San Francisco was built on a delicious and strong foundation of cocktails (just ask the 1849 Gold Rush crew about Tadich). And now, more than ever, specialty cocktails have become one of the Bay Area's most lauded and sought after products (Pisco Punch and Cable Car anyone?). Because of this, there are hundreds of bars serving up what they claim are the best mixed drinks in the city, an assertion that would make anyone want to grab, well, a drink and find out for themselves. To help ease that stress, we've assembled a bucket list of the 41 cocktails in SF you have to try.
Call a Treuse
The Devil’s AcreAddress and Info
You feel great leaving The Devil’s Acre because they treat cocktails as if they were medicine -- which is somewhat true. Doctors back in the day used to think cocktails were good for you and should be prescribed to treat illnesses. Also back in the day, monks at the Chartreuse monastery in France thought that green and yellow chartreuse were magical elixirs that could also treat you. God bless them. Skip the Advil and sip the medicine that is green and yellow chartreuse, egg white, vanilla syrup, and dry vermouth (aka as the Devil's Acre).
Harry Denton’s Starlight RoomAddress and Info
We’re spoiled with lots of rooftop terraces and top floor bars with views of skyscrapers. What do they all have in common? The drinks suck (hello Top of the Mark!). Harry Denton’s -- atop the Sir Francis Drake Hotel -- is where you wish someone would throw you a birthday. The “Cable Car” is what you wish they'd buy you. It’s a sweet concoction of Sailor Jerry rum, lemon, and cointreau with a cinnamon-sugar rum. And the view is the perfect thing to supplement it.
ZeitgeistAddress and Info
San Francisco is a brunch town, a drinking town, a hangover town, a biker town... San Francisco is basically the Meredith Brooks of towns, and it all comes together in perfect harmony at every person's favorite beer garden that serves up one bloody fine Bloody Mary. Saturday night’s parade of Fernet and vodka sodas are all but forgotten after an hour on a patio bench with one of their Bloodys (complete with olives, lemon, lime, and picked green beans).
Alta CAAddress and Info
SF is crazy about Negronis. We're talking an addiction that may surpass the passion one feels about the Giants, or sourdough. If you’ve ever had a good Negroni, the next step is to have a great one created with time, love, care... and Gran Classico subbing in for Campari. The bar is also the go-to watering hole for the peeps at Twitter (it's across the street), so Alta had no choice but to create an amazing drink. No one wants a vitriolic hashtag trending because they messed up an otherwise standard cocktail.
TerminusAddress and Info
Absinthe deserves a better rep. The whole “it drove van Gogh to insanity” thing has been proven false time and time again, and we should all move on. Thankfully, Terminus cares deeply about absinthe and found a 19th century recipe from SF’s Palace Hotel that knew the green fairy makes magic with sugar and lemon juice. After all, Terminus literally feels like a zinc bar in Paris, so do yourself a favor and get punched.
Liholiho Yacht ClubAddress and Info
Salted falernum. Remember that. The cinnamon-allspice liqueur combined with Manzanilla sherry and green chartreuse gets Liholiho jumping every night. Then chef Ravi Kapur keeps the Aloha Spirit rolling with some crazy delicious takes on not just Hawaiian food, but dishes from almost every continent.
CoquetaAddress and Info
Do you get it? Carmen Policy! He was the president of the 49ers when they actually were not just good, but won championships. OK, so it’s basically a glorified Manhattan with a glass given a breath of smoke produced from wine barrels at Policy’s winery (and five golden raisins garnish representing the 49ers’ five championships), but it's phenomenal.
The Charlie Chaplin
Pied PiperAddress and Info
We’re unsure what Charlie’s cocktail preferences were, but his namesake beverage is one boozy knockout. It’s absinthe, rye, Dubonnet Red, honey, Peychaud’s bitters. And it’s exactly what you should be drinking while sitting in front of the Pied Piper painting that is easily the most famous painting in any San Francisco bar.
WhitechapelAddress and Info
The new gin-centric spot serves a very interesting combination of Dutch-Bangladeshi-Anglo food from Smuggler’s Cove, which is cool, but let’s talk about the cocktail. With a little gin, orange flower water, egg white, and a splash of tonic, you’ll get the Classy Lassy: a delicious and velvety cocktail that can only be found at Whitechapel.
La Copa Verde
PadrecitoAddress and Info
If you need proof that cilantro, chipotle, and mezcal aren’t the greatest trinity in the world, you’ve got it now. For your New Year’s Resolution, drink green. Just, ya know, cilantro juice instead of kale juice. With mezcal. Lots of mezcal.
Park TavernAddress and Info
A Manhattan by way of Italy, but it’s not as strange as it sounds. Park Tavern is a classic new American brasserie in the heart of not-so-small Little Italy serving up this creative take with Zucca amaro, vermouth, and bourbon. Take a sip and behold a drink filled with terms you’ll never use to describe your attorney -- honest, smooth, trustworthy.
Gin & tonic
AatxeAddress and Info
Step 1) pick a gin. Step 2) pair it with a tonic. Step 3) profit?? Aatxe’s 50-plus gins are divided into different sections of a color wheel and matched by profiles with the right tonic partner. There are a ton of combinations to choose from, so finding the right one will just take time... and a healthy liver. Bonus: Aatxe chef Ryan Pollnow is helping to coat your stomach with his Basque-Californian cooking.
Craziest cocktail on the menu
Trick DogAddress and Info
Trick Dog somehow manages to be both the most whimsical and the flat out best cocktail bar in the saturated SF circuit. The also swap out their menu theme every January and July. For the current “Declassified” menu, the craziest order might be the “Chupacabra” with turmeric, root beer, carrot, and yogurt whey among its seven ingredients. Go big or go home from Trick Dog, as it’s crowded enough already.
Tosca CaféAddress and Info
This is no regular cappuccino. So sorry to break your milk-foam heart. The rejuvenated Tosca goes all out with bourbon and Armagnac, joining a Dandelion chocolate and vanilla syrup base. They say it’s not a dessert cocktail. We say anything is a dessert cocktail if you want it to be bad enough.
The IntervalAddress and Info
Have you ever heard of a bar as a research institution before now? Interval is the bar involved with the Long Now Foundation, a non-profit devoted to fixing problems of today, tomorrow, and centuries from now. Generally, that ambition needs great cocktails. One such cocktail is the Decanted Mother-in-Law, a spirits-heavy drink made up of bourbon, curaçao, maraschino, and Amer bitters.
Aub Zam ZamAddress and Info
Aub Zam Zam is vital for 1) theatrical Persian décor that seems like an old Hollywood backdrop, 2) being THE rare non-psychedelic drug themed place in Haight-Ashbury, and 3) its house cocktail, which has probably been ordered by 99% of patrons for five decades. The martinis are a six ounce glass of ice cold gin (you want the 209 gin, a very good Bay Area-made spirit). Even when you ask for a less “dry” Martini (more vermouth), it still always seems stiffer than you’d expect. Even 007 would get tipsy off this one.
NopaAddress and Info
In theory, it’s a dessert cocktail, but treat “The Eucharist” any way you want. Scotch, sweet sherry, and dry Manzanilla sherry are a triumphant trio that will ease you into the spiced doughnut holes -- or SF’s (best?) burger. Thank you, Nopa. Thank you.
Bar AgricoleAddress and Info
I would be kicked out of town if I didn’t include Fernet in this list. And I like SF, so here it is. Fernet, gin and vermouth soar together at SF’s premier cocktail bar-restaurant hybrid, creating the Hanky Panky, or what you won’t be doing after three of these delicious treats.
The House of ShieldsAddress and Info
If there’s such a thing as a dive bar for people who work with hedge funds, House of Shields is it. But don’t let that intimidate you. The drinks are meticulously made and regal in their boozy stature. The Manhattan (bourbon, and just right the blend of sweet and dry vermouth) here is the one all others aspire to be. And it tastes all the better at 3pm when you’re an investment banker who lives on NYSE time like many of the regulars.
Trou NormandAddress and Info
Trou Normand is one of the first bars in the country to emphasize brandies (like cognac, calvados, Armagnac). “The Hawaiian” hits the tropics for pineapple gomme syrup, then the rural fields of Brittany for Calvados, and then its off to the monasteries for green chartreuse.
PabuAddress and Info
It’s $27. But it’s also foie gras-infused Japanese whiskey, Aztec bitters, and garnished with even more foie gras. As if you needed more proof that the recession is over.
Hemingway’s Code Hero
NovelaAddress and Info
Did you know that punch is Hindi for “five?” It’s true. And the Code Hero gets it right with their pivotal five ingredients of spirit, spice, sugar, citrus, and water. As for Ernest, despite his love of mojitos and daiquiris, he could down a good number of the 120 gallons of punch on tap at Novela made each week -- especially his namesake, with a trio of whiskeys, maraschino liqueur, Pimm’s, Earl Grey, grapefruit, and lemon.
Margarita (house or Cadillac)
Cadillac Bar & GrillAddress and Info
You can’t be a $5 marg and a $6 taco. And that’s exactly what you’ll get here. If you’re less a cheapskate, throw down a Hamilton for the (admittedly superior and terrific) “Cadillac Margarita” that ups the tequila from Sauza Gold to Arrette Reposado and adds Grand Marnier.
MavenAddress and Info
California loves three things above everything else: sunshine, avocados and pistachios. For the latter of the three, Maven’s bar director Tim Hagney uses pistachio-infused Four Roses bourbon to craft the “Hometown Vixen.” You don’t even have to shell the nuts. You just have to drink it. And like so many of Maven’s drinks, that’s an easy task to accomplish.
ABVAddress and Info
Génépy and tequila mix with pineapple gomme for what would be the offspring of a Margarita and a Pisco Punch. And ss you know very well, Margaritas and Pisco Punches are indeed responsible for the progeny of myriad drinks in San Francisco.
The Buena VistaAddress and Info
The Buena Vista’s signature mix of Irish whiskey, coffee, sugar, and cream in those oh so appropriate vintage glasses is not just deserving of being on the cocktail bucket list, it’s already on the actual San Francisco bucket list. Honestly, the real shocker is that despite being such a tourist magnet, it’s actually incredibly good.
AlchemistAddress and Info
La Fin leads the drink menu here, and after a round of them, you’ll be well-acquainted with Strega; a saffron liqueur that works wonders with the smoke of mezcal. It’s a glamorous concoction in a glamorous bar, deftly tying together smoke, spice, and a hint of sweetness. Best of all, the drink costs far less than what, like, five threads of saffron cost.
Smuggler’s Rum Barrel
Smuggler’s CoveAddress and Info
In the always crowded, always uncomfortable, always painfully slow to get a drink tropical lair of Smuggler’s Cove, the waterfalls and humidity combine to make decisions from the extensive menu covering the history of rum intensely challenging. Here’s a tip: get the “Smuggler’s Rum Barrel” with something like 15 different rums and 20 different juices in it. It’s the tiki drink to end all tiki drinks, and if you shell out $10 more, you can get an actual barrel (that they’ll replace with a new one you can take home later).
Tommy’sAddress and Info
If there’s one iconic drink to have in San Francisco, it’s a margarita at Tommy’s. Tourists really don’t go there because it’s so damn far away. There is no cocktail menu -- only a tequila menu. But be sure to ask for the house margarita. With salt. They’ll take care of the lime juice and the house agave mix. The downside? Every other margarita will be a letdown the rest of your life.
Stookey’s Club ModerneAddress and Info
Forget the passé speakeasy, pre-Prohibition-style wave of new bars. Welcome to the post-Prohibition art deco bar generation, thanks to Stookey’s. Imagine South Beach and the Hoover Dam as a small corner bar. That’s Stookey’s. You’ll want to spring for a Martinez, supposedly the precursor to the Martini that was actually invented (per rumor) in the namesake East Bay refinery town. What’s the difference? Maraschino liqueur is added, hence it’s a little sweeter and less stiff.
Tadich GrillAddress and Info
Opened in the midst of the 49er’s arrival (that would be the 1849 Gold Rush), Tadich is basically a living museum. A museum that serves a proper, perfect, and viciously powerful martini. It’s first stirred before two olives are dropped in, and don’t you dare get it with vodka. Also, don’t be the person who asks for a dirty martini (trust me, a friend did that with me and was given a whole jar of olive brine to dilute the precious drink).
Hard WaterAddress and Info
San Francisco’s Bay-side whiskey specialist is all about just sipping the spirit straight, but we care more about our spirits in cocktail form. The mint julep is probably the hardest drink to make great and the easiest to slam. The bartenders here know the precise ratio of crushed ice, bourbon, simple syrup, and most vitally the muddled mint and the mint garnish. It’s so refreshing and far superior to what they’re drinking in May at Churchill Downs.
15 RomoloAddress and Info
This drink really does come out of nowhere and hit you when you least expect it. It’s made with Pedro Ximenez, the syrupy oddball of the sherry family, and incorporated perfectly here by a top-tier cocktail bar that really loves sherry in its cocktails. With the PX, there’s bonded bourbon, lemon, Amaro Nonino, and espresso liqueur. It makes for one hell of a night cap.
BixAddress and Info
Negronis should all taste the same right? They’re so easy. 1:1:1 ratio, gin, Campari, sweet vermouth. Boom. But life is never this simple. Bix has a doctorate in all classic cocktails and nails its negroni every single time. Add the beyond suave jazz and supper club aura to the mix for an ultimate 1:1:1:1:1 power quintet.
Old Bayshore Cocktail
BloodhoundAddress and Info
Banana liqueur and Ancho Reyes chili liqueur are probably the two most favored trendy ingredients (at the moment) for SF bartenders. And nobody combines them better then the friendly folks at Bloodhound. It’s all so San Francisco 2016: a spruced-up dive bar in the tech goldmine neighborhood that does a spicy banana cocktail. What else were you expecting?
Comstock SaloonAddress and Info
We’ll get to the point here. Comstock knows how to combine the simple trio of pisco, lemon juice, and pineapple gomme into a drink Bay Area natives (and tourists alike) know and love dearly.
ElixirAddress and Info
If not the first saloon in the whole city, Elixir certainly was one of the first in the mid-19th century. Today the saloon strikes that beautiful balance of new creative cocktails and hitting the classics right on target. My first ever Pisco Sour was here and no combination of egg white, citrus, simple syrup, Barsol pisco from Peru, and the decorative bitters on top has matched it outside of Chile.
LocandaAddress and Info
Not a negroni, not a boulevardier, and not very different from either. With bourbon, bonal, and Campari, The Prince tastes like it’s meant for royalty, but since you can afford one... it’s assuredly not.
Tonga RoomAddress and Info
How great it is that the most buttoned-up hotel in the city (the Fairmont, where Obama has stayed) is also the home of a tremendous Scorpion Bowl? The Mai Tai is the heart and soul of Tonga Room, but you don’t come here for a quick pre-dinner drink. Tonga Room is an event. Events require communal flaming bowls with a laundry list of juices and rums... add the ukulele music and the frequent “thunderstorms” and your night’s just beginning.
Sloe Boat To China
The AlembicAddress and Info
Let’s give some love to The Alembic. This beautiful fruity and herbaceous number brings together London dry gin, bianco vermouth, and orange bitters with the sloe gin toeing that very thin line of crisp and easy-drinking. Here’s a nifty fact: sloe gin is red and made of little English berries called “sloe.”
Dosa ValenciaAddress and Info
MJ had Gatorade as his trademark drink. The reigning MVP Steph Curry gets bourbon, curried nectar, and tempranillo wine as his. Just remember when people say that Steph Curry might be the greatest shooter in the world, they’re talking about the player, and not this potent drink.
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1. The Devil's Acre256 Columbus Ave, San Francisco
2. The Starlight Room450 Powell St, San Francisco
3. Zeitgeist199 Valencia St, San Francisco
4. Alta CA1420 Market St, San Francisco
5. Cafe Terminus16 California St, San Francisco
6. Liholiho Yacht Club871 Sutter St, San Francisco
7. CoquetaPier 5 - The Embarcadero, San Francisco
8. Pied Piper Bar & Grill2 New Montgomery St, San Francisco
9. Whitechapel600 Polk St, San Francisco
10. Padrecito901 Cole St, San Francisco
11. Park Tavern1652 Stockton St, San Francisco
12. Aatxe2170 Market St, San Francisco
13. Trick Dog3010 20th St, San Francisco
14. Tosca Cafe242 Columbus Ave, San Francisco
15. The Interval2 Marina Blvd, Fort Mason Building A, San Francisco
16. Persian Aub Zam Zam1633 Haight St, San Francisco
17. Nopa560 Divisadero St, San Francisco
18. Bar Agricole355 11th St, San Francisco
19. House of Shields39 New Montgomery St, San Francisco
20. Trou Normand140 New Montgomery St, San Francisco
21. PABU101 California St, San Francisco
22. Novela662 Mission St, San Francisco
23. Cadillac Bar & Grill44 9th St, San Francisco
24. Maven598 Haight St, San Francisco
25. ABV3174 16th St, San Francisco
26. Buena Vista Cafe2765 Hyde St, San Francisco
27. Alchemist Bar & Lounge679 3rd Street, San Francisco
28. Smuggler's Cove560 Gough St, San Francisco
29. Tommy's Mexican Restaurant5929 Geary Blvd, San Francisco
30. Stookey's Club Moderne895 Bush St, San Francisco
31. Tadich Grill240 California St, San Francisco
32. Hard WaterPier 3, San Francisco
33. 15 Romolo15 Romolo Pl, San Francisco
34. Bix Restaurant56 Gold St, San Francisco
35. Bloodhound1145 Folsom St, San Francisco
36. Comstock Saloon155 Columbus Ave, San Francisco
37. Elixir3200 16th St, San Francisco
38. Locanda557 Valencia St, San Francisco
39. The Tonga Room & Hurricane Lounge950 Mason St, San Francisco
40. The Alembic1725 Haight St, San Francisco
41. Dosa995 Valencia St, San Francisco
This North Beach spot is serving up apothecary-themed cocktails in an expansive space with a hidden basement bar. The Devil’s Acre pays tribute to the Barbary Coast with period-specific cocktails that are billed as “remedies.” And the theme doesn’t just stop at the cocktails -- the bar staff wears leather smocks, there’s an 1890's cocktail shaker, the menu’s designed to resemble a classic almanac, and you’ll find apothecary bottles dotting the bar, which is ideal since a drink from the Future Bars gang is a prescription we'll take any day.
Harry Denton's Starlight Room, located on the 21st floor of Union Square's Sir Francis Drake Hotel, is a totally opulent old-school lounge and nightclub. The interior features red velvet, sparkling chandeliers, mirrored ceilings, and an Art Deco dance floor. Even more intoxicating than the Top 40 tunes are the 360-degree views of the city. Oh, and on Sundays, drag queens perform during the weekly drag brunch.
Zeitgeist is a fascinating combo of a dive and a biergarten that houses an eclectic blend of friendly patrons who are all there for the same reasons: to sample a bodacious variety of beer, enjoy the nice weather on the numerous outdoor picnic tables, or slug an award-winning Bloody Mary (and in many cases, all three).
Located right across the street from the Twitter HQ, Alta CA's handcrafted cocktail menu is one of the best we've seen in a while. The Negroni is made with Gran Classico instead of Campari, and we're really into it. But cocktails aren't the only thing going for this spot: the malted milkshakes come in insane flavors like baklava and lemon tart, and the smoked chicken broth is a must.
With accents like Edison bulbs, large metal lamps, and exposed wood, Terminus offers up cafe-style eats for breakfast and lunch.
Liholiho Yacht Club is a pop-up restaurant that found a permanent home in Nob Hill...and isn't a yacht club by any means. The kitchen serves a mash-up of Hawaiian, Californian, and Southeast Asian flavors, led by dishes like poppy seed steamed buns with beef tongue, tuna poke on a nori cracker, and twice-cooked pork belly. Aside from an à la carte menu, there's a family-style tasting dinner that's served at the Ohana Table, a communal table in the front of the restaurant.
Born from a Top Chef Masters vet, Coqueta (which means “flirt”) is an idyllic spot for creative and refreshing cocktails, festive tapas, and a gorgeous view of the Bay. Sit outside in the semi-enclosed patio or snag a seat at the glassed-in bar -- either way, you’ll be enjoying Spanish and Basque small plates that are vibrant and flavorful alongside sumptuous sangria in an unbeatable setting.
Since 1909, Maxfield Parrish’s famed Pied Piper painting has hung at the bar of the same name inside of the legendary Palace Hotel. Like everything about the Palace, the Pied Piper Bar is historic, elegant, and tasteful. Although a favorite for classic cocktails, their menu oozes old school refinement with American standbys like the New York Strip, ahi tuna tartare, and one of the best burgers in the Bay Area.
This Tenderloin bar is a gin oasis. The best part about Whitechapel isn't the gin selection (400!) or the gin-based cocktails (120!), but the Victorian London-meets-subway station decor. The space includes two bars, plenty of cozy corners, subway tiled walls, and generally eccentric paraphernalia. It serves food inspired by the regions integral to the gin trade, which means English pub fare with a hint of Indian spice (think fish & chips with saffron aioli).
We're not totally sure about this, but we're going to assume that somewhere, in some religion, there's a patron saint of tacos. There must be, otherwise Padrecito's heavenly braised pork belly taco wouldn't exist. Yeah, it's that good. This Cole Valley restaurant has all the Mexican favorites you could want (tacos, enchiladas, guac) and a whole range of tequila-featuring cocktails. Thank you Taco God, thank you.
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.
Pronounced "aah-CHAY," this Upper Market Spanish spot features a menu that is inspired from the Basque tapas culture, but is very much driven by local Northern California ingredients. The vibe is very intimate and European, the former meaning you’ll want to make a reservation (call if your party is five or more), though walk-ins can grab seats at the bar or the communal table.
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.
Tosca Cafe feels more like an under-the-radar mom-and-pop restaurant than a Michelin-starred Italian destination. Open until 2am, it's a prime spot for late-night dining, especially since reservations are necessary and hard to come by during peak dinner hours. The menu features unforgettable dishes like pork shoulder steak, grilled polenta with roasted mushrooms, and seafood stew.
Deep in Fort Mason, The Interval is part museum, part coffee shop, and part bar. Bartender Jennifer Colliau is a straight-up cocktail geek and all of her drinks, some with quirkier names than others (Decanted Mother-in-Law, Mexican Firing Squad Special) have a story. Floor-to-ceiling bookshelves make you feel like you're in someone's personal library. It's the kind of place you go to think while you drink.
Zam Zam's a unique and lust-filled joint that's serving up cheap brews, great music, and a hipster-esque crowd.
Nopa is a San Francisco institution that does everything really, really well. It's the best brunch in Western Addition and one of the best in the whole city. Its burger is perfect with pickled onions and French fries, especially when eaten at the bar. It's a one-stop-shop for a date, a birthday dinner, or dinner with your parents. Plus, the kitchen is open until 1 AM for a full dinner. Yeah, this place wins at everything.
Set in a former warehouse in SOMA, Bar Agricole is a cocktail bar-restaurant hybrid that serves cool Northern Californian food (Marin oysters, roasted Dungeness crab, grilled flatbreads) and equally cool cocktails. Decorated with glass sculptures and furnished with wine barrel chairs, the massive restaurant is split between a 4,000sqft interior and a 1,6000sqft garden, which is accessible through a glass and steel facade. If the food and drinks weren't so spot on, the sleek aesthetics would certainly steal the show.
A former gentlemen's club where women were not allowed (unless they were prostitutes) until 1976, House of Shields also operated as an actual speakeasy during Prohibition, with an underground passageway connecting it to the Palace Hotel. Presidential side note: Warren Harding was known to go super hard here. Today the lack of TVs/clocks make this the ultimate FiDi bar for happy hour drinks that turn into nightcaps.
Trou Normand focuses on whole-animal butchery and offers 40 types of salumi and charcuterie made from high quality meats such as rare Mangalitsa pigs. This SoMa eatery offers sandwiches and coffee for lunch, chophouse style cuts of meat for dinner, and also has an extensive cocktail list based on classic, turn-of-the-century recipes. Trou Normand is pricey and popular (reservations are accepted), but has a large outdoor space to complement its cozy, den-like interior.
When you think of Japanese whisky bars, you think of Nihon Whisky Lounge. But Pabu is a solid surprising contender: they have a secret Japanese cocktail menu, plus traditional Japanese whisky service. Each of the 14 Japanese whiskies offered are served with a complimentary food item that's blowtorched in front of you, meant to bring out the complex flavors of the drink.
This book-themed cocktail bar in SOMA is one of the most glamorous places to drink in San Francisco. Everything about Novela sticks to the theme, from the chromatically-organized library and vintage card catalog cabinet to the drinks named after literary characters (Jay Gatsby, Christopher Robin, Severus Snape). A private bar, appropriately called the Hemingway Room, is available for special events.
Situated in the Twitter building, Cadillac is a casual Tex-Mex with classic items like steak and chicken fajitas, quick-fried corn tacos, and $24 margarita pitchers.
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.
Though ABV is more than just a great whiskey bar, its whiskey menu isn't to be forgotten. You’ll find a surprising and thorough list of rare Scotches, Japanese whiskies, bourbons, ryes, and cask-strength bottles. Its bar snacks are definitely worth writing home about too, and -- it should be mentioned -- it serves an impressive brunch on the weekends. Win!
It’s a rite of passage as a San Franciscan (or tourist, for that matter) to crowd up to the bar at Buena Vista mid-morning and sip on a piping hot Irish Coffee. It’s the birthplace of the boozy beverage (in America), after all, and these bartenders have been mixing them up assembly line-style since 1916. Sure, it’s inconveniently located in Fisherman’s Wharf, but it’s worth the trek for that signature mix of Irish whiskey, coffee, sugar, and cream in those delicate vintage glasses.
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.
This three-story tiki bar in Hayes Valley is one of the those bars you need to go to at least once in your life. There are waterfalls, pirate paraphernalia, and more than 500 rums from around the world. It serves the tiki drink to end all tiki drinks: the Smuggler's Rum Barrel, a punch made with 15 different rums and 20 different juices. Since Smuggler's Cove is on every tourist's list of places to drink in San Francisco, there's always a line and the place is always crowded, but that makes it all the more festive.
This authentic Mexican spot has a killer list of only 100% agave tequilas (that represents the entire tequila industry), a staff who will teach you about the stuff, AND a delicious menu to boot. Since opening its doors in 1965, its margarita recipe has stayed the same, proving traditional isn't always a bad thing.
At this “post-Prohibition”-inspired lounge/speakeasy tucked between Nob Hill and Union Square, enjoy cocktails crafted from vintage recipes along the immaculate, neon lit bar, which has a dozen bar stools and a couple of tables for a particularly intimate atmosphere. Drop by for happy hour between 4:30 -6 p.m. for $2 off all cocktails, like a particularly good Pisco Punch, and $1 off beer & wine.
Tadich Grill isn't just SF's oldest restaurant, it's California's oldest restaurant. Everyone from Jack Nicholson to Joe Montana has dined there (Herb Caen was a regular in his day), but no matter who you are or how important you think you are, there are no reservations and everyone waits in line. Tadich Grill is known for its seafood -- get the oysters Rockefeller, the pan-fried sand dabs, or the seafood cioppino -- and never disappoints when you're in the mood for a delicious throwback meal.
When you step into this gorgeous Embarcadero bar, you’ll be greeted by a massive wall of every kind of whiskey imaginable. The space may be small, but you’ll be blown away by the selection of hard-to-find bourbons. Sip flights of the rare stuff (ranging from $22 to $125) as you chow down on New Orleans-inspired cuisine, like plates of crispy fried chicken, oysters, pimento cheese dip, and hush puppies.
Located up a steep alley on Strip Club row, 15 Romolo rewards lucky wanderers with superbly crafted cocktails served by well-versed bartenders. Classy wooden barstools accommodate drinkers, while comfortable booths serve weekend diners because -- if you haven't heard -- the brunch menu, featuring tofu báhn mì vie and bone marrow fritters, garners as much praise as the drinks.
Step back in time and indulge yourself at this '30s-style supper club just minutes from the Embarcadero. Bix is all class, from the white-jacketed bartenders mixing delicious cocktails to the intimate lighting & high ceilings, to the piano player & live jazz. This iconic SF spot serves “modern American” cuisine which includes Dungeness crab rolls, bone marrow, fresh lobster spaghetti, and a black truffle cheeseburger. Co-owners Doug Biederbeck and Bruce Hill are behind other SF staples (Florio, MarketBar, Fog City, and Pizzeria, among others), and Chef Emmanuel Eng previously worked at Boulevard, Maverick, and Aqua.
Bloodhound, located right in SoMa, is a hip, rustic take on San Francisco’s ever-evolving dive bar scene. Beneath a ceiling painted with feathered fauna is a bar complete with reclaimed wood, decorative antlers, and talented drink slingers who are just as willing to toss you a Tecate as they are a signature craft cocktail. Play some pool, gnaw on some jerky, and throw back a few Mason jars full of delicious drinks.
From the folks behind Absinthe, Comstock is a classic San Francisco bar in North Beach. The throwback interior is outfitted with antique fans, a 150-year-old absinthe fountain, and the spot's original mahogany bar from 1907. The cocktails are just as classic as the bar, and the tie-and-vest wearing bartenders know how to mix pisco, lemon juice, and pineapple gomme into a standout punch.
Home to 350+ whiskies, Elixir, which opened in 1858, is the second oldest saloon in the city. The space feels like a combination of a pub, sports bar, and cocktail lounge, which accounts for their amazing diverse drink menu. Come for happy hour and stay until it transforms into a velvety candle-lit party, because why not?
Younger brother to game-changing Italian stalwart Delfina, Locando's a bustling osteria and bar that's earned a following of its own thanks to flawlessly fried Jerusalem artichokes and a thoughtful amaro-heavy cocktail program that get things started before you move onto the show-stopping selection of pastas (don't miss the cacio e pepe) and grill selections like Berkshire pork saltimbocca.
It's the ultimate in old-school, over-the-top Tiki kitsch (we’re talking a cover band playing on a raft in the middle of a swimming pool while it rains) and it’ll never go out of style. Located in the a Nob Hill hotel, the Tonga Room opened in 1945 and, despite its tourist-appeal, is now one of those places where you more or less have to go and order a Scorpion bowl before they give you your San Francisco citizenship card.
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.
Dosa began its tenure as a beacon of brilliant South Indian cooking when it opened in the Mission more than a decade ago. It's still the best Indian cuisine in the city, and restaurant's namesake dosas are made from inventive fusion batters and served with fresh coconut and tomato chutneys and sambar, a lentil and vegetable dipping sauce. The restaurant also has excellent cocktails, especially the Gin and Tonic made with house-made fig and cardamom tonic.