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Obscenity Bar & Lounge
Photograph: Yelp/Obscenity Bar & Lounge

The 10 best speakeasies in San Francisco

Prohibition is long over, but SF is still a sucker for a secret bar. Here are the best speakeasies in San Francisco

Written by
Clara Hogan
Contributors
Virginia Miller
&
Amy Sherman
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There are only a few things San Franciscans love more than a good cocktail, and one of them is somewhere exclusive to drink it. From tiny bars tucked within cocktail bars to password-protected basements, the best speakeasies in San Francisco offer secrecy, hidden doors, and some of the best drinks in town.

These spots offer all the members-only vibes and experiences of a private club without the pretentious membership fees, and your friends will be impressed you even know these exist. So whether you seek clandestine back rooms (inside some of the best restaurants in San Francisco) or intimate whiskey bars, it might take a little extra work to find one of these speakeasies in San Francisco—but they’re all worth it.

Here is our list of the most secretive, swanky places to grab a drink in San Francisco, with tropical-themed lounges to Spanish tapas bars to hidden spaces in hotels.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best bars in San Francisco

Best speakeasies in San Francisco, ranked

  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Russian Hill
  • price 3 of 4

Hidden inside Chinatown’s massive China Live, Cold Drinks Bar feels like an escape to a high-end club in a major Asian city, with Blade Runner-esque wall tiles, a dramatic marble bar, and velvet gray couches. Their drinks dress the part, too, with a rich Scotch collection and elegant whisky cocktails that suit every palate.

Finding the Pawn Shop is part of the fun. To enter, you'll need to find a golden phone located at 993 Mission Street and speak to to the 'pawn master' (don’t be startled if they’re a bit grumpy at times). Word is, if you bring something to sell or pawn you're more likely to get inside — this used to be a real pawn shop in the 70s, after all, and we love the continuity — where a hidden, swanky tapas bar lies beneath the former shop. Choose from more than 50 choices of wine and 20 beers, along with Spanish tapas ranging from bacon-wrapped dates to patatas bravas and pan con tomate.

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  • Bars
  • Hayes Valley
  • price 2 of 4

At the back of the Nightbird restaurant (one of SF’s most romantic restaurants, if you ask us) hides the romantic, eight-seat Linden Room. Accessed through an alley off Gough Street, the bar team serves up seasonal cocktails (playing with ingredients you’ll find on Nightbird's tasting menu) as well as a more evergreen menu section called “Spirituous” that’s full of extra boozy cocktails.

Tucked away off a street in Duboce Triangle, Last Rites is billed as "Polynesian Noir," a darker version of a typical Tiki bar. The decor is full of lush tropical plants and skulls throughout the space, which itself is built from an actual airplane fuselage and bar stools made of airplane seats. The cocktail menu is robust with a rum list more than 150 bottles long; for a safe bet, try the Last Rites Mai Tai to get you feeling warm and fuzzy.

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  • Bars
  • Tenderloin
  • price 3 of 4

Editor's note: This bar is temporarily closed due to the pandemic.

There are multiple hidden bars and spaces within Bourbon & Branch but Wilson & Wilson is the most accessible. Like B&B, the long, narrow room is reservation only (look for the window marked Wilson & Wilson Private Detective Agency). The rotating cocktail menus are exquisite, sometimes named after classic films, with signature drinks like the Charlie Chan (black tea-infused Karlsson’s vodka, coconut marmalade, black pepper, clove, lemon, ginger).

  • Restaurants
  • Mission
  • price 2 of 4

This closet-sized punch bar, adjacent to WesBurger, has no sign. But if you look for the jungle-like foliage and glowing red light emanating from the miniscule storefront, you’ll find The Den, one of San Francisco's tiniest bars. It’s a late-night spot that opens at 7pm but stays open until 2am, so head in with friends and sway to calypso music while drinking from a low-ABV drink selection (think beer, wine, sake, and cider) plus a signature punch fountain. The Den’s late-night food menu includes irresistible dishes like a pimento grilled cheese sandwich with strawberry jalapeno jelly.

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  • Bars
  • Jackson Square
  • price 2 of 4

If you want to hide away from crowds passing by on Columbus Avenue on Friday and Saturday nights, head past Devil’s Acre's spacious pre-Prohibition-style bar and head to the basement where you'll find Remedie, a speakeasy with a vintage cocktail shaker machine and an apothecary-style aesthetic.

  • Bars
  • Yerba Buena
  • price 3 of 4

Hidden at the very back of The Cavalier is Marianne’s, a glamorous little salon inspired, in part, by the singer Marianne Faithfull. Although it started as a private bar, the public finally gained access in 2016. The Ken Fulk-designed space is cozy and dimly-lit, lined with books, zebra-print alcove booths, and chandeliers. Order from the Cavalier menu and choose from a short list of drinks, some with rock music references like the Rolling Stones-inspired Sticky Fingers, made with rye whiskey, Scotch, hazelnut liqueur, sweet vermouth, Grand Marnier, and lemon bitters.

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Just off the lobby of the boutique Hotel Emblem is a dark and cozy bar named for the obscenity law which condemned many literary greats. Signature handcrafted drinks pay homage to works of literature and authors who were censored: expect drinks like Naked Brunch, Beet Generation, and H-owl on the menu. Subtle references to the first amendment can also be found all over the bar, which prides itself on customized drinks, local draft beers, and a rotating menu of snacks.

Located on the second floor of August Hall, a music venue in Union Square, this bar hides behind the marquee and only opens during shows. The lounge has a musical theme (obviously) thanks to a collection of vintage radios, instruments, records, and an upright piano. Sexy velvet banquettes reinforce a living room feel and offer the perfect break from the main act—grab a drink and create a melody all your own.

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