A City of Market-Fresh Cocktails
“Fresh and local” is a mantra you hear often in San Francisco. You’ll see it at the farmer’s markets, restaurants and even at bars here, where sprigs of mint, orange peels and basil leaves — among other accouterments — have become a permanent fixture. San Francisco has been at the forefront of the resurgent cocktail culture, and enjoying an interesting drink is a fun part of experiencing the city. An expertly made cocktail takes time to craft and therefore it should take time to savor. Here are a few recommendations for cocktail bars throughout the city:
Blackbird (2124 Market Street)
Perched on the edge of the Castro, Blackbird has an identity crisis. It exudes all the comforts of a neighborhood dive bar while the inside boasts the décor of stylish lounge. Tip: Although the list of cocktails is extensive, get the Chipotle Bloody Mary.
Churchill (198 Church Street)
With ship ropes slung from the ceiling, Churchill evokes the period of time right after World War II, a time of possibilities and celebration. With a staggering whiskey selection and a couch-filled lounge, this place is perfect just to kick back and relax. Tip: Try the Dark & Stormy.
Rickhouse (246 Kearny Street )
The toughest part about this bar? Choosing your cocktail from the 30-plus page cocktail menu. Crafting their cocktails with only the freshest juice and seasonal ingredients, Rickhouse is known for their large punch bowls, which are big enough to share with your friends. Tip: Not in the mood for punch? Check out the Laphroig Project or the Kentucky Buck.
The Alembic (1725 Haight Street)
Named one of the “Best Cocktail Bars in America” by GQ, Alembic is the perfect place for you to begin/end your trip. There are as many tattoos on the mixologists as there are drinks on the menu. Check out the Vasco de Gamma and the Gilded Lily. Tip: Word on the street is they serve the best Old-Fashioned and Pisco Sour.
Elixir (3200 16th Street)
The second-oldest saloon in the city, Elixir was named one of the top bars in America by Esquire and GQ. They have a rowdy crowd that comes in for the cheap beer, but don’t doubt them and their cocktails. There’s a reason the Cocktail Club meets here. Tip: If they have it, get the White Manhattan.
Royal Cuckoo (3202 Mission Street)
A well-worn bar and taxidermy animals on the wall are two ingredients that attract a young, good-looking crowd. This bar offers music from an old record player and live electric organ music on Saturdays. Tip: This bar, like many bars in the city is cash-only.
15 Romolo (15 Romolo Place )
A San Francisco classic, Romolo has been around since 1998, well before the market fresh craze started. A prototypical modern speakeasy, 15 Romolo is also a big neighborhood watering hole. Tip: Get the Pimm’s Cup.
Comstock Saloon (155 Columbus Avenue)
Named after Henry Comstock and the famed Comstock Lode, Comstock Saloon occupies a historic space that has served as a watering hole for San Franciscans since 1907. Continuing its long tradition, Comstock Saloon offers a menu of classic cocktails, such as Negroni and the Manhattan, in a setting that pays tribute to San Francisco’s Barbary Coast. Tip: Get the Blood and Sand.
AQ Restaurant & Bar (1085 Mission Street)
AQ’s comprehensive cocktail menu is a collaboration between several standout players of San Francisco’s bar scene, including Tim Zohn, Ethan Terry, Karly Pearson, Victoria George and Brandon Josie. Hand-crafted, inventive cocktails use proprietary infusions and flavored liqueurs and bitters, with a heavy focus on domestic spirits, particularly gin, and more than 50 varieties of covetable whiskeys. Tip: Get the New Amsterdam Variant #1.
Bar 888 at the InterContinental San Francisco (888 Howard Street )
Bar 888 features one of the most extensive grappa selections in America, offering nearly 300 selections for individual tastings or as a complement to 14 unique grappa-based cocktails. Highlights include the Italian Mojito with Marolo honey and lemon verbena-infused grappa, fresh mint, sugar and lime juice. Tip: If you check-in on foursquare, you unlock their “foursquare” cocktail.
House of Shields (39 New Montgomery Street)
Recently restored in 2010 (hence all the flat-screen TVs), House of Shields can trace its origin all the way back to 1908. For all you history buffs, House of Shields was rumored to have been the site of President Warren Harding’s 1923 death. Tip: Get the Elderflower Special.
Mr. Smith’s (34 Seventh Street)
A warm and sexy room, Mr. Smith’s has three levels of seating and a main bar area where they serve their excellent cocktails. It will feel as if you are transported back to an English Parlour. Tip: Get the Gimlet.
Bourbon & Branch (501 Jones Street)
If you can only go to one cocktail lounge, it might as well be this one. Bourbon & Branch is a serious speakeasy for someone who likes serious drinks. Be sure to know the password, or you’re not getting in. Tip: There is no sign (look for “Anti-Saloon League”).
Burritt Room (417 Stockton Street)
Located on the second floor of the Crescent Hotel, the Burritt Room is inspired by a San Francisco classic movie, The Maltese Falcon. With its exposed brick, high ceilings and chandeliers, you’ll be transported back to the roaring 1920s. Tip: Ask the mixologists to make you something. They’ve never been wrong.
Jasper’s Corner Tap & Kitchen (401 Taylor Street)
This Union Square spot is good for the beer and the cocktails. The heart and soul of Jasper’s Corner Tap & Kitchen is soaked in booze, from their 60-plus beer menu to the handcrafted cocktails. Tip: Try the Kentucky Two Step.
Rye (688 Geary Street)
Classy cocktails, swanky style, modern detailing, and free pool? Rye is one huge room that lends itself to being a social gathering spot. On the edge of both Civic Center and Union Square, Rye is the perfect location to attract both the local and the visitor. Tip: Get the Basil Gimlet.
Wilson and Wilson (505 Jones Street)
An actual speakeasy, Wilson and Wilson is the bar behind the bar. Located within Bourbon and Branch, Wilson and Wilson is a definite reservation-only spot. Tip: The list of strong cocktails is meant to be ordered like a tasting menu, so don’t think about having just one.