As the West Coast epicenter of craft cocktails, San Francisco certainly doesn’t suffer from a lack of stellar bars—Trick Dog, Bar Agricole, and Bourbon & Branch being some of the best among them. But just because there isn’t a star mixologist at the helm doesn’t mean a bar isn’t a worthy place to pull up a stool. From welcoming, Anchor-Steam-and-a-shot hangouts, to unassuming restaurants slinging sophisticated drinks, here are eight of the city’s most underrated watering holes.
688 Geary Street, Tenderloin, (415-474-4448, ryesf.com)
Long before other bars in the ‘hood were layering drinks with fancy ingredients like tea-infused marmalade, Jon Gasparini and Greg Lindgren’s Rye was cranking out finely wrought cocktails. Although the duo’s North Beach boîte, 15 Romolo, might get more buzz than their first hit these days, in-the-know locals and a wide swath of industry folk have a soft spot for this Tenderloin pioneer. Sip on some Cognac, linger at the pool table, and when the urge for fresh air strikes, take to the boisterous patio.
Presidio Social Club
563 Ruger Street, Presidio (415-885-1888, presidiosocialclub.com)
After a long, meandering walk that takes you through twoering trees and a historic airfield, unwind at this former military barrack tucked inside Presidio National Park. Contemplating a drink amid a backdrop of pines and cypresses is a rare, boozy way to appreciate the great outdoors.
901 Cole Street, Cole Valley (415-742-5505, padrecitosf.com)
Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant, an Outer Richmond mainstay, is the place for proper margaritas. For a less predictable alternative, though, there’s Padrecito, a modern Mexican restaurant in Cole Valley. Order what strikes your fancy. The rabbit confit empanadas are just a bonus.
528 Divisadero Street, Alamo Square (415-522-0800, ziryabgrill.com)
For many, a night at Ziryab means eating grilled pine-nut lamb meatballs dipped in house-made sheep yogurt while you’re ensconced on the heated patio. But now that the Moroccan haunt has elevated its beverage program, sitting at the bar with one of Zachary Taylor’s drinks is just as mandatory as the seven-vegetable tagine. Taylor looks to the Mediterranean for inspiration at every turn, infusing dates and fig-garlic puree into his newfangled cocktails.
1075 California Street, Nob Hill (415-771-1140, big4restaurant.com)
The tycoons and philanthropists who established the Central Pacific Railroad—a.k.a., the Big Four—are the inspiration behind this clubby hideaway inside the Scarlet Huntington hotel. Sit at the retro bar with a Cognac in hand and a tinkling piano playing in the background—after a couple drinks, you’ll be convinced that you own half of the country’s steel mills.
80 29th Street, Bernal Heights (415-550-6664, rockbarsf.com)
Beyond its stone-clad exterior, this low-key Outer Mission spot is home to NFL brunches fueled by Irish coffees and pulled-pork hash. Yet, against the odds, it also turns out top-notch cocktails without a shred of pretense. Spring for a Spanky Wanky (Young Genever, Cocchi Torino, Fernet) and it will be hard to leave—especially when you can also order in fried chicken and bacon waffles from sister establishment the Front Porch, across the street.
16 California Street, Financial District (415-952-0481, terminussf.com)
From-scratch blueberry muffins and Americanos are what keep harried Financial District workers coming back to Café Terminus every morning. After work, however, delicate cocktails like the Pepa Bonaforte (mixed with Cognac, vodka, dry vermouth, genepy, Angostura bitters, and lemon zest) take the place of caffeine as the neighborhood winds down. In an otherwise bleak corporate district, this vibrant little bar offers a much-needed slice of Europe for the stressed and suited.
842 Valencia Street, Mission (415-282-8283, rangesf.com)
The Mission is clogged with great bars, so it’s easy to overlook the one at Range, a farmhouse-inspired staple that churns out addictive dishes like glazed duck wings with Asian pears, pickled chiles, and smoked buttermilk dressing. But the drinks from Jeff Lyons, who can usually be found behind the stick at equally subdued sister bar Third Rail, in Dogpatch, are a draw on their own.