The best cocktail bars in San Francisco right now

San Francisco overflows with excellent cocktail bars, whether you’re thirsting for a margarita or creative new concoctions
Hound Dog cocktail at The Beehive
Photograph: Courtesy The Beehive Hound Dog cocktail at The Beehive
By Shoshi Parks |
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In recent years experimental mixologists and detail-oriented bartenders have led cocktails away from the expected combinations to complex drinks layered with artisan spirits and flavorful tinctures of organics and spices. It’s not that martinis and negronis are off the menu; they’re just better, spiked with ingredients like bee pollen, liquid kelp, cedar and crab oil. While some, like The Beehive and Horsefeather are approaching past favorites in creative ways, others like Mister Jiu’s and Gibson are charting new territory. Here are our picks for 10 bars and restaurants upping the cocktail game in San Francisco.

San Francisco cocktail bars

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. For a Japanese-inspired take on a Mexican classic, try the 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
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.

8
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.

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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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