Food & Drink

The Best Beer Bars in San Francisco

Daisy Barringer Published On 03/25/2014 Published On 03/25/2014
Mikkeller BAr Best Beer Bars SF
Courtesy of Mikkeller Bar

How does one Daisy Barringer decide what makes an SF beer bar “the best"? Well, first she considers the selection of beers available. Then she factors in the overall vibe of the place... you know, stuff like the space, the bartenders, and the feeling in the air. Next, she decides not to include brewpubs that only sell their brand of beer. Why? Because she’s making up the rules, and she enjoys riling people up. Lastly, she goes to all of the bars, drinks all of the beer, eats lots of the food, and then decides to include the bars that left her feeling the happiest and most sated. In other words: SCIENCE, people. Science.

Mikkeller Bar

Tenderloin

Although there is now another Mikkeller Bar in San Diego, the SF location was the first stateside outpost of the Copenhagen original, and in this case, first is not the worst. Far from it, actually. This massive bar in the TL offers 40 drafts 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. Oh, and it gets better ‘cause Mikkeller Bar isn’t just about the beer. No, there’s also an awesome food menu that involves lots and lots of delicious meat. My favorites are the sausage sampler with a side of fries, and the roasted peanuts to start. Which, yes, I’ll share. Reluctantly.

Daisy Barringer/Thrillist

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The Mission
The owners of The Monk’s Kettle heard the song “99 bottles of beer on the wall” and were like, “Uh, JUST 99? Lame.” And then they decided to have 150 bottles on their menu, plus 28 drafts, and one cask engine. Like Mikkeller, Monk’s Kettle has coolers set at 45, 50, and 55 degrees to ensure your brew is served at the right temperature, and the entire keg system is cleaned every two weeks so the beer always tastes its best. Not sure what to order? The staff is knowledgeable and friendly and totally willing to help you figure it out. We’d also be remiss if we didn’t point out that the seasonally driven pub fare is quite tasty. Just be prepared to wait, since reservations aren’t accepted, and everyone else in SF also loves great beer and food.

City Beer Store

City Beer Store

SoMa

City Beer Store is kinda like a wine tasting room, but for people who love beer. You can go in just to shop and pick up beer to go, settle in for a while and order one of the beers from the 15 rotating taps, or buy one of the 500+ bottles to enjoy there. All of the craft brewers want their beer to be sold there, so this is definitely the spot to find out what the cool kids are brewing and drinking. Warning: the more you drink, the more you’ll want to shop. And considering some of the bottles go for 60 bucks or more, that can get pretty pricey pretty fast. But hey, you deserve it.

Sessions at the Presidio

Sessions at the Presidio

The Presidio

Whether you’re looking for a beer that pairs well with seasonal small plates, or just want to grab a seat at the bar and get your beer drinking sesh on, Sessions at the Presidio is your spot. There are 24 rotating taps and over 75 bottles, which means that it won’t be hard to find something to please your palate. Feeling adventurous? Check out the flight: 5oz pours of three beers that all fit the theme of the day.

The Beer Hall

The Beer Hall

Civic Center

This craft-beer bar and bottle shop is tucked inside a luxury apartment building at Market and 10th, but that’s truly the only thing not to like about it. There are 20 beers on draft (almost all of which are from California), but don’t worry, it’s not like you’ll have had them all before; these guys focus on limited edition, seasonal, or specialty brews. Plus, there are over 200 bottles you can buy and take home, so you’re pretty much guaranteed to find a bunch of stuff you’ve never tried. Grab a booth if you’re staying a while (you are) and just try not to take a selfie in front of the wall covered in thousands of colorful bottle caps.

Hopwater Distribution

Hopwater Distribution

Lower Nob Hill

Since our MO is celebrating everything great about San Francisco, this amazing city that we live in, it’s no surprise Hopwater Distribution made this list, as that’s its MO also -- at least when it comes to beer. Yup, each of the 31 beers on tap at this airy, rustic bar, is from California. Why 31 taps? ‘Cause California was the 31st state. (So clever). The food at Hopwater is also good and really reasonably priced. Between the brews and the grub, this is one of those spots that’s super easy to come back to again and again. And again.

Richmond Republic Draught House

Inner Richmond

Anyone who lives in the Inner Richmond and drinks beer was super stoked when this bar and restaurant opened up, as it really filled a dearth -- and they probably all immediately joined the Mug Club, since it means they get a buck off every beer and a free beer on Tuesdays. But even if you don’t live nearby, it’s worth an Uber or Lyft ride, thanks to the 24 Northern California beers on tap, the poutine, and the fact that there are three big TVs where you can always watch the Warriors, Giants, and Niners.

Honorable Mentions: Hogwash, Magnolia Brewing Company, Southern Pacific Brewing Company, Barrel Head Brewhouse, Brewcade, Jasper’s Corner Tap, and Cervecería.

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Daisy Barringer is an SF-based writer with an affinity for sour beer. Tell her your favorites (and how you afford to drink them) on Twitter @daisy.

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1. Mikkeller Bar 34 Mason St, San Francisco, CA 94102 (The Tenderloin)

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.

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2. Toronado 547 Haight St, San Francisco, CA 94117 (Lower Haight)

If you love beer, you'll love Toronado, thanks to the fact that it was at the forefront of the craft beer movement in the ‘80s and even more thanks to the 45 rotating beers on tap. The Lower Haight bar specializes in local California beer, but there are usually some brews from Colorado, the East Coast, and Belgium. It's next door to Rosamunde, so the smart move is to order a sausage and wash it down with whatever's on tap. Note, Toronado is cash-only.

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3. Monk’s Kettle 3141 16th St, San Francisco, CA 94110 (The Mission)

At this gastropub in The Mission, beer is the total focus. Their specialty is Belgian beers, though the list has 200 rotating beers for every palate. Monk’s Kettle has coolers set at 45, 50, and 55 degrees to ensure your brew is served at the right temperature, and the entire keg system is cleaned every two weeks so the beer always tastes its best. Food includes everything from bar bites like chile- and honey-roasted hazelnuts, to more substantial fare like dry-aged beef loin with blue cheese potato gratin. Not sure what to order? The staff is knowledgeable and friendly and totally willing to help you figure it out. We’d also be remiss if we didn’t point out that the seasonally driven pub fare is quite tasty.

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4. City Beer Store 1168 Folsom St, San Francisco, CA 94103 (Soma)

Part bottle shop, part bar, this cozy SoMA shop is a go- to for SF beer lovers. City Beer Store offers over 500 types of American and European brews, mostly from small batch brewers. Crack one open inside their cozy taproom and bar, or sample a pint from its 15 rotating taps. City Beer Store also offers a nice selection of small plates, like bacon caramel corn, cheese, and charcuterie.

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5. Sessions at the Presidio 1 Letterman Dr, San Francisco, CA 94129 (The Presidio)

This beer-focused restaurant has 100 beers on tap, which range from lower-alcohol “session beers,” to hoppy IPAs, to Belgians. The menu is super approachable, organized by style and whether it’s “easy,” “exciting,” or “fun,” it is conducive to trying something new. You’ll find dishes that utilize some of those beers like the duck liver mousse with a red ale gelee or mussels in a Henhouse Saison broth.

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6. The Beer Hall 1 Polk St, San Francisco, CA 94102 (Upper Market)

This craft-beer bar and bottle shop is tucked inside a luxury apartment building at Market and 10th, but that’s truly the only thing not to like about it. There are 20 beers on draft (almost all of which are from California), but don’t worry, it’s not like you’ll have had them all before; these guys focus on limited edition, seasonal or specialty brews. Plus, there are over 200 bottles you can buy and take home, so you’re pretty much guaranteed to find a bunch of stuff you’ve never tried. Grab a booth if you’re staying a while (you are) and just try not to take a selfie in front of the wall covered in thousands of colorful bottle caps.

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7. Hopwater Distribution 850 Bush St, San Francisco, CA 94108 (Nob Hill)

This beer bar in Nob Hill prides itself on California beer. In honor of California being the thirty-first state, Hopwater has a rotating tap of 31 beers from the Golden State's 400-plus breweries. The list is updated almost nightly and includes tried-and-true favorites and brews you've likely never tried before. There's a fair selection of bar fare too, like fried chicken sandwiches, steak fries, and pulled pork sliders.

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8. Richmond Republic Draught House 642 Clement St, San Francisco, CA 94118 (The Richmond)

Richmond Republic Draught House has all your favorite local beers on tap, including Fort Point, HenHouse, Pine Street, Palo Alto Brewing, Almanac, Drake's, Speakeasy, and more (24 in total). It also does justice to your favorite bar fare like burgers, wings, nachos. With multiple TVs and a laid-back, community atmosphere, it's a perfect spot to catch a game. While you're there, , ask about The Mug Club: it involves getting $1 off every beer and one free beer on Tuesdays.

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