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.
The semi-secret Hideout in the back of Mission dive bar Dalva is actually rather well known. Focused around one tiny bar in a dimly lit, small room, guest bartenders (only one at a time can fit behind the bar) craft drinks to your preferences or from a short, changing menu. House drinks include favorites like The Hideout Swizzle #2 with gin, genepy, lime, pineapple and orange bitters.
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.
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, velvet gray couches and green and gold accents. Their rich Scotch collection and elegant whisky cocktails suit every palate.
Head to the side alley entrance of SoMa’s Odd Job to find SRO (Standing Room Only), a tiny bar-within-a-bar where you can get unique customized drinks to suit your mood. SRO bartenders know their spirits and don’t go with the expected. Ingredient options range from the likes of 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.
Though technically not a speakeasy, 15 Romolo is tucked away off a seedy stretch of Broadway Street. Boasting one of the best jukebox playlists in town and a strong food menu, the bar has long set the standard for excellent cocktails. Their famed sherry selection includes rarities like sherry on draft and the annual Sherry Christmas menu in December.
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. Cozy up to your friends with calypso music and 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 (11pm-3am) 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 Ave 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 speakeast with a vintage cocktail shaker machine.
Tucked away inside The Cavalier, Marianne’s (a tribute to the singer Marianne Faithfull) started as an invite- or members-only 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. There are bites from the Cavalier and changing drinks, some with rock music references like tgeh Rolling Stones tribute, Sticky Fingers, made with rye whiskey, Scotch, hazelnut liqueur, sweet vermouth, Grand Marnier and lemon bitters.