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Best Cocktail Bars

What are the best "do not miss" cocktail bars in SF

I am looking for Tiki Drinks or pre prohibition type classic cocktails like speakeasy type of place

I have heard Slanted Door is good in that respects and Tonga Room on Travel Channel looked interesting but wanted the info from the CH perspective


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    1. Lots of good cocktails around town these days, but definitely Smuggler's Cove for tiki. For the current spot of the original tiki bar, you can go to Trader Vic's in Emeryville.

      Smuggler's Cove
      650 Gough St, San Francisco, CA 94102

      10 Replies
      1. re: foodeye

        Smuggler's Cove is in a class by itself for rum cocktails.

        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          I have heard of Smuggler's Cove, so that one is a must - we had (closed) a TV's in Scottsdale and I have been to the one in Beverly Hills so looking for some new Tiki Bar's to explore, although i do love their Navy Grog

          Heaven's Dog looks promising as well - Cap Haitian Rum & Honey...you had me at 15y barbancourt heh

          Is that one of the cocktail bar's where they Small Hands Food creator works (worked)?

          Bourbon and Branch looks promising as well - What is the difference between going into their "main room" with a reservation and the "library"

          Recent tries were: Prohibition in San Diego was disappointing, Purl in London (UK) was awesome

          Thanks for all these great ideas everyone

          absinthe looks like a nice place for dinner and cocktails -do they have a wide range of absinthe / make their own?

          1. re: Dapuma

            Absinthe is a restaurant with half of the space devoted to the cocktail bar. It's like two spaces in one. I'm sure they have a few absinthes (in truth, I think it was a bit of a gimmick because when they opened, it wasn't legal to serve absinthe in the U.S., so they just had a bottle in a display case) but what you're really after is the cocktail book that lands with a thud. There are at least 10 pages of cocktails based on classic recipes. And they continue to invent their own. I loved a Bengali Gimlet there, spicy with a whiff of curry, which I've never had anywhere else.

            I don't believe it's legal to serve your homemade absinthe in a bar. In fact there was a big brouhaha not too long about about bars that served infused booze like lychee vodka, also not legal, but I think they updated that law.

            At B&B if you reserve I think there is a time limit for your stay. I was there for a NYE party once and we wandered from room to room, and I can't say one is way better than the other. But perhaps the library is the side room/bar and a little smaller. You'll be served the same cocktail menu regardless.

            1. re: rubadubgdub

              ahh nice - do they serve the full menu in the bar area? the bar area sounds like the place to be

              1. re: Dapuma

                The main room that requires reservation allows you to sit and enjoy your drinks in a more private setting. You get your own booth or table and even a cocktail waitress to take your orders. I found the library to be crowded, loud, and you can only get your drinks at the bar on one end of the room. And generally it is 3 people deep!

                I'd also recommend B&B's bar within a bar called Wilson & Wilson. Another speakeasy, reservation type of place. Even more quiet than B&B's main room and they serve a prix fix menu of drinks. Ala carte drinks can be ordered too of course! I'd say they serve the same menu as B&B and likely a few more unique drinks too.

                1. re: Dapuma

                  At Absinthe? Yes. I always sit in the bar area. There are small tables, a few booths but also a long counter with seats, great if you're going solo. Just try to avoid symphony/opera/herbst theater nights or go at 8p when the shows have started.

                2. re: rubadubgdub

                  Since this thread has popped up again...

                  Yes, the Library is the side room of Bourbon and Branch. No resy needed, and the same great cocktails. However, there aren't many places to sit. There are a few chairs scattered around wooden barrels, but that's about it.

                  One thing that should be noted about the Library is that it can get very uncomfortable in there if it's warm out. There's no AC and no windows, so it can get quite stuffy in there. Not sure what's going on with that, but if it's a nice warm day, avoid the Library.

                3. re: Dapuma

                  You should have tried Noble Experiment in San Diego

                  1. re: honkman

                    thanks will try it next time i am there

              2. re: foodeye

                Totally recommend Smuggler's Cove as well. It is unassuming from the outside. It's not really a speakeasy, but the exterior has large blacked out windows with a red light in the entrance. When you enter, you really do get transformed into a pirate ship.

                Drinks are unique and carefully blended! It made me a rum converter that's for sure.

              3. Comstock Saloon, Absinthe, Alembic, Bar Agricole, Burritt Room all have great cocktail programs with the classics, although I wouldn't say the interior look is speakeasy. Bourbon and Branch is the only one I know of that really attempts that. Tonga Room is worth a visit for the throwback interior alone. Slanted Door is not a cocktail bar but rather a restaurant with a cocktail list.

                1 Reply
                1. Has anyone been to Tosca lately? I have not, but it might have the old fashioned vibe that the OP wants.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: farmersdaughter

                    I haven't either, but it does seem to be a place that one goes to for the old school ambiance rather than for the drinks.

                    1. re: farmersdaughter

                      I enjoyed a few green apple martinis at Tosca last fall...

                    2. Two speakeasy-age physical bars are at the Hotel Utah and Cafe Du Nord.

                      Both have music, both will (sometimes) let you in without the cover if you say you want to see the bar and drink. The Utah has a bullet hole from when someone took a shot at Joe DiMaggio (so the story goes), and the Du Nord has an actual speak-easy speaking tube.

                      The Utah has decent beer but "cocktails" are an afterthought. The Du Nord does OK at the classics but isn't in the same league as the true specialists.

                      One of my best cocktails in 2010 was at Serpentine. I also very much like Heaven's Dog (although the food there is only OK). Both of these are off the beaten path, and are more modern. Gitane is more central, more of a spanish feel than speakeasy.

                      Absinthe, previously noted, is excellent, central, has a speakeasy feel, and the food is *highly* underrated, with great price performance.

                      1. 15 Romolo, Comstock Saloon, Absinthe, Bar Agricole, Slanted Door, Heaven's Dog, and Rickhouse all have serious cocktail programs with exceptional ingredients.

                        The Tonga Room and many other local favorites such as Tosca, Vesuvio's, Specs, Li Po Lounge, and Mr. Bing's are more about atmosphere and tradition than exceptional drinks.

                        Hotel Utah and Cafe du Nord seem to me primarily music venues where the bar is an afterthought and the food mandated by the liquor license.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          100% on the food and bar at Utah and CdN. I was thinking of places that have actual prohibition-era physical bars with unique features. I bet house of shield's bar is old, too.

                          1. re: bbulkow

                            Sofa, the new basement bar below Bossa Nova, used to be a speakeasy and the physical bar reportedly comes from the same era.

                        2. Reviving this thread because my SF trip is back on (1 year late but better late than never)

                          I am going to do Bourbon and Branch for sure (Wilson and Wilson), and then on Tuesday it looks like Smugglers Cove has a Tiki special going on with Tiki Central, so that should be interesting

                          If i can fit one other in there...Absinthe for food and drinks seems to be a winner from CH previously, is that still good info, same chef etc?

                          Also I will be there Sat Sun Mon Tues...what restrictions does that put on dining, i know a lot of places wont have their A game on a Monday or Tuesday -

                          If I can only fit one more in there (we will see how many places Mrs D is willing to go to...Rickhouse / Slanted Door / or Heaven's Dog ?

                          Will be staying near Union Square

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: Dapuma

                            If you can only fit one more and quality of cocktails is your primary consideration, I would pick Alembic. The cocktails there & at Bourbon & Branch are really top notch. Plus it would give you a chance to go to the Haight District.

                            1. re: Dapuma

                              Do not miss Smugglers Cove if you're into tiki drinks.

                              1. re: Dapuma

                                Heaven's Dog is gone (victim of a flood), replaced by another Charles Phan restaurant, The Coachman (high end British Pub food). The drinks I've had there have been inventive, and tasty.
                                I especially liked the drinks made with their house made genever.


                              2. Tonga room at the Fairmont
                                Lefty O' Doul's is a fave across from the St. Francis...its been around since the speakeasy days.
                                I can't believe I haven't been to Smugglers Cove..love me my tiki drinks.
                                Have fun Dapuma!

                                1. Saison has had some exceptional bartenders in the past year (Chase White from Experimental Cocktail club in nyc, Sam Houston from Franklin Mortgage & Loan in Philly) but seems to be unable to hold onto them, perhaps because the lack of an affordable bar menu has scared potential customers away from the bar. Unlike other places where the bar and restaurant coexist in synergy with each pulling in business for the other, the bar at Saison always seemed to languish in the background, like an unwanted stepchild. Now that Sam has moved on to Trick dog, Saison has dropped out of the top tier of places in sf that take mixology seriously. Hopefully they will be able to lure another star to take Sam's place. R.I.P.

                                  5 Replies
                                  1. re: barleywino

                                    I honestly wouldn't even have known Saison had a bar except for your posts on Chowhound and one Serious Eats article from March or April. I had wanted to go over and try it for a while, but could never find any information at all on their website regarding when it might be open, how much cocktails might cost, whether food was available, if it even still existed, etc. Given this, I'm not surprised they are having trouble retaining talent.

                                    1. re: tripit

                                      They've discontinued their cocktail list for the time being. Pity, since its anonymity also made it a welcome oasis of calm and personal attention in a town full of overcrowded deafening bars and overworked bartenders.

                                      1. re: barleywino

                                        Just heard that John gertsen from Boston has moved to sf and for the time being will be moonlighting a few nights a week behind the bar at abv. John was a beloved fixture and pioneer on the Boston bar scene, having set a high standard both in terms of his skills and encyclopedic knowledge of mixology/ beverages and his genuine warmth and hospitality. He founded the bar, Drink, there. A true gentleman and one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet. We are lucky to have him here and I look forward to reconnecting with him. (Keep your eyes out for a tall skinny guy, sandy hair, no beard)

                                        1. re: barleywino

                                          I was wondering where he'd pop-up at, I found it odd that he took the mantle of 'ambassador' for the Barbara Lynch Gruppo - I mean, is she opening up something out here or is he now recruiting for her out here? That scenario just didn't make sense, yet.

                                          1. re: avial

                                            I'm not convinced that sf needs one of her restaurants but if she wants to open up a bar that could be interesting. Something like Boston's island creek oyster bar.