Bars

The best places to drink in San Francisco—reviewed and rated by our critics

Bars

The best wine bars in San Francisco

The local cocktail scene is generating a serious buzz, but bars in San Francisco cater to every drinker, whether your preferred poison is beer, wine or whiskey

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Where to go for cocktails

Trou Normand

Located in SoMa's majestic Pacific Bell building, Trou Normand brings a certain je ne se quoi to the after-work happy-hour scene. With tall windows, an elegant, curved marble bar and handsome leather booths, the place is as beautiful as it is unassuming. A courtyard in back whisks you away from the urban surroundings to a tree-lined patio outfitted with long tables, heat lamps and a glass canopy, so that you can sit outside rain or shine. Modeled on a contemporary French café, the bar and restaurant is known for its cocktails, house-made cordials and bitters. Many of the drinks incorporate cognacs and armagnacs the bar team has selected by the barrel from France. Enjoy these drinks with a simple but thoughtful daily menu comprised of a wide selection of house-cured meats, simply prepared seasonal vegetables and other dishes. Open from 8am to midnight during the week, Trou Normand aspires to be an all-day pit stop for breakfast, lunch, dinner, coffee, drinks, and snacks in between.

Time Out says
  • 5 out of 5 stars
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Bars

Smuggler's Cove

With an extensive menu of complex cocktails and an interior worthy of a movie set, it's not hard to understand why Smuggler's Cove is one of the most lauded tiki bars in the world. Patrons plunge straight into a pirate fantasy as they gaze at the three-story interior bedecked with a ship's bow, large anchors, mermaid carvings and even a waterfall. But the fanciful decor belies a sophisticated cocktail program. The hefty drinks list, contained in a thick binder, showcases traditional Caribbean libations and specialty creations from other famous tiki bars. Bartenders expertly mix, shake and blend the satisfyingly sweet and fruity concoctions using a stunning array of fresh ingredients—as many as a dozen in a single drink—and spirits that include seriously boozy overproof rum. Alongside the classics are lesser-known delights like the Batida (coconut cream, fresh passion fruit puree and condensed milk blended with the Brazilian sugarcane spirit cachaça) and the Tradewinds (a deceptively sweet drink made with two types of rum, apricot liqueur and coconut cream). Parties of ten or more can opt for punch bowls (some theatrically set alight), which come with two-foot-long straws to sip from your seat. The Cove also offers a serious selection of more than 200 rums. Regulars may choose to sign up for the Rumbustion Society, a punch card program that will help you chart your exploration of the spirit. Members who try at least 100 rums become Guardians of the Cove, earning a plaque, a me

Time Out says
  • 5 out of 5 stars
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The Coachman

Though the Coachman may look like any number of contemporary, classy restaurants—long and dimly lit with casual tables gathered in the back—the bar program is anything but run-of-the-mill. Bar manager Johnny Codd brings energy and passion with creative riffs on obscure drinks from the early 1900s. The bar is forging fresh approaches to San Francisco's mature mixology culture, reducing Negroni cocktails to a syrup to use as an ingredient (a cocktail within a cocktail?), using wine ice shards to change the flavor of a drink gradually, serving cocktails in hunting flasks, and spotlighting an inventive flight of classic citrus-gin cocktails that are clarified until they are silky smooth. The bar itself is a sight to behold: Made from a single, 20-foot-long piece of wood, it stretches the length of the space, offering a comfortable place to imbibe and nosh on Charles Phan's modern British pub fare (steak pie, potted crab and a juicy prime rib).

Time Out says
  • 5 out of 5 stars
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Bars

ABV

Cocktail luminaries Ryan Fitzgerald and Todd Smith, who helped kick off the drinks program at Bourbon and Branch in the aughts, bring a subtle and well-balanced approach to simple but elegant, three- or four-ingredient drinks at this narrow bar. The design of the sophisticated spot incorporates recycled materials, including charming gin-bottles-turned-candle-holders and corroded mirrors fashioned into shimmering chandeliers—even the top of the 15-seat bar is made from wood reclaimed from a tree that was scheduled for removal outside a nearby school. Standout tipples include the smooth and smoky Whisky in Church (scotch, oloroso sherry, maple-smoked pear bitters), the clean and savory Casino Perfecto (blanco tequila, cappelletti aperitif wine and amontillado sherry), and the refreshing, slightly bubbly Tarragon Collins (gin, lemon, tarragon and soda). The back bar is deep with spirits for sipping, and particularly well-stocked with tequilas (mescals, specifically). To go with the cocktails are rich bites, such as the mapo “sloppy joes” made of tangy pork stuffed into fluffy white Chinese bread, cheese boards, kimchi fritters, and trays of pickled seasonal vegetables.

Time Out says
  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Bars

The best bars in San Francisco

The local cocktail scene is generating a serious buzz, but bars in San Francisco cater to every drinker, whether your preferred poison is beer, wine or whiskey

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San Francisco’s best gay bars

Eagle Tavern

San Francisco's legendary biker bar is best known for its Sunday afternoon beer busts, when leather-clad bears, muscle men in tanks, twinks in tight tees and gal pals in trucker caps pack the huge outdoor patio to get shitfaced before sundown on $12 all-you-can-drink beer. This is the melting pot, the place local gay men and party-hardy lesbians come to connect with their tribe. Friday and Saturday nights bring various monthly events, from cigars and spanking to drag queens and dance parties; live bands play Thursday nights, drawing a mixed straight-gay crowd. Monday to Wednesday it's dead.

Time Out says
  • 5 out of 5 stars
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Powerhouse

When the other SoMa bars are dead, there's always someone at Powerhouse, possibly the most popular gay bar in the city, perhaps because of its notorious back smokers' patio, where poppers provide an acrid counterpoint to cigarette smoke. DJs spin house most nights, and the shirtless crowd occasionally dances, especially on Fridays. Several nights a week, there's some sort of contest, whether a wet-jockstrap or smelly-armpit competition, promising free drinks and a hundred bucks to the winner. Thursday night's underwear party is always a scene. If you're looking to pick up, this is the place. Leave your girlfriends at home.

Time Out says
  • 5 out of 5 stars
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Twin Peaks Tavern

Blinking rainbow-colored chase lights conspicuously mark the front door of Twin Peaks, the world's first gay bar with windows opening onto the street. Anchoring the plaza beneath the giant rainbow flag that waves over the intersection of Market and Castro Streets, the place is a fishbowl. From the street, you can see everyone inside—and everyone inside is over 40, earning it the nickname "the Glass Coffin." But who cares? The bar is quiet enough for proper conversation, ideal for a hand of cards over a round of martinis, or drinks with friends following a movie film at next door's Castro Theater. Sooner or later, everyone winds up here.

Time Out says
  • 5 out of 5 stars
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Aunt Charlie's Lounge

The first thing to know about Aunt Charlie's is that it's on one of the worst blocks of the Tenderloin, but if you're willing to brave junkies slumped in doorways outside, you'll be rewarded with a glimpse of the San Francisco underground. This tiny pink-lit cocktail lounge, with postage-stamp-sized stage, is the de facto club house of retirement-age drag queens, and on Friday and Saturday nights, the Hot Boxxx Girls perform knock-out reviews (reservations advised). Bring singles and plan to tip every girl. Thursday nights after 10pm, it becomes a dance club, called Tubesteak Connection, and local-legend DJ Bus Station John spins disco and early house, schooling the children on the history of gay club music.

Time Out says
  • 4 out of 5 stars
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See more of the best gay bars in San Francisco

Best bars for beer

Bars

Southern Pacific Brewing Company

Nestled into a quiet corner of the Mission District, Southern Pacific Brewing Company offers a sun-drenched patio prime for cold pints of draught beer and tasty burgers—not to mention great people- and dog-watching opportunities. Brewmaster Andy French brings clean flavors to a wide variety of beers. The onsite bar features 21 taps and a range of styles, including porters, IPAs, Belgians, ambers and lagers. Pair the brews with robust bar food like burgers, mac and cheese, fish and chips, pizza and wings. If the weather's chilly, retreat to the bar's cavernous, warehouse-style interior. Cash only.

Time Out says
  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Bars

Mikkeller Bar

This Tenderloin beer oasis draws hops heads from all over the city. The centerpiece of the brick-walled canteen and bar is an epic 42-tap setup, augmented by a specialized bottle selection. The draft menu comfortably stretches over a wide and generally affordable range of European and domestic suds, featuring about ten of Mikkeller's house brews including IPA, pale ale and lambic. Beers are lovingly stored at precise temperatures appropriate for each style using a custom system. Mikkeller is also one of the few places in the city that serves cask-conditioned ales. To pair, a sturdy food menu features beer-friendly standbys: charcuterie, cheeses, house-made sausages and more. The spacious bar zigzags around the cavernous back area and there's seating for diners up front.

Time Out says
  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Bars

Zeitgeist

San Francisco is a chill city, and it doesn't get chiller than this outdoor spot. Sipping a beer at one of Zeitgeist's sunny picnic tables with very relaxed smokers is a definitive SF experience. The beer garden stretches across a wide, open area defined by wooden fences, but large trees provide shady spots for those who prefer to stay out of direct sun. Inside, the bar taps dispense more than 40 beers—many of them from microbreweries—available by the pint or the pitcher, and a full kitchen serves excellent renditions of simple favorites like hamburgers, bratwurst and grilled cheese.

Time Out says
  • 4 out of 5 stars
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