The best bars in San Francisco to grab a drink at right now

From dives to cocktail dens, here are the best bars in San Francisco to visit right now
Drink List main image
By Virginia Miller, Shoshi Parks and Time Out San Francisco editors |
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December 2018: We expanded this list from 10 to 24 essential bars and included newcomers like Radhaus and Oakland's Hello Stranger. 

Welcome to the Time Out DRINK List, our handpicked ‘best of’ San Francisco’s drinking scene. These are the most buzzing bars in this city right now: the most inventive and most memorable watering holes. 

Just as there's no shortage of great things to do in San Francisco, there's certainly no shortage of watering holes here either. Artisanal cocktail parlors, laid-back dives with cheap beer and pinball, craft beer emporiums… Bars in San Francisco are crammed into every block of the 7x7. Whether you prefer neighborhood dive bars, elegant cocktail dens or craft beer bars, there’s a long list of “bests” in every category across one of the world’s best drinking cities. Here are some we couldn’t live without.

Drank somewhere on this list and loved it? Share it with the hashtag #TimeOutDrinkList. You can also find out more about how Time Out makes recommendations and reviews bars here.

Best bars in San Francsico

1
Hound Dog cocktail at The Beehive
Photograph: Courtesy The Beehive
Bars

The Beehive

icon-location-pin Mission Dolores

Mission newcomer The Beehive has made a splash with memorable cocktails and a laid-back, Mad Men-esque vibe. Carefully crafting the 60s-inspired drink menu fell to Emilio Salehi, the orchestrator of the artisan cocktails at Whitechapel and Mourad. What he’s cultivated at The Beehive goes way beyond the expected mid-century highballs, sazeracs and martinis while playfully tipping his hat to the decade with ingredients like Tang and house-made cherry cola. For a sweet blast-from-the-past, check out their nod to Elvis in the Hound Dog, made with peanut-washed Bulleit bourbon, oloroso, vermouth and caramelized bananas.

2
Nico
Photograph: Yelp/Faye L
Restaurants, Contemporary European

Nico

icon-location-pin Jackson Square

Nico’s bar program is all the more exciting for its unexpected setting: an intimate Parisian bistro in Jackson Square. But its seasonal modern French fare goes beautifully with a rotating cocktail menu tinged with botanicals like aloe and rose bitters, spices and even activated charcoal. For a twist on a classic Italian cocktail, try Nico’s Negroni du Marne, made with The Botanist gin, aperol and seaweed infused vermouth.

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3
Gibson
Photograph: Courtesy Gibson
Restaurants, American

Gibson

icon-location-pin Tenderloin

The spirited cocktail menu at Gibson is tailor made for this elegant-yet-approachable restaurant-bar, all bold blues and brass patterns. On the list, you’ll find global influences like cedar leaf gin, liquid kelp and sweet potato vin and some ingredients, like the leather in Gibson’s Manhattan, more often in your shoes, not your drinks. Try the Japanese Michelada, made with jasmine rice lager, tomato ponzu, shoyu from cherry blossom and black garlic, barrel aged fish sauce and shichimi togarashi.

4
Horsefeather
Photograph: Yelp/Stan L.
Bars

Horsefeather

icon-location-pin Alamo Square

Bar director Ian Scalzo is an expert at crafting sweet cocktails without veering into the overly-saccharine. One of his secrets? House-made syrups made from wine, sugar, fruit and herbs. Combined with top-shelf liquors and flavorful accents, they’re a grown-up throwback to the wine coolers your mom drank in the early 90s.

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5
Alembic
Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/ Jennifer Yin
Bars, Cocktail bars

The Alembic

icon-location-pin Upper Haight

The Alembic has been showing up on best cocktail bar lists since its opening more than a decade ago.While there have been some changes to the menu over time, the Alembic still crafts the same high quality drinks that made them famous in the first place. In addition to fresh takes on classics like the Old Fashioned (theirs is made with brown butter washed bourbon and roasted sugar), The Alembic uses a variety of ingredients like bee pollen and fennel rarely seen on other drink menus. For something bright and bold, try the purple hued Abracadabra made with lillet blanc, singani 63, kiwi, lemon and lime, simple syrup and butterfly pea flower.

6
Mister Jiu’s
Photograph: Yelp/Mona W.
Restaurants, Chinese

Mister Jiu's

icon-location-pin Chinatown

There’s been no shortage of praise for Mr. Jiu’s; in 2017 it was named one of Bon Appétit magazine’s best new restaurants of the year. Mr. Jiu’s extravagant cocktails, though, are just as worthy of mentionas the rich delights coming from the kitchen. Take the Eternity, a drink made with vodka, gin, millet, dill and crab oil, or the Longevity made with mezcal, osmanthus, aloe, scallion, verjus and lime, two savory delights for the senses. Maybe it’s time we start thinking of Mr. Jiu’s as a cocktail destination, not just a dinner one.

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7
Pacific Cocktail Haven
Photograph: Virginia Miller
Bars, Cocktail bars

Pacific Cocktail Haven

icon-location-pin Union Square

The folks behind Press Club and Schroeder’s meant the Pacific Cocktail Haven to be a friendly little neighborhood bar but, thanks to its stellar bar program, it’s become something more like a destination for the sophisticated drinker. Even so, this intimate brick-walled Union Square space maintains its casual, welcoming vibe with artisanal cocktails that span the shelf from Japanese whisky to low ABV creations and tiki-style punches. For a Eastern-inspired marvel, check out the tongue-tingling Underwater Cinema, made with Monkey Shoulder scotch, ghee, nori, vermouth, wasabi and bitters.

8
Besharam
Photograph: Courtesy Besharam
Restaurants, Indian

Besharam

icon-location-pin Dogpatch

If Bollywood could be distilled into liquid form, it would be found among the drinks at Besharam where you'll find bold, flavorful cocktails full of traditional Indian spices like the Vishaka Dreams of Curry, a combination of scotch, canary melon, cucumber, basil, tumeric and chili. With the Bhang, Bhang...He Shot Me Down you get not only a damn-fine music reference, but a freewheeling pisco sour-inspired drink mixed with cannabis (known as bhang in India), coconut milk, garam masala, grenadine, ginger and almond.

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9
Trick Dog
Photograph: Yelp/Aaron S.
Bars

Trick Dog

icon-location-pin Mission

This juggernaut of a bar is probably among the first both San Franciscans and visitors think of when they consider the city’s unique artisan cocktail destinations. It was even included among the 2017 winners of the beverage industry’s list of the World’s 50 Best Bars. And for good reason: Trick Dog’s biannual menus play with themes, liquors and flavorful ingredients in fresh and unexpected ways. The current menu, the bar’s 12th version, is a love letter to San Francisco’s best restaurants with drinks like the Atelier Crenn (cognac, gin, sherry, Suze and tea-smoked maitake mushrooms) inspired by their chefs.

10
Maven
Photograph: Courtesy Maven
Restaurants

Maven

icon-location-pin Lower Haight

Over the years Maven has been honored with a number of “best of” awards for everything from its stunning, airy space to its bartenders. But the best of Maven’s best is still its cocktails, crafted with care from approachable ingredients in appealing combinations like the 5 Spot (rum, ginger, lime, maple, basil and five spice) and the Press Box (mezcal, aperol, orgeat, sambal and lime). Even better, choose your drink right and you can support a worthy cause from your bar stool, like the restaurant-bar’s current pledge to donate a dollar from every purchase of the Rosé the Riveter (gin, pomegranate, vermouth and egg white) to the Women’s March.

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11
Cocktail on a bar counter
Photo Credit: Photograph: yelp/Michael C
Bars, Hotel bars

The Douglas Room

icon-location-pin Tenderloin

Already an industry favorite, The Douglas Room in boutique Tilden Hotel is a chill bar serving cheeky cocktails. To start, we like the vodka-based La Di Da Di, served with grapefruit, ginger beer and black lava salt or the Old and In the Way (bourbon, sherry, and stone fruit shrub). Hungry? Chefs Glen Schwartz and Tim Malloy whip up all-American dishes such as lamb tartare pie, sweetbread nuggets, and barbecue duck wings.

12
Charmaine’s
Photograph: Courtesy Proper Hotel
Hotels, Boutique hotels

Charmaine’s

icon-location-pin Civic Center

At this rooftop bar, the drinks are crafted by Josh Harris and Morgan Schtick of Trick Dog fame. The bar’s city-inspired cocktail menu is a nod to San Francisco’s petite “7x7” size: It's divvied up into 7 categories, with 7 Instagram-savvy cocktails in each. The roof deck, perched 120 feet over Market Street, is stylish, but the vibe is laid-back—largely due to its hoodie- and T-shirt-clad tech patrons. 

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13
Cold Drinks at China Live
Photograph: Virginia Miller
Bars, Cocktail bars

Cold Drinks

icon-location-pin Russian Hill

When did Scotch become whimsical? Cold Drinks, the new upstairs bar inside China Live, mixes opulence with a touch of fun, featuring velvet gray couches, metallic black-and-gold bar chairs and a Scotch-forward cocktail menu that ranges from light and creamy to boozy and neat. Take the Long Islay iced tea: Served in a giant gold pineapple, the beverage is made from silky Absolut Elyx vodka, Bruichladdich and Laphroaig Scotches, black tea with lemon and a touch of Coca-Cola. It’s as delightful to look at as it is to drink.

14
Cocktails at White Cap
Photograph: Yelp/Duke of Frisco X
Bars, Cocktail bars

White Cap

icon-location-pin Parkside

Layer up and head out to the Outer Sunset, where this comfortable, classy bar is serving inventive cocktails for a friendly crowd of artists and surfers. Owned and managed by Matt Lopez and Carlos Yturria—both avid surfers themselves—this spot attracts a contingent of laid-back neighborhood regulars. The space is unfussy, but thoughtfully designed, from the white cubic tiling to the turquoise bar stools and requisite reclaimed wood. Order the mescal-spiked Heat Gun cocktail and snag a seat near the cozy fireplace.

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15
Cocktails at The Snug
Photograph: Yelp/ James Z
Bars, Cocktail bars

The Snug

icon-location-pin Pacific Heights

There’s no better place to sidle up to an attractive stranger than the Doug fir bar at the Snug. The cocktails—courtesy of Alembic alum Jacob Racusin—are conversation-sparking sippers, incorporating house-made ingredients and rare spirits, and 18 taps are loaded with craft beers, wine, and cider. (Try the cask ale.) The two-level spot is bustling, but not rowdy or clubby, featuring various nooks and leather booths for getting acquainted.

16
Radhaus
Photograph: Yelp/Josh H.
Restaurants, Gastropubs

Radhaus

icon-location-pin Fort Mason

From Aaron and Matt Hulme (of Suppenküche), Radhaus brings a modern Bavarian beer hall to Fort Mason Center. Head here to drink German beer on draft, Germanic schnaps and German wines paired with chef Timmy Malloy’s tasty pretzels, currywurst and killer chicken schnitzel sandwich in buttermilk sauce. 

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17
The bar at Junior
Photograph: Courtesy Junior
Bars, Cocktail bars

Junior

icon-location-pin Mission

From the crew behind Anina and Brass Tacks comes the perfect neighborhood hangout, where craft beers flow alongside quality cocktails (like the herbaceous Hat in the Ring made with gin, Gran Classico bitters, lemon and pamplemousse liqueur) in a space flanked by a striking animal mural.

18
Violet's
Photograph: Yelp/Rose A.
Restaurants, American

Violet’s

icon-location-pin Outer Richmond

Outer Richmond favorite Fiorella now has a sister restaurant. Violet's serves elevated American food like house chips with roasted onion dip and duck liver mousse. Belly up to the long, curved bar for seafood platters, clam or anchovy toast and shrimp louie rolls from Fiorella chef Dante Cecchini, paired with Patrick Poelvoorde’s crushable cocktails.

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19
Four glasses of beer on a table
Photo Credit: Photograph: yelp/Synthia C
Bars, Gastropubs

Hitachino Beer & Wagyu

icon-location-pin Lower Nob Hill

The first Hitachino outpost in the United States delights fans of the Japanese beer with draft brews, plum wine and saké from Kiuchi brewery. Imbibers can enjoy drinks and snacks at the front bar, or try to grab a seat at the intimate, reservations-only back room, where an eight-course, prix fixe meal is served Kappo-style, a popular style of eating in Japan that focuses on pairing items with beer. The menu, from chef Noriyuki Sugie, serves only the highest quality of Japan’s famous wagyu beef. In fact, the cows drink the same beer you’ll find in the taproom!

20
Last Rites
Photograph: Yelp/Kaharine P
Bars

Last Rites

icon-location-pin Duboce Triangle

This brand new Duboce Triangle bar showcases the dark side of tiki with sky high skulls and plane-crash-in-the-tropical-jungle decor. Try the Halfway Tree, overproof rum and fortified wine served in a skull mug and the Hetch Hetchy, a drink made with bell pepper and paprika. But not to worry if you come craving the classics—Last Rites has those too. Try the Marine Layer, a take on the Fog Cutter that adds housemade cashew orgeat (instead of the typical almond) to a base of rum, lemon and egg white.

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21
Inside a dimly lit bar
Photo Credit: Photograph: yelp/unknown
Bars, Cocktail bars

Rusted Mule

icon-location-pin Lower Nob Hill

We don’t know what part of Rusted Mule we like best: the industrial-chic space (complete with onyx bar and sea-colored flooring) or the classic, boozy cocktails on tap for just $9. The sizeable bar includes three lounges and a mezzanine decked out with custom works from local artists. A menu of elevated pub fare features carrot corn dogs and garlic fries to soak up all those Moscow Mules.

22
Curio
Photograph: Yelp/Robert W
Restaurants

Curio

icon-location-pin Mission Dolores

This newcomer opened in place of the former Vestry, the indoor-outdoor restaurant attached to music venue The Chapel. The historic charm remains in the decor, which includes Victorian dioramas, figurative paintings, and antique clocks. Culinary director Mario Tolentino melds Californian and Southern influences, offering a mix of bar snacks, meat, and seafood. 

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23
Kaiyo
Photograph: Courtesy Kaiyo
Restaurants, Japanese

Kaiyo

icon-location-pin Cow Hollow

Cow Hollow’s sleek new eatery showcases Peruvian-Japanese food. Its strength lies in raw seafood dishes like the silky Hokkaido scallop tiradito in passionfruit leche de tigre, ceviche, nigiri and sashimi. Not into raw fish? Try the anticuchos (skewered meats) and cooked nigiri like smoked duck breast topped with a quail egg.

24
Hello Stranger
Photograph: Virginia Miller
Bars

Hello Stranger

icon-location-pin Oakland

Oakland's Hello Stranger boasts a dramatic bar, lofty ceilings, a DJ station and dance floor, original turn-of-the-century brick walls and a sunny mezzanine. Crushable cocktails (on draft or by the pitcher) include the Hell’s Belles (La Luna mezcal, Campari, Cocchi Rosa Aperitivo with torched rosemary) and rosé served four ways (frozen slushie, sparkling, spiked or still). 

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