy tickets. It’s a show. But it’s at a secret location and you do get a secret password. Previews continue through November with a press opening in December and a full run happening thereafter.

Seema Hamid

Marianne's

SOMA

An exquisite, genuine speakeasy awaits you at Marianne’s, secretly tucked into the back of swanky Downtown bar The Cavalier. Hidden in the a corner of the restaurant, just past the shelves of taxidermied animals, is a speakeasy scene that feels straight out of the 1930s -- except for all of the Rolling Stones memorabilia on the walls. That’s because the place is named for Mick Jagger’s longtime lover Marianne Faithfull, but otherwise Marianne’s faithfully recreates a vintage speakeasy vibe.  
How to get in: Reservations or an advance call are recommended, as Marianne’s is sometimes booked for private events. It is otherwise newly open to the public most evenings.

Joe Starkey/Thrillist

Wilson and Wilson Detective Agency

Tenderloin

A true Beefeater-on-the-rocks style speakeasy, the Wilson and Wilson Detective Agency takes a little sleuthing work to find. Its companion bar Bourbon & Branch stealthily has no signage, though the Wilson and Wilson bar does have a sign (which describes the location as a detective agency). You have to enter Wilson and Wilson through an actual bookshelf trap door, but once inside you’ll find fantastic craft cocktails in antique glassware, as well as the finest vintage bathrooms San Francisco has to offer.
How to get in: Make reservations and try to keep your cool as you stealthily slide past the bookshelf.

The Gotham Club

The Gotham Club

China Basin

Behind the scoreboard at AT&T Park sits one of the most secretive and classiest speakeasy-style establishments in town. The Gotham Club is a members-only club dedicated to the history of the San Francisco Giants (formerly the New York Giants, formerly the New York Gothams). You could get swept away by all of the vintage baseball memorabilia at the Gotham Club, but you’re more likely to get swept away by cocktails with baseball-shaped ice cubes, free hors d’oeuvres, and the full-size, built-in bowling alley.  
How to get in: Know a wealthy San Francisco Giants fan, or start networking and find one. This is a members-only club, though you can attend as a member’s guest.

Remedie

North Beach

The cure for what ails you is Remedie, located in the downstairs of the upscale North Beach bar Devil’s Acre. Remedie serves up a Barbary Coast-era doctor’s office theme, and the cocktails are prepared as throwback tonics and tinctures. But note that Remedie is only open on Friday and Saturday evenings.
How to get in: Merely show up at Devil’s Acre on a Friday or Saturday night and head downstairs, though you may want to check in advance whether the space has been reserved for a private event.

he Hidden Vine

The Hidden Vine

Financial District

This cozy, romantic bar tucked away in a FiDi alley serves wine by the glass, flights, comparisons, and offers more than 800 bottles. If you tire of lounging by the fireplace on a chilly San Francisco eve, move outside for a game of bocce. It’s important to note that there’s a $100 food and drink minimum to book the bocce court for an hour, so bring some thirsty friends.
How to get in: The Hidden Vine isn’t as much a speakeasy as it is an out-of-the-way locale for libations. Head for the Transamerica Pyramid and keep your eye out for a small alley.

Hideout

Mission

Hideout is the easiest of these speakeasies to find, considering that its entrance is plainly labeled and anyone can just walk right in. But true to its name, Hideout is somewhat hidden -- in the way back of Mission District cocktail den Dalva, past the washrooms in an area that is not at all well-lit. It’s worth poking around for, though, because the somewhat dive-y Dalva dazzlingly transforms into the more opulent decor of Hideout. There is fairly limited seating at Hideout, and it’s available on a first-come, first-serve basis.
How to get in: You look for the sign in the back of Dalva and you head right in, though be aware Hideout does not open until 7pm.

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1. The Speakeasy SF Someplace Discreet In, San Francisco, CA 94133 (North Beach)

North Beach's Speakeasy will transport you to 1923 via a cabaret stage, gambling tables, and multiple bars. The interactive bar stages an immersive theatrical experience that will make you question not only who's a guest and who's a paid actor, but also why the hell you weren't alive in the Roaring Twenties. You'll feel left out of the crowd of corrupt politicians and flappers if you’re not boozing, so be sure to sip on one of the Prohibition-era cocktails offered on tap. Once the three-and-a-half hour, 35-character show finishes up, you’ll wish you could remain an epic time traveler instead of hobbling back to your walk-up.

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2. Marianne’s 360 Jessie St, San Francisco, CA 94103 (Soma)

Behind a bookcase in The Cavalier is Marianne's, a secret bar named after the woman who had an affair with Mick Jagger. The once-private lounge -- to get in, you had to punch a members-only code into a keypad and wait for someone to let you in -- changed its policy in 2016, making it open to the public. Along with a more flexible door policy (a waitress at The Cavalier will show you how to get in) Marianne's 2.0 traded its 19th century English parlor vibe for an edgier, 70's rock & roll one.

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3. Wilson & Wilson Private Detective Agency 501 Jones St, San Francisco, CA 94102 (The Tenderloin)

From super secret speakeasy B&B, The Wilson is the bar's fourth password-required drinking room (joining Main Bar, Library, & Russell's) -- a noir-themed 22-seater set behind a fake Wilson & Wilson detective agency facade at 505 Jones St that you can only enter through a secret bathroom-adjacent backdoor at B&B with a reservation. It'll serve "investigative" cocktails made with the rarest B&B spirits and crazy tinctures/bitters (tobacco, sarsaparilla, etc.) and boozy punches served in stainless steel, police-evading tea pots, presumably voiced by Angela Lansbury.

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4. The Gotham Club 24 Willie Mays Plz, San Francisco, CA 94107 (Soma)

The Gotham Club is the ultimate secret speakeasy behind the scoreboard of AT&T Park. The upscale space is packed with vintage Giants memorabilia, a bowling lane, billiards, and revamped variations on classic ballpark snacks. Chow down on giant Bavarian pretzels while sipping luxe craft cocktails, and be sure to check out the gorgeous views of the Bay when you're not too busy cheering on the Giants.

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5. The Remedie Room 256 Columbus Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133 (North Beach)

The Remedie Room, a speakeasy in the basement of North Beach’s Devil’s Acre, promises elixirs that will cure all your troubles, something that your standard whiskey and Coke has always attempted (and failed) to do. With a special selection of tonics, tinctures, and libations, this apothecary-style subterranean booze den seats only 30 at its seductive candlelit tables. You’ll want to try the Three Sworn Enemies, a charmed concoction of bourbon, vanilla syrup, angostura and orange bitters, and gold dust (yes, you read that right). Now that you’re dying to find out what gold tastes like, head to the Remedie Room early and often.

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6. The Hidden Vine 408 Merchant St, San Francisco, CA 94111 (Financial District)

Because nothing complements bocce like 800+ bottles of wine, hit the FiDi's brick-laden wine tavern tucked away in a somewhat hidden alley (get it?) for wine flights, the type of sustenance you'd expect to pair with wine flights (cheese, charcuterie, flatbreads, etc.), and, oh yeah, bocce! Take note: there's a $100 minimum for an hour of bocce time, so arrive hungry and thirsty.

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7. Hideout (at Dalva) 3121 16th St, San Francisco, CA 94103 (The Mission)

Hideout (at Dalva) is the drinking equivalent of a Russian nesting doll. If you're having a few with the crowd inside Dalva, but feel the need for a quieter, more intimate atmosphere, simply slip deeper into the back. There you'll find Hideout, a minuscule but thoroughly enjoyable craft-cocktail bar where expert drinksmiths will create alcoholic delicacies to your heart's desire.