Best speakeasies in San Francisco
Hidden upstairs via an unmarked staircase near Union Square, Benjamin Cooper boasts a talented bartending team, an engaging soundtrack and elevated bar snacks like fresh oysters. Creative cocktails—like the Tony Wonder, made with reposado tequila, Lo-Fi dry vermouth, kumquats, honey, mint, citric acid and club soda—keep regulars packed around the dim and intimate center bar.
Hidden inside Chinatown’s massive China Live, Cold Drinks feels like an escape to a high-end bar in a major Asian city, with Blade Runner-esque wall tiles, a dramatic marble bar, and velvet gray couches. Their rich Scotch collection and elegant whisky cocktails suit every palate.
At the back of the Nightbird restaurant hides the romantic, only-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” and filled with boozy cocktails.
Head to the side alley entrance of SoMa’s Odd Job to find SRO (Standing Room Only), it’s a tiny bar-within-a-bar with no menu. Bartenders will customize your drink, so feel free to share your preferences and expect the unexpected. Ingredient options range from horseradish to lavender-smoked kumquats, while house infusions might feature Chinese licorice-infused bourbon or watermelon radish-infused Old Tom Gin. SRO only accommodates 16 people standing and hours can vary so call ahead to make sure they’re open.
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 market 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).
The Den wins for tiniest bar in San Francisco. The closet-sized punch bar adjacent to WesBurger has no sign, but look for the jungle-like foliage and glowing red light emanating from the miniscule storefront. It’s a late night spot that opens at 7pm but stays open until 2am, so head in with friends to sway to calypso music and drink from a low ABV drink selection of beer, wine, sake, cider, a punch fountain and rotating drink specials including collaborations with neighbors like Mission Chinese. The Den’s late-night food menu includes irresistible dishes like a pimento grilled cheese sandwich with strawberry jalapeno jelly.
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.
Hidden at the very back of The Cavalier is Marianne’s (a tribute to the singer Marianne Faithfull). It started as a private bar—but 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.
Just off the lobby of the boutique Emblem Hotel 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: Look for 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 an rotating menu of snacks.
Located on the second floor of Union Square music venue August Hall is a bar hidden behind the marquee and open only during shows. The lounge has a musical theme 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 where you can grab a drink and create a melody all your own.
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