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Jun 29, 2014 02:05 PM

Cocktails in SF -- 7x7 "big drink"

Anyone tried a lot of these and have an opinion on this list?

Any favorites not listed?

I know very little about cocktails, but was going to try a bunch (ie all) of these to remedy that.



1 - 10
Maven - hometown vixen
Bix - Bix sidecar
Fog city - fog city milk punch
1760 - The 1760
15 romolo - Brazilian
Outerlands - hot lemon
AQ - the fools wager
The square - clarified white russian
Padrecito - la copa verde
Trou normand - single barrel cognac old fashioned

11 - 20
Tommy's Mexican - Tommy's margarita
Nopa - summit cocktail
Alta ca - curious George
Buena vista cafe - Irish coffee
Star belly - pimm's cup
R bar - shot of fernet- branca with a ginger back
Holy water - after the gold rush
Tosca cafe - house cappuccino
Ice cream bar - Dublin honey
Laszlo - michelada

Tradition - surfer on acid
Third rail - mt tam
Rye - old fashioned cure all
Beretta - rattlesnake
Bergerac - banana daiquiri
Com stock saloon - pisco punch
Ziryab - Ostwald ripened
Absinthe - Galapagos
Dirty habit - chupacabra
Hideout at dalva - hideout

Coqueta - tonic de Cortez
Bourbon & branch - imperial eagle
Trick dog - baby turtle
Bar Agricole - hallelujah
Twin peaks tavern - brandy stinger
The coachman - antique sour
Clock bar - chartreuse swizzle
Novella - billy pilgrim
La Urbana - Acapulco Manila
Empress of china - gin and tonic

Cliff house - Ramos fizz
Smuggler's cove - smuggler's rum barrel
The slanted door - piña colada
Chino - boba colada
Spruce - spruce goose
Butter - latch key tea
Zeitgeist - Bloody Mary
Brass tacks - knife in the water
Tonga room - tonga Mai tai
Reed & greenough - pisco brûlée

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  1. Nice, appreciate the handy list. While I've been to a number of these spots, I haven't tried most of the chosen cocktails. Right off the bat, Trou Normand's single barrel cognac old fashioned sounds pretty amazing.

    1. 7x7 has always struck me as a not accurate list of anything and seem to be influenced by advertising. I'd forget it and use a different source.

      21 Replies
      1. re: sfchris

        Do you have an alternative source you would recommend?

        1. re: Dustin_E

          Not at this time. I just have seen outrageous listings in the 7x7 restaurant lists and so have been warning my friends about using it as there obviously is some sort of pay to play going on there.

          Just one example from your list: The drinks in the Tonga Room are notoriously awful. Yet they made the list.

          1. re: sfchris

            I'm familiar with the restaurant list.

            It is certainly far from perfect, but I thought it not a terrible list.

            And realistically, any list like this is pretty subjective and needs to be taken with a grain of salt.

            ... Which is why I'm asking for suggestions for other drinks, or ones on the list to steer clear of.

            1. re: Dustin_E

              I dunno dude. They had Roadhouse BBQ listed one year which is hands down the worst BBQ I have eaten in any location ever. I deeply distrust their listings and suspect there is pay to play going on. One of the worst drinks I ever had anywhere was at the Tonga Room (they used artificial flavoring that was nasty). I would say throw out that list and start over.

              1. re: sfchris

                They also list ino, farina, house of prime rib, la taqueria, chez Panisse, manresa, taqueria cancun, and a lot of other places that are at least pretty good imo.

                Throwing out the list and starting over with what? Random cocktails from random bars is fine, but this list is at least better than that.

                Your opinion on tonga room is helpful. Can you name 5 more drinks on the list you would avoid? Are there any drinks on the list you have had that you like?

                I'm very familiar with food lists by Michelin, zagat, 7x7, etc. I think lots of those listed places suck. But the lists are at least decent at identifying places that lots of people like ... how misguided that popular opinion is is another issue entirely.

                1. re: Dustin_E

                  Start over with a new thread asking where people's favorite cocktails are and delete the 7x7 stuff. Let's not give 7x7 anymore business than they already have. This is supposed to be an independent resource anyway. This is my last comment in this thread. Sorry to take a hard line but I feel strongly on the principle of this matter.

                  1. re: sfchris

                    Are you a disgruntled former employee of 7x7 or something?

                    some pos local magazine writes lists and sells them for $5 at the local whole foods. people buy them and discuss. who cares?

                    while i'm sure i will miss out on your great cocktail expertise and authority, I most certainly do not give enough of a f*** to start a new thread.

                    plenty of cocktail discussions have been had on this board, each not resulting in more than a few not that interesting drinks.

                    seriously. most useless stream of replies ever.

            2. re: sfchris

              I seriously doubt anyone paid to be on that silly list. They just threw in some of the best-known places. If they were biased toward advertisers, they would have included Lungomare and plugged Hangar One and Beefeater.

              1. re: sfchris

                Didn't Tonga Room switch to fresh juices?

                Truthfully, they could spike a can of Safeway punch, and it's still the Tonga room. It belongs on the list for the same reason Buena Vista does.

                7x7's is getting worse since the editor bought the publication, but it's pretty easy to distinguish when they're amateurish and picking up on trends, to when they're catering to an advertiser. The top 100 lists are pretty good. There's always some puzzling choices, but we're not talking SF Weekly territory naming Pasta Pomodora. I always discover a few great dishes off their lists.I think their online blog has worthwhile food content. It's a lifestyle magazine though. Their goal is to create an illusion.

                1. re: sugartoof

                  Pasta Pomodoro won an SF Weekly readers poll.

                  1. re: sugartoof

                    They're using fresh ingredients and upgraded the quality of their rums and liquors, but their mai tai still sucks. If this list were at all credible, they'd at least suggest the Smuggler's Rum Bowl which was created for The Tonga Room by Martin Cate. The point is that this has nothing to do with "best cocktails" because even the best places on the list are arguably not accurately showcased by their best drinks.

                    1. re: OliverB

                      I agree they didn't list the best drinks, but why do you think they can make a good rum bowl if they can't make a good mai tai? Smuggler's Cove as a brand name doesn't impress me outright.

                      1. re: sugartoof

                        Because I've had both and I think their mai tai is still overly sweet and poorly done. I've spoken with Martin about the relaunch of their menu and his contributions (he was a paid consultant) and he told me that the rum bowl was concocted with the consideration that they'd likely be turned out by amateur and unpolished bartenders, not mixologists, so he came up with a simple and straightforward drink using good quality rums; pretty hard to go wrong. Is it as good as the rum bowl at Smuggler's Cove? Of course not. It's decent at best, which is the most you can say of anything on their current menu. That's beside the point though; it's a far better choice at The Tonga Room in my opinion, than the mai tai, simply because I've ordered both and came to that conclusion based on the taste and proficiency of what I drank. Their mai tai was not very good. Better than it had previously been, but still not a good cocktail. In all fairness, the original Trader Vic's mai tai recipe (the benchmark) is not the easiest mixed drink to make and I don't expect much from a place like Tonga Room. I go there for the atmosphere and overall experience (and cut out as soon as the good-timing cruise ship party band hits the stage!). As for Smuggler's Cove as a brand name - I'm not sure what you mean but I will say this: find me a better tiki bar in North America (or anywhere for that matter!) in terms of the drinks; ie. quality of ingredients and crafstmanship of cocktails. None exists! Smuggler's Cove is unquestionably the best around; at least until Jeff "Beachbum" Berry opens his tiki bar in New Orleans next year. The Cove certainly impresses me and should you too!

                        1. re: OliverB

                          "The Cove certainly impresses me and should you too!"

                          Eh. I've never had a drink Martin Cate's made so maybe that's the problem, but I think Smuggler's Cove has become one of the most overrated bars in the Bay Area. Between the layout of the room, and overly complicated menu they can't (or don't bother) executing, the place is a lot of fluff.

                          That said, I like the idea of them working with the Tonga Room and I think it's neat they found the trendiest tiki bartender around, but I've learned not to get too excited about consulting menus. I also love the boat, and sugary sweet drinks.

                          1. re: sugartoof

                            There's nothing overrated about Smuggler's Cove. Perhaps you just aren't a fan of tiki cocktails. If you are, and if you've been to other tiki bars (Tiki-Ti, Don the Beachcomber's, Tonga Hut, Forbidden Island, Bali-Hai, Mai-Kai, Three Dots, any of the remaining Vic's, etc) then you would surely appreciate what Martin's done with Smuggler's Cove. The drinks are bar none the best craft tiki cocktails you can order at any bar in the country and you're the first person I've ever heard to criticize the interior space; the room is fantastic! Yes it gets crowded and it's best to avoid on weekends (except for Sunday happy hour) but that goes for almost any bar in the city. Then again, you say that you enjoy overly syrupy drinks and obtrusive disco dance bands so perhaps tiki bars aren't really your thing? If you don't appreciate Smuggler's Cove then I shouldn't have phrased that as a question!

                            PS - What do you mean about the overly complicated menu? Most of the cocktails are based on dilligent research of traditional exotic drinks and historical recipes that have been unearthed and obsessed over and tweaked with the highest quality ingredients. You obviously just don't care for tiki drinks which is fine, but it's absurd to call Smuggler's Cove overrated or to even compare it with The Tonga Room. That's like comparing Pete Luger to the Outback Steakhouse.

                            1. re: OliverB

                              " Then again, you say that you enjoy overly syrupy drinks and obtrusive disco dance bands so perhaps tiki bars aren't really your thing?"

                              What? I never said I like overly syrupy drinks, but they are pretty much in line with the Tiki thing, and I do have a tolerance for sweeter, sugary rum drinks. Your response certainly plays into the idea that it's pretty overhyped. As for Tonga Room, I love the unique kitsch which goes beyond the traditional Tiki madness.

                              "you're the first person I've ever heard to criticize the interior space; the room is fantastic!"

                              Really? We've discussed the room in previous threads, and I'm not alone. It looks like they rented a crap lounge and threw up a box of Pirate decorations for a Birthday party. It's also one of the more cramped bars in the city. It doesn't take much for there to be a logjam at the bar paging through a menu fit for a Greek diner...speaking of which....

                              "PS - What do you mean about the overly complicated menu?"

                              It's a good menu, but the drinks suffer from trying too hard, and sadly they can't remember what's in their own drinks, and they don't seem to really care. I've never had a drink that matched the menu, and frankly, I've yet to have a memorable drink there that I wanted to order more than once. It's no Trick Dog.

                              By the way, I never compared Tonga Room to Smuggler's, I'm saying I put up with subpar drinks at Tonga, because hey, it's the Tonga Room, and one of the great wonders of my city. Smuggler's? It's an overrated flash in the pan nobody will care about in 10 years.

                              1. re: sugartoof

                                I'd say that we can agree to disagree but then the rest of the country would disagree as well. There's a good reason that Smuggler's Cove is rated amongst the top bars in the U.S. and revered by all in the tiki community. I'm a regular and have sampled every cocktail on the menu and many off-menu; I've never once had an issue of bartenders forgetting ingredients or not caring. I also don't understand what you mean by "trying too hard"... how is that even possible? Trying to do what too hard? As for the decor, much of it has been culled from vintage tiki bars long gone. If you think it looks like a pirate themed birthday party then so be it, but I maintain that you can't truly be a fan of tiki bars or tiki culture if you don't appreciate Smuggler's Cove in the same way that someone who doesn't appreciate Bourbon & Branch doesn't appreciate craft cocktails. To call Smuggler's Cove a flash in the pan is ridiculous though; Martin's been a huge influence on the scene for years (beginning at Forbidden Island in Alameda) and you don't get named amongst the 50 Greatest Bars on Earth, Top 50 Bars in the World, America’s Best Bars, North American Cocktail Lounge of the Year and the Top 100 Bars in America consecutive years in a row without merit. I guess you know something that the rest of the world, including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Bon Appétit, The Atlantic, GQ, Food and Wine, Drinks International, Esquire, and the thousands of tiki-philes around the world aren't hip to? No offence, you can dislike the place all you want, but calling it an overrated flash int he pan just sounds completely foolish. It's arguably the best tiki and rum bar and top destination for exotic cocktails in the world. If you disagree, I challenge you to name any other contender for tiki drinks of matched quality with as large a selection of rare and vintage rums anywhere in the world.

                                1. re: OliverB

                                  You really want to believe I'm the only person in the universe that thinks Smuggler's Cove is mediocre?

                                  Listing out all the accolades? Are you serious? You just made a great case for why Smuggler's Cove is overrated. The place you described doesn't exist.

                                  Appropriate to this thread, you also mentioned the kind of lists that establishments pay to get on. See Tommy's Restaurant as the only other SF establishment listed as one of the Top bars in the country as an example.

                                  Oh, and we haven't touched on the notoriously rude staff, or obnoxious crowds, and that it's a firetrap waiting to happen. They shouldn't be trying to smash 49 people into that smelly space or letting groups in, ever. Or just as bad, when the place is pretty empty, and you still have to wait 20 minutes to order a drink, and there's awkwardly nowhere to stand, then you get poorly made drink that doesn't resemble what you ordered. I vote it worst bar location in the city.

                                  1. re: sugartoof

                                    Congrats, you still haven't offered a better tiki bar in California, let alone the rest of the country. Calling it smelly is just over the top ridiculous. What does it smell like now? If you want to avoid crowds, go during a weeknight or happy hour on Sundays, which is what I do. I never visit on a Friday or Saturday night because all bars in the city are overcrowded. The fact that they're packing it in is surely a testament to something they're doing right, no? And I've never waited 20 minutes for a drink in my life, even when it's been crowded. No wonder you get bad service man, you unfairly trash every thing about the place without any grounds. I'm still waiting to hear who in the country, is making better rum cocktails than Smuggler's Cove? And calling Dane notoriously rude is absurd; he's one of the nicest and friendliest bartenders in the city. Obnoxious crowds are everywhere. It's not eclusive to Smuggler's Cove. Do you really want to compare the crowds at SC and Tonga Room? I'll gladly take the former!

                                    And I'm not sure what the Tommy's connection is, but Bourbon and Branch is constantly lauded as one of the top bars in America. Citing positive reviews and awards from top publications (NYTimes, Esquire, GQ, Food and Wine, etc) equals overrated?

                                    I'm sorry man but this is just silly... I normally don't care what opinions others chose to hold because to each his own, but this isn't even a case of objective opinion. I would challenge any bartender in the whole of California to mix a rum cocktail as adeptly as Dane. You can complain about the small space all you want (as if that's a reflection on the quality of an establishment) and about the obnoxious weekend crowds who happen to exist in every neighborhood bar in San Francisco, but calling Smuggler's Cove a smelly overrated flash in the pan with poorly mixed drinks is just completely ridiculous and total BS.

                                    What other tiki bars have you been to that serve better drinks? Surely by your account, the list must be endless and I for one would love to read it.

                                    1. re: OliverB

                                      You keep touting their positive reviews, and best of listings as if that makes them above criticism and validates insulting anyone who dissents. Yet you're unknowingly citing polls that list places like Tommy's and Vesuvios as not just really cool bars, but the best bars in the State, or USA, or the World, as if they're legit. These lists rarely are.

                                      I've only been during weekdays around 6pm.

                                      Speaking of "objective opinions" I'm not on a first name basis with the bartenders. Who is Dane?

                                      1. re: sugartoof

                                        I don't care about best of lists at all and I only cited the many awards and write-ups that the bar has received in a single post above to emphasize the outlandishness of your claims. Whether or not "best of lists" have any merit, doesn't discount the obvious fact that a bar which is supposedly a smelly overcrowded flash in the pan that can't mix proper drinks, generally does *not* receive countless awards and universal praise and approval from respected outlets (and YES many are respected!). You're chosing to focus on one singular reference of supposed distinction that I cited above in passing and which you view as being dubious as your entire argument and proof that Smuggler's Cove is in fact, overrated and that every single rum and tiki enthusiast in North America must just be credulous and undiscerning. And the fact that I know the bartender well enough to mention him by name is in fact, the very voice of objectivity, as it attests to the fact that I frequent the bar regularly and have some credibility for forming my opinions. Again, I ask you... who in the country, if not the world, is mixing tiki drinks better? Surely you must have some opinion if the Cove rates so low in your books. I'd be very interested to know. I have a feeling that you can't really name any because none exist and it's difficult to backup claims that have no ground. I know my cocktails and I know my tiki bars. To say that the staff at SC don't know how to mix drinks is completely absurd. First you call them out on the complexity of their cocktails suggesting that they're trying too hard when in actuality, they're are all traditional cocktail recipes collected from the past 80 years. Then you claim that they consistently leave out ingredients and don't know how to mix drinks, which is simply unture. I'm there often enough; I should know! Then you come out of left-field and call the bar "smelly", knock it's patrons, complain about the atmosphere, which again is mostly culled from historic cultural sources. I think you're just struggling to argue for the sake of it at this point. I don't care if you like Smuggler's Cove or not, and clearly you don't, but I do care when I read blatant and unfair misrepresentations about a place that's prevailingly held in high-esteem by those in the know. I'm not referring to best of lists btw, I'm referring to the thousands of tikiphiles and exotic cocktail enthusiasts who all share the same sentiment. Furthermore, if asked to do so, I would easily be able to explain why I feel that a restaurant like Bar Tartin for example (or perhaps more appropriately any of the popular East Village "speakeasies" in N.Y.) is overrated, and offer alternatives that I feel offer a similar concept but better and more satisfying execution. There are not that many tiki bars left in the United States so surely if you feel that Smuggler's Cove is so vastly overrated, you must have -some- alternative to offer. Or do you feel that all tiki bars are overrated? I'm speaking specifically in regards to the quality and craftsmanship of the drinks and their ingredients btw, so a place like Tonga Room wouldn't cut it. The Mai-Kai in Ft. Lauderdale would surely have every other possible candidate beat in all other respects anyhow. Purely in terms of tiki drinks (and selection of rare rums) which other bar in the country do you prefer to Smuggler's Cove? Which other tiki bar do you consider to be it's superior?

            3. Galapagos @ absinthe
              good, a bit fruity; not too sweet; nice fruity things at the bottom.

              Knife in the water @ brass tacks
              good; bitter; small

              also tried the amontillado drink at brass tacks. good.

              I'd return for cocktails at either place. All three of these drinks had several ingredients I didn't recognize. I'm clearly a cocktail n00b.

              1. The gin fizz at Cliff House is pretty wimpy, imo.

                I think the Tonga mai tai is pretty bad too and yes, that's accounting for the revised menu/ingredients.

                I've never ordered a gin & tonic at Empress but I can't imagine it being anything special and don't really consider that to be a cocktail. I'm kind of puzzled as to how a glass of gin with tonic water could have made this list and would guess that based on these few observations, the rest of the list is probably BS as well.

                I'll try my best to remember all of the drinks I've tried from the above:

                Bix - Bix Sidecar - very good.

                15 Romolo - Brazilian - been to 15 Romolo many times and don't think I've ever ordered this.

                AQ - The Fools Wager - excellent.

                Tommy's Mexican - Tommy's Margarita - good margarita.

                Nopa - Summit Cocktail - good brunch cocktail, pretty simple and straightforward.

                Buena Vista Cafe - Irish coffee - better than Tosca imo.

                Tosca Cafe - House Cappuccino - I'm obviously in the minority but I actually don't really like the house coffee at Tosca. It's alright, I guess. I mostly go for the atmosphere.

                Rye - Old Fashioned Cure All - Don't think I've ever had an old fashioned at Rye but show me one place in the city that doesn't make a solid one. I had a mediocre basil gimlet and left because I wasn't digging the crowd or ambiance. Bourbon and Branch is right around the corner so I haven't been back!

                Beretta - Rattlesnake - Ordered before but don't remember anything about it.

                Comstock Saloon - pisco punch - good pisco.

                Bourbon & Branch - Imperial Eagle - very good. This is the best bar in San Francisco along with Smuggler's Cove.

                Trick Dog - Baby Turtle - I've been meaning to try this place ever since it opened. I'll use this as an excuse and report back!

                Clock Bar - Chartreuse Swizzle - Never had this but I've seen others order it. They use cheap canned Dole juice and top the highball with so much ice that it must get completely watered down before anyone could possibly drink half of it. I like Clock Bar but would opt for something else.

                Empress of China - Gin and Tonic - Why?? How??

                Cliff House - Ramos Gin Fizz - doesn't pack any punch; I suspect they cheap out on the amount of gin they use. Too light and airy with hardly any hint of citrus or orange. It tastes mostly of egg white (dehydrated?) and soda water. Nothing special if you've ever had the real deal in NOLA or at better places like The Polo Lounge at The Beverly Hills Hotel.

                Smuggler's Cove - Smuggler's Rum Barrel - I've sampled every cocktail (not rum!) on their menu and have yet to encounter anything I didn't love at the Cove. This wouldn't be my favorite drink on their menu, but it's still one of the best rum barrells around.

                Zeitgeist - Bloody Mary - don't usually order bloody mary's but this one's very good.

                Tonga Room - Tonga Mai Tai - meh! Overly sweet and not well mixed. Before revised menu, not even drinkable.

                14 Replies
                1. re: OliverB

                  The gin & tonic is getting a lot of attention of late, with a number of places offering some new twists and creative variations. A nice summary here:

                  That said, the Empress of China entry doesn't seem to introducing anything original: Bummer.

                  1. re: patsully

                    I guarantee Empress isn't mixing any craft cocktails. I'll order the g+t next time just out of curiosity but I wonder how the heck that even made this list and where they got it from.

                    1. re: OliverB

                      You have to drink something when relaxing to the gorgeous views at Empress of China. The midori sour and mai tai are nothing to write home about. Some earlier reports of EoC:


                      Are there any other special cocktails in Chinatown? The Chinese Mai Tai at Li-Po Lounge is the only I can think of, but I wouldn't go out of my way for it.

                      1. re: hyperbowler

                        What about Buddha Bar?

                        Personally I find Li Po a disgusting dive with obnoxious crowds, but if you to try to ignore the trashy beer posters and imagine what it must have been like back in the '40s (as seen in The Lady From Shanghai!) then it's tolerable. I prefer the Buddha; there used to be less knuckle-heads there on weekends and I find it a bit easier to get the Old SF time travel experience with a bit of imagination.

                        1. re: hyperbowler

                          not geographically in Chinatown but Hakkasan has an interesting Negroni, smoked tableside in a bottle (their other smoked drink only has a pre-smoked glass). They also make a decent version of a Corpse Reviver with yuzu marmalade. If I'm in the mood for a drink with a tiki flair, I get the Trinidad sour with house orgeat at Saison (preceded by their seaweed infused sake-shochu aperitif, and maybe their white Negroni.) Supposedly they are in the process of updating their (clarified) milk punch as well.

                          1. re: barleywino

                            Those Saison drinks sound incredible.

                            1. re: sugartoof

                              bartender Sam used to work at Franklin Mortgage & Investment (speakeasy in Philly from folks at Death & Co.)

                                1. re: sugartoof

                                  I think you would enjoy their milk punch (not to be confused with the milk punch at Bar Agricole, which is not clarified, nor the milk punch at Coachman, which is watered down with soda water).

                                  1. re: barleywino

                                    Sounds delicious. I've had my sights on the Milk Punch from Novella for a while. Keeping my expectations low. Any experience with that one?

                                    Death & Co.'s horchata punch (non-clarified) was always a favorite.

                                    1. re: sugartoof

                                      haven't had the Novella milk punch, will have to check it out, thanks

                          2. re: OliverB

                            Empress of China makes a good, heavy handed drink. I'm sure they're taking the room and experience into account. They use mid-shelf liquor in their drinks. I would probably order one of the more disgusting Dragon Fruit or Lychee drinks there if you're going to bother, but the gin and tonic is a safe choice.

                            1. re: sugartoof

                              Oh I love Empress to be clear and I've had many a lychee mai tai in their bar at happy hour. I was just disputing/questioning the content of the list above, which apparently doesn't have anything to do with the city's most interesting cocktails at all. Empress of China is a gem (and against popular CH opinion, I happen to think the food is great as well) but there's nothing interesting about a gin & tonic.

                      2. My take is that's a pretty good roundup of places to get a competent (or just fun) drink, and that the actual menu pick is less reliable of a guide.

                        There are some obvious omissions. There are also some picks clearly chosen for the experience, not because they're better than Bourbon and Branch, or whoever.