San Francisco: A City of Market Fresh Cocktails
By: Dan Rosenbaum
Fresh and local is a mantra you hear often in San Francisco. It’s what drives us. You’ll see it at the farmer’s markets, restaurants and even at our bars, where springs of mint, orange peels and basil leaves are a permanent fixture. Using only seasonal ingredients, the people behind the bar aren’t bartenders, they are mixologists. An expertly made cocktail takes time to craft and therefore it should take time to savor. These cocktail bars are dotted all over the city. Here are some of the best in the city…
Castro / Upper Market
Location: 2124 Market St.
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: While the list of cocktails is extensive, get the Chipotle Bloody Mary.
Location: 198 Church St.
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.
Embarcadero / Financial District
Location: 246 Kearny St.
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.
Location: 1725 Haight St.
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-Fashion and Pisco Sour.
Location: 3200 16th St.
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
Location: 3202 Mission St.
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.
Location: 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.
Location: 155 Columbus Ave.
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
Location: 1085 Mission St.
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
Location: 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
Location: 39 New Montgomery St.
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.
Location: 34 Seventh St.
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
Location: 501 Jones St.
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”)
Location: 417 Stockton St.
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
Location: 401 Taylor St.
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.
Location: 688 Geary St
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
Location: 505 Jones St.
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.
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