photo credit: Albert Law/Buddy
The SF Bar Hit List: Where To Drink Right Now
Looking for somewhere new to drink? Use this guide.
In order to help you figure out which new restaurants are worth going to, we created The Hit List, our guide to the new spots that are actually worth your time and money. And we do the same thing for the best new bars in SF (and across the Bay). All the places we visited are less than a year old, and include everything from natural wine bars with disco balls and dance floors to high-end cocktail spots. But what do they all have in common? We’ve visited them, really liked them, and felt they were well worth the varying degrees of hangover.
New to the Bar Hit List as of 11/4: Geelou
photo credit: Geelou
If you’re in the market for a sexy new first date spot or a mid-week catch-up over espresso martinis and wine, get to Geelou. The Marina jazz bar took over the old Reed & Greenough space earlier this year, and is a moody, dimly lit setting for a pre- or post-dinner drink. It’s also one of the few places in town where you can catch live music, seven days a week. There’s also a pool table in the back, and lots of space to dance, or bob to the music while kicking yourself for not taking up saxophone in the sixth grade.
photo credit: Liliana
Liliana is the bar-equivalent of a wood-burning fireplace—warm, intimate, and inspiring us to snug up with an alcoholic beverage well into the night. The fancy Mission cocktail spot carries over the cozy ambiance of its next door sibling restaurant, Osito, the entirely live-fire tasting menu spot. Walls and ceilings are covered in wood panels, and dramatic lighting gives a moody glow. Just as much thought goes into Liliana’s drink and fruit- and meat-heavy menu. We’re still thinking about the well-balanced white negroni with fennel gin and hints of dill, and the beautifully charred sourdough fry bread alongside fresh figs and the silkiest housemade ricotta.
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photo credit: Bottle Club Pub
Bottle Club Pub
We like going to Bottle Club Pub—the new retro-themed bar near Union Square—to admire the huge collection of vintage ceramic whiskey decanters, and watch the mechanical shelves stocked with shiny bottles of alcohol slowly move from floor to ceiling. The displays are mesmerizing, and best experienced alongside creamy dessert cocktails, shaken and stirred drinks, whiskey from their obscenely long list—and maybe some fries from the short food menu. Even better is that you can stroll into this place with whatever you decided to wear that day. So expect to trade life stories with suited types, adult backpack crews, and tourists who didn’t get the memo on dressing for Bay Area weather.
Thriller Social Club
Thriller Social Club in SoMa is what would happen if a carnival and a vintage arcade had a baby and bought the most expensive golf simulator in the world. So expect to feel overstimulated (in the best way) as soon as you walk in. Look above the bar and you’ll see a disco ball and a giant clown head. Upstairs, there’s an inflatable unicorn and taxidermied deer. The two-story bar also doubles as an adult playground, and is built for group hangs after a long week, Happy Hours, and dates where you can get unnecessarily competitive playing Skee-Ball, Whac-A-Mole, and a few rounds of air hockey. They also have a pretty extensive food menu of things like wood-fired pizzas and burgers, since you’ll probably get hungry after breaking records on the punching machine.
photo credit: Albert Law/Buddy
Casual bars specializing in natural wine are popping up all over town these days. One to pay attention to is Buddy in the Mission. Cozy, chill, and beautifully designed, it’s an ideal place to drop in (they don’t take reservations), for a refreshing wine cocktail. Buddy also has a full food menu that’s both fancy and funky. We’re talking whole baby turnips with a flavorful smoked oyster ranch, tuna confit with a soft egg and a side of saltine crackers, and a hearty mortadella sandwich that will probably inspire you to sink into the comfy banquette and linger until closing time. This is one of our favorite places to meet up with friends for an hour to discuss culturally relevant things right now.
photo credit: Bar Iris
Bar Iris looks like a hotel lounge mixed with a mid-century living room. In other words, this cocktail bar in Russian Hill is a fancy new drinking spot where you can sip high balls, rare whiskeys, and Japanese-inspired cocktails on a wingback chair. This place is also the sister bar to the Japanese fine dining restaurant Nisei (located right next door), which is basically your cue to order everything on the izakaya-style menu, like the perfect chicken karaage with black curry and the standout Japanese milk bread with creamy miso honey butter. Come here before dinner at Nisei, for a special occasion toast, or high stakes date nights.
photo credit: Key Klub
We don’t often encounter wine bars serving french toast topped with buttery duck liver mousse for dinner. That’s how it goes at Key Klub. The Lower Nob Hill spot from the Bodega folks reminds us of a ‘90s nightclub without the dance floor. Adding to the party feel is a big list of natural wines and beers, and drink menu sections titled “Thicc Boys” and “Here To Party.” Loosen up with something fizzy, and possibly a smash burger, patty melt, or cast iron mussels. The two-level spot has plenty of elbow room and nooks to turn up with friends. You can always make your own dance floor.
photo credit: Ulysses Ortega
Bar Part Time
Natural wine bars in the city are as common as black puffer jackets. But natural wine bars where you can also dance? Head to this new spot in the Mission for that. Bar Part Time just feels like a party thanks to its fun checkered floors, a DJ spinning records in the corner, and a disco ball overhead. Sure, the shelves filled with vinyl and the high ratio of beanies per capita make this spot feel trendier than a fancy soap store, but it’s not hard to have a good time here. The cushy booths are exactly where we want to be on a Thursday night with friends.
Linden & Laguna
There’s no shortage of spots to get wine in Hayes Valley, but one new one we love is Linden & Laguna. Taking the place of The Riddler, the champagne bar that closed fall 2020, the corner Parisian-style bar is relaxed, intimate, and hidden away on a quiet stretch just off Hayes Street. You have 13 wines to choose from here, including, yes, champagne. Come here with a small group (the tables are tiny, but there’s more elbow room out on the parklet) or to unwind alone at the marble bar with a glass and some stuffed Medjool dates or a salami flatbread pizzetta.