It’s a great time to be a drinker, and with its rich cocktail history and drinking culture, San Francisco is a fantastic city for imbibing. Whatever your fancy, be it wine, beer, or spirits—and whatever your scene, from neighborhood dives to award-winning, world-class cocktail bars—there’s something for everyone.
Now, creating any “best of” list is an unavoidably subjective affair, so these selections are based on the personal experiences and preferences of our San Francisco staffers.
Understanding that in a city with so many incredible watering holes our list could go on forever, we chose to whittle our picks down to 21. It seemed a fitting number, given that it’s the age at which we all had our very first drink, right?
As for specific criteria, we leaned toward bars that feature craft cocktails but only had one actual rule: the bars had to be legal, public-access venues, so no private clubs or lounges were included.
These are Bevvy’s top 21 picks for the best bars in San Francisco. Consult this list the next time you’re thirsty and in the market for a good drink.
Best San Francisco Cocktail Bars 2015
Trick Dog (Mission District)
3010 20th St // trickdogbar.com
This acclaimed bar from The Bon Vivants serves up artisanal cocktails with small plates. Perhaps best known for their innovative and award-winning menu designs, Trick Dog has also won awards or been nominated for Best American Bar Team, Best American Cocktail Bar, Best American High-Volume Cocktail Bar, and World’s Best Cocktail Menu. The drinks are always delicious and well made, but be sure to get there early as it draws quite the crowd.
ABV (Mission District)
3174 16th St // abvsf.com
Opened in the summer of 2014, ABV wasted no time in establishing a name for itself by winning the title of Best New American Cocktail Bar at the 2015 edition of Tales of the Cocktail’s Spirited Awards. Every drink we’ve had at ABV has been top-notch, with several offerings under $10 which should appeal to the budget-conscious.
Smuggler’s Cove (Hayes Valley)
650 Gough St // smugglerscovesf.com
Martin Cate’s legendary Smuggler’s Cove bar serves up exotic cocktails with Caribbean flair. This popular, pirate-themed bar specializes in rum and tiki libations, including over 200 different types of rum available. Imbibers able to drink their way through the menu’s 70+ cocktails (not all on the same night!) will receive an exclusive gift and merit badge!
Elixir (Mission District)
3200 16th St // elixirsf.com
Perhaps the oldest continuously-running bar in San Francisco, Elixir is a neighborhood saloon and local favorite that’s been operating at the same great corner since 1858. Featuring a large whiskey collection and hand-made cocktails, Elixir patrons range from cocktail connoisseurs and sports fans to bingo enthusiasts (they exist, we swear) and neighborhood regulars.
The Alembic (Lower Haight)
1725 Haight St // alembicbar.com
Located in the Lower Haight, The Alembic has been a staple of San Francisco cocktails for nearly a decade. This saloon-like gastropub has been serving quality cocktails well before many of its SF peers, and helped to usher in the craft movement. A recent expansion and renovation boasts a larger dining space with an expanded food menu.
Third Rail (Dogpatch)
628 20th St // thirdrailbarsf.com
Third Rail brings excellent craft cocktails and fine spirits to the Dogpatch district, a neighborhood historically known more for its artistic community than its bar programs. But with the revitalization happening in Dogpatch, Third Rail steps in to serve quality drinks to an underserved neighborhood. Although a bit off the beaten path, Third Rail is a regular haunt for Bevvy staffers—we particularly enjoy following their signature cocktails with a “Rail Shot,” a triple pairing of draft beer, select spirits, and, wait for it… house-made jerky.
Local Edition (Financial District)
691 Market St // localeditionsf.com
This underground lounge in the historic Hearst building serves progressive Prohibition-era cocktails in a newspaper-themed setting with a speakeasy vibe. Brought to you by FutureBars, the same folks behind Bourbon & Branch and Rickhouse (both included on this list below), Local Edition is a fantastic spot to get a quality drink after work or for a mid-week date, but gets quite overcrowded on weekends.
15 Romolo (North Beach)
15 Romolo Place // 15romolo.com
Located on the ground floor of the Basque Hotel, 15 Romolo is known for artisanal cocktails, excellent spirits, and one of the best selections of sherry in the nation. Rotating beers on tap along with delicious small plates round out the menu for this hidden gem, located off a quiet alley and easy to miss among the glitz of Broadway, but hard to forget… unless you’ve had one too many.
Comstock Saloon (North Beach)
155 Columbus Ave // comstocksaloon.com
This Barbary Coast-esque saloon serves expertly-made classic cocktails with an assortment of food and snacks and a refined, turn-of-the-century vibe. Located in a space that’s served as a local watering hole since 1907, the Comstock Saloon is a favorite of both locals and visitors alike. While the noise level can sometimes be high, the decor is detailed and well done, staying true to the 20th-century era it diligently pays tribute to.
Bourbon & Branch/Wilson & Wilson (The Tenderloin)
501 Jones St // bourbonandbranch.com
This world-renowned speakeasy “is a glimpse back on the 1920s and the era of Prohibition,” and is located in the same spot as an actual speakeasy from that same era. Getting into the main bar of Bourbon & Branch requires a reservation and a secret password, but last-minute or drop-in tipplers looking for a well-made drink can enjoy a sampling of cocktails in their “library” using the password “books.”
Rye (The Tenderloin)
688 Geary St // ryesf.com
Another favorite among Bevvy staffers, Rye serves excellent cocktails along with a good selection of whiskeys in the heart of San Francisco’s Tenderloin district. Comfortably busy most of the time with a nice buzz, the weekends can get a bit crowded and overwhelming.
Rickhouse (Financial District)
246 Kearny St // rickhousebar.com
Named one of America’s best whiskey bars by GQ magazine, Rickhouse has excellent cocktails, an amazing spirits selection, and of course, incredible whiskeys. The exposed brick and wooden facade makes for nice interior decor, and is a nice backdrop for all the booze. The main bar area is not large and can get crowded, with additional seating upstairs. The back area as well as a downstairs, speakeasy-like lounge opens later in the evenings and for special events.
Burritt Room & Tavern (Union Square)
417 Stockton St // charliepalmer.com
Located within The Mystic Hotel sits the Burritt Room, a retro cocktail lounge and restaurant. While we’ve never ordered food here, the cocktails have been excellent on many a visit. Union Square as a neighborhood is quite touristy, but despite being in a hotel, the vibe inside isn’t touristy at all. Live jazz music is featured on most nights and rather enjoyable, although it can sometimes be a little loud for conversation.
Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant (Richmond District)
5929 Geary Blvd // tommysmexican.com
A finalist for World’s Best Spirits Selection in the 2015 Spirited Awards, Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant boasts the best tequila selection outside of Mexico, let alone in San Francisco. Their Margaritas (which use agave nectar in place of triple sec) have been touted as some of the best on Earth, but also be sure to try some of their creative mezcal concoctions.
Zeitgeist (Mission District)
199 Valencia St // zeitgeistsf.com
Zeitgeist is perhaps our favorite spot to have a beer on a weekend afternoon. With a great selection of beers and a large, beer-garden style patio that’s sunny and spacious with ample seating, Zeitgeist is a local favorite and perfect for day drinking. While we love the “biker-bar” theme, some folks can be a little put off by the heavy metal and other aggressive music—but it didn’t bother us at all, and we found the vibe to be quite friendly. Oh, and they have an award-winning Bloody Mary cocktail that may very well be the best in San Francisco.
Toronado (Lower Haight)
547 Haight St // toronado.com
With a reputation as a “dive-y bar with an exceptional beer selection on tap,” Toronado regularly features hard-to-find brews like the elusive Pliny the Elder IPA by Russian River. The customer service is reportedly tepid at times, and the atmosphere can be crowded and loud, but many patrons don’t seem to mind. Remember to bring cash or an ATM card, as Toronado does not accept credit cards.
Nihon Whisky Lounge (SoMa)
1779 Folsom St // dajanigroup.net
Known for their whiskeys, Nihon Whisky Lounge offers modern Japanese food with excellent cocktails, spirits, sakes, and more. It boasts the largest single malt whiskey selection on the West Coast (over 500 offerings), including an impressive array of Japanese whiskies. Individual drams can be quite pricey, and all whiskeys are available for purchase by the bottle, with private locker storage available for unfinished bottles.
Dirty Water (Mid-Market)
1355 Market St // dirtywatersf.com
This high-end newcomer to the San Francisco bar and restaurant scene is located in the revitalized Mid-Market neighborhood, and shares a building with the Twitter headquarters. Not content to simply serve great cocktails from some of SF’s best mixologists, they have over 50 types of beers on tap and over 100 wines available by the glass. Dirty Water also has some of the nicest barware we’ve seen in the city.
Alchemist Bar & Lounge (SoMa)
679 3rd St // alchemistsf.com
This hip, second-floor cocktail lounge is located steps away from AT&T Park (home of the San Francisco Giants) in the southeast end of SoMa. Serving signature as well as made-to-order cocktails, along with craft beers and a full bar, Alchemist Bar & Lounge is a nice after-work spot that’s popular for events. In a neighborhood that’s known more for their pubs and sports bars than cocktail lounges, it’s a nice change of pace for those in the mood for more spirited fares.
Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar (Nob Hill)
950 Mason St // tongaroom.com
This tropical-themed lounge, located in the Fairmont Hotel, specializes in umbrella-topped tiki cocktails and Polynesian cuisine. Consistently recognized for having “San Francisco’s Best Happy Hour,” the Tonga Room is frequently busy, and the wait can get quite long during prime time without a reservation. Come for the excellent drinks, and leave with a full-blown tiki experience.
The Corner Store (Laurel Heights)
5 Masonic Ave // thecornerstore-sf.com
The Corner Store has flown somewhat under the radar of San Francisco cocktail enthusiasts, but that hasn’t stopped it from being a hugely popular neighborhood favorite. Featuring a creative seasonal cocktail menu and some of the best farm-to-table food we’ve had in the city, the bar and restaurant staff here have put together a place that’s destined to become a classic.
So, there you have it—the best bars in San Francisco according to Bevvy. Since we’re sure we missed some great spots and made plenty of you mad for omitting your favorite, feel free to heckle us in the comments.
Photo: Trick Dog