San Francisco's History with the Martini and Where You Can Drink Them
San Francisco has always been a city of firsts; but did you know that among the many things created here, the martini was one of them? Keep reading for a crash course in martini history and our selections of the bars, restaurants, and hotels where you can find the most inventive and delicious martinis in San Francisco.
The History of the Martini in San Francisco
During the 1880s, the town of Martinez in California was where miners gathered after prospecting in the Sierra Nevadas. A bartender developed a drink for miners to celebrate striking gold. The miners liked it so much that when one of them passed through San Francisco, they asked for a drink just like the one in Martinez. It is believed that a bartender in the Occidental Hotel in San Francisco created the martini by substituting white wine with vermouth—and so the famous drink ended up on the menu.
Even today, the martini continues to be one of the most popular cocktails globally. Where better to taste it than a bar in San Francisco?
What Makes a Perfect Martini?
When the martini was first created, it was a much sweeter drink than it is today. According to the experts, the perfect martini is made with just a few ingredients, but they must be of high quality. One part dry vermouth is combined with four parts gin and mixed together for around 10 seconds. The drink is poured into a chilled glass and served with a twist of lemon or an olive and ice.
Where to Drink the Perfect Martini in San Francisco
There is a wide range of bars and hotels where you can enjoy a classic martini in San Francisco.
Bix Restaurant (56 Gold St.)
With live jazz and a 1930s ambiance, Bix is a great place to sip a martini in San Francisco and sparked the resurgence of this popular drink in the 1980s. Located just off Jackson Square, a neon sign leads to a room full of mahogany panels, tall columns, and artwork.The restaurant specializes in American French cuisine and the mahogany circular bar is one of the best places in San Francisco to get a cocktail.
Harborview Restaurant & Bar (4 Embarcadero Ctr.)
In Ancient China, lychees were once said to be symbolic of royalty and love. Harborview Restaurant & Bar has introduced a touch of imperial romance to a classic American cocktail. Pair signature Chinese dishes with their popular Lychee Martini, topped with an orchid flower.
The Vault (555 California St.)
The Vault Martini is already a signature drink in San Francisco’s Financial District. Bar lead Tyler Groom created The Vault Martini, which offers guests a choice of Tito’s Vodka or Ford’s Gin with Dolin Vermouth and, uniquely, house made pickle brine. It’s served up or on the rocks.
Wayfare Tavern (558 Sacramento St.)
While Wayfare Tavern offers a robust cocktail menu, guests are encouraged to customize their martini. Do you prefer a vesper, or do you like it dirty with an olive? Do you prefer dry or heavy? Garnished with a lemon, lime, or orange peel? The bartenders at Wayfare Tavern are there to make your version of a martini.
Fisherman's Wharf and the Marina
Chart House (PIER 39)
Chart House offers a cocktail menu that is just as impressive as its sweeping views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Visitors who want a martini packed with a ton of flavor and a nice kick of spice should look no further than the Fiery Cucumber Martini. It contains ingredients that are just as spunky as its name suggests: Prairie Organic Cucumber Vodka, monin cucumber, fresh cucumber, Sea salt, cayenne pepper, and a lime zest rim.
Maybeck’s (3213 Scott St.)
Maybeck's does a Classic Vesper Martini using St. George Local Gin and Vodka. Straight out of Ian Fleming's "Casino Royale", they even add a dash of bitters to make it taste like the original recipe, which uses Kina Lillet.
Aub Zam Zam (1633 Haight St.)
This tiny bar is a San Francisco legend and was a favorite of Anthony Bourdain. With its round wooden bar and Persian influence Aub Zam Zam is famous for martinis made in the old school way. It feels like stepping into the set of "Casablanca."
August (1) Five (524 Van Ness Ave.)
At August (1) Five, the creative approach the team brings to their food also extends to their cocktail program. Their recently revamped cocktail menu includes classic cocktails, bottled cocktails, punchbowls, mocktails, and flights. Their Martini Flight features a sampling of their Summer Negroni, Roasted Onion Gibson, & Truffle Manhattan.
Noosh (2001 Fillmore St.)
Moroccan preserved lemons are used in several of Noosh’s dishes. Instead of discarding the remaining juices, the bar team began exploring ways to repurpose them in a cocktail. The Moroccan Martini is made with a salty, oily lemon brine combined with two French Vermouths (Dolin Dry and Comoz Blanc), which is finished off with a choice of St. George All-Purpose vodka or Tanqueray No. 10 Gin. The vodka is made with a pear eau-de-vie and the gin features botanicals like grapefruit and chamomile; both spirits have a delicate fruitiness that pairs well with the lemon brine and vermouths.
Tonga Room and Hurricane Bar (The Fairmont, 950 Mason St.)
The Tonga Room and Hurricane Bar is a San Francisco institution. A combination of tropical decor, bands playing live on a lagoon, and the occasional rainstorm make this a bar to remember. As well as the classic martini this bar is famed for its Mai Tai cocktail, made the same way since 1945.
Top of The Mark (Intercontinental Mark Hopkins San Francisco, 999 California St.)
Since 1939, this iconic bar at the top of the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins Hotel has been one of the best places to go for a drink. It has hosted dignitaries, movie stars, and World War II servicemen, all looking for that magnificent view of the San Francisco skyline. Sip your martini while gazing out at the near-360 degree views of the city.
North Beach and Russian Hill
Berber Restaurant & Supperclub (1516 Broadway St.)
Berber’s Souk du Soliel martini is made with saffron infused gin, orange blossom, honey, and lemon, garnished with three drops of olive oil and a beautiful edible flower. It's easy to see why it's their most popular drink.
The Stinking Rose (326 Columbus Ave.)
Where else would you enjoy a Gartini other than The Stinking Rose? This classic martini is garnished with hand-stuffed garlic olives and pickled garlic on the side. The Stinking Rose has become famous for celebrating the culinary euphoria of garlic and serving over 3,000 pounds of the pungent herb each month.
Presidio Social Club (563 Ruger St.)
The Presidio Social Club is a good place to stop for a drink or two after walking in the park. Sip a martini while you relax in the grounds. You can also taste barrel aged cocktails here including a Negroni or Gimlet.
Spruce (3640 Sacramento St.)
Spruce is a high quality restaurant with more than 2,500 wines and spirits on its menu. You can relax in the bar with a classic martini before enjoying a meal in the award-winning restaurant that specializes in Californian cuisine. Taste a classic martini or choose from the extensive list of New World and European wines. You will also find a good whisky selection.
SoMa and Union Square
The House of Shields (39 New Montgomery St.)
This historic bar in SoMa dates from 1908 and has been in continuous operation since. It has been restored to its former glory and serves classic drinks in a simple setting with no clocks or TV.
John’s Grill (63 Ellis St.)
John’s Grill’s classic cuisine, wood-paneled walls and historic photographs reflect a colorful century of San Francisco's history and its origins with the martini. Hammett’s Classic Martini (Grey Goose Vodka, Dry Vermouth, shaken and served up), is one of John’s Grill’s top specialty cocktails.
Martuni's Piano Bar (4 Valencia St.)
One of the last original piano bars in San Francisco, Martuni's knows how to mix a cocktail or two. This popular bar is one of the best places to get a martini in town. Go for the platinum martini, made from premier brands, or ask for more olives to make it extra dirty. Then again, you could just add a twist of lemon. At Martuni's, the drinks are known to be strong. Before you know it, you'll be joining in with singing at the piano.
MKT Restaurant - Bar (Four Seasons Hotel, 757 Market St.)
Paying homage to the martini’s origins at the Occidental Hotel and the “Father of American Mixology”, Jerry Thomas, the “Occidentally Famous” stays true to the original flavors of the Martinez cocktail. This martini is part of MKT’s new “Fog City Tales” cocktail menu, where each cocktail tells the story of a significant person or place in San Francisco’s history. The Occidentally Famous martini blends aquavit, cochhi vermouth, pear eau-de-vie, apricot liqueur, orange & juniper bitters, and sea salt tincture.
TAP415 at Westfield San Francisco Centre (865 Market St.)
Tap415’s delicious martini is crafted with your choice of gin or vodka and finished with a hint of Dolin's Dry Vermouth de Chambery. This classic style of vermouth adds a light, clean profile to their martinis and has been the benchmark for French Vermouth since 1821. This classic recipe pairs perfectly with iconic views from under the Westfield Dome.
The View Lounge (San Francisco Marriott Marquis, 780 Mission St.)
The views from this popular bar in San Francisco are unforgettable. Sip a classic martini and let your eyes follow the San Francisco skyline through the arched windows in the bar. Try a classic martini or try the eggnog martini for a different taste.