San Francisco is the perfect city for cocktail and spirit aficionados; the extensive bar scene caters to every taste, atmosphere and aesthetic. While there are thousands of establishments worth your time, we’ve chosen nine must-visit bars for your trip to San Francisco.
For a taste of the finer things in life, make your way to Whitechapel. The aesthetic is deliberately the glitz, glamour and decadence of the Roaring Twenties. The drink of choice is gin and the establishment boasts the largest collection of the spirit in North America. This collection and the cocktails on offer, fill a hefty nineteen-page menu with each cocktail intricately and meticulously designed. Take for example Ghost of a Genius, a sharp and melancholic blend of gin, vermouth, pickling brine, bitters, and a cocktail onion. At the other end of the spectrum there’s The Ginger Rogers, a lively and spicy cocktail of gin, ginger root, mint, ginger ale and lime. All the drinks can be paired with choices from the small food menu - enjoy anything from a simple grilled cheese to a tandoori chicken kebab wrap. Whitechapel is a must-visit location if you want to indulge in your cocktail or gin passion while in San Francisco.
Trick Dog is a bar full of attitude that exemplifies modern San Francisco alternative culture, to the extent that the establishment describes themselves as a “kick ass, well made, no bullshit, neighbourhood cocktail bar”. They pride themselves on exclusive and unique cocktails in a pleasant setting. Their offer changes every six months, with each menu being designed by local artists. Past menus have taken the form of a tattoo parlour catalogue, a book of paint swatches and even a dog-inspired calendar whilst their current menu is called the ‘Whole Dog Menu’ and comes as a moon-themed photography book. Right now, you can try Government Surplus (Jack Daniels, sherry, amaro, red wine, prickly pear, ginger, lemon, and egg white), or perhaps The Great Bus Race is more your style? (Tequila, grappa, maraschino, caramelized orange, parsley, and lime). The cocktails take after the menus, aiming to be carefully crafted works of art. If a laidback atmosphere with a genuine passion for mixology if what you’re looking for, give Trick Dog a visit and, as a plus, you can even order a copy of the menu to take home as a memento.
Zeitgeist is simple. Serving its neighbourhood since 1977, the bar and restaurant focuses on serving good food and good drinks. They proudly offer sixty-four beers on tap alongside classic American dishes. They have burgers six ways, ranging from the classic burger to the spicy Volcano one. If burgers aren’t your thing, they have melts, wings and hot sandwiches to treat yourself to. One of the best things about Zeitgeist might be its opening hours. You can visit the place seven days a week from midmorning till late. So, whether you are craving brunch, lunch, dinner or a late-night drink, Zeitgeist is there for your enjoyment. Another unique feature is their beer garden. A rare sight in central San Francisco, the garden only adds to the rustic neighbourhood charm that Zeitgeist has worked so hard to cultivate. If you are looking for good, simple food and drink, look no further than Zeitgeist.
One of the most unique bars in the city is Wilson & Wilson, located inside the speakeasy Bourbon and Branch and modelled after a classic noir detective agency. In a softly furnished room, you order drinks from a case file. The cocktail menu is exclusively unique but perhaps expect a wait as Wilson & Wilson describes their drinks as ‘labour intensive’. Befitting the speakeasy motif, Wilson & Wilson has a strict set of 'house rules’ - where patrons are expected to keep their voices low and not crowd the bar. Wilson & Wilson offer cocktails made from only the very finest ingredients and due to their adherence to quality expect to pay a little extra for the cocktails on offer, but have no doubt it is fully worth it. Wilson & Wilson is a unique experience and one you should strive to undertake. The establishment has limited opening hours (Wednesday to Saturday, 6pm to 2am) and runs by reservation only.
Anchor Brewing takes pride in its history, having served beer to the people of the Bay since 1896. Be it the Great Fire of 1906 or Prohibition, nothing has been able to stop this establishment from doing what it does best. The headline brew at Anchor is the Steam Beer, served since the brewery’s inception, this distinctively flavoured beverage is inspired by the old West Coast brewing method along with a master-level art of brewing. Overall, Anchor offers twenty-nine signature brews across the year. However, its true uniqueness not only comes from their beers on tap, but from offering access to their processes. Anchor offers tour of the premises, explaining the brewing process as well as providing varied tastings. There’s a beautiful simplicity to Anchor Brewery whom through thick or thin, have made beer for over a century. Good for both a simple drink and a chance to learn about a San Francisco icon, go to Anchor Brewing.
For a different take on beer, try Biergarten. Here you combine locally sourced Bavarian beer with delicious German food. With no pitchers, the drinks are served the traditional way - in a tall stein with plenty of head. Biergarten prides itself on being a centrally located neighbourhood beer garden that welcomes people of all ages and does not take reservations. This creates a refreshing ‘come one, come all’ atmosphere that is sure to make even the most distant traveller feel welcome. Biergarten is open seven days a week and its afternoon opening hours make it the perfect place to relax after a long day of sightseeing. Recently named as one of National Geographic’s perfect ways to spend a day in San Francisco, Biergarten is certainly worth adding to your itinerary.
San Francisco’s Mission District is home to a historic and deeply rooted Latino community and there’s no better place to try the cultural cuisine than at El Techo. This incredibly popular rooftop restaurant offers authentic Latin American street food alongside delicious cocktails. Accompanying small dishes like empanadas and quesadillas, you can indulge in pollo frito and chicharron de carne. The last one is the Latino equivalent of crackling, and El Techo offers it in half-pound, pound and one-and-a-half pound servings. They also offer different types of parrilla - pulled marinated meat served with delicious sides. Food and drink are both served till late, allowing you to pair your authentic Latin American meal with one of El Techo’s fine cocktails. Whilst they have classics like piña coladas, they also offer more distinctive cocktails like La Paloma. Drinks can be ordered as a single or a pitcher, allowing you to stay for as long as you like. Be sure to arrive early though, as the restaurant can get very busy but El Techo is well worth a visit for its authentic Latino dining experience.
Hidden behind a door marked with bats on the second floor of the must-visit China Live marketplace is Cold Drinks. This discreet bar blends a jazz-era Shanghai aesthetic with a focus on Scotch. The sophisticated atmosphere contrasts strongly with the hustle and bustle of the main food hall, making Cold Drinks the perfect place to dress up and indulge. The menu is designed to blend good Scotch with a Chinese twist. Some takes on the mix are simple, like the Day & Night in Chinatown (Glengrant 12, Asian pear, black pepper syrup, and bitters); others are more adventurous, like the Roby Roy and Tokyo Rose (Singleton 12, Carpano Antica, Maraschino Liqueur & Yuzu Lemonade). Yet for a truly unique experience, ask for Omakase. Taking its name from the Japanese culinary practise, it involves the bartender making a drink they think you’ll enjoy. For those who simply enjoy a pure glass of Scotch, Cold Drinks offers some of the finest blends around inside a place that feels like it has been taken from another time. Cold Drinks is high-quality, sophisticated, and perfect for a night of indulgence.
The home of Irish coffee in America is The Buena Vista. Owner Jack Koeppler and journalist Stanton Delaplane brought the drink to America in 1952 and, since then, the Buena Vista has continued to serve smooth coffee blended with delicious Tullamore Dew Irish whiskey. However, since their inception they have expanded their alcoholic repertoire, now serving twenty speciality drinks, as well as delicious bar food. You can enjoy everything from a Tequila Sunrise to a bacon Bloody Mary, alongside a classic burger or a tuna melt. Another highlight of The Buena Vista is its gorgeous location, since the bar is located at the seafront end of the iconic Hyde Street, making it the perfect spot for a drink after a day spent walking around the city. The Buena Vista is easily accessible, sitting right by the terminus of the Fisherman’s Wharf cable car and is open from mid-morning till late, seven days a week. In summary, The Buena Vista is the perfect spot to enjoy an iconic drink.
Written on 1st August 2019 by Benjamin Mock.
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