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.
photo credit: Galdones Photography
Two reasons we’re hung up on Bar Sprezzatura: It’s an over-the-top Italian lounge in the Financial District that feels like a swanky vacation, and their spritzes and negronis are excellent. The fact that this place is dripping with elegance also works in its favor—it will make you not care that you’re spending $18 per drink. There are blue velvet couches, high-rise views, and big standing lamps that make the room feel like it’s outside. We can already imagine spending countless evenings at the bar spanning the entire room with someone we’re looking to impress. Adding to this luxury are pizzas, pastas, and a short list of cicchetti, including gold leaf-topped cod, and whipped duck liver pate with bitter cacao crisps.
photo credit: Mark Sandstorm
Harlan Records will remind you why it’s nice to be a human who leaves the house. The lounge near Union Square is inspired by Japanese listening bars, meaning you’ll be too busy processing the range of funky beats to even think about scrolling on your phone. Also holding your attention are classic cocktails, shelves of vinyl records, and mid-century aesthetics. Unlike some other new listening bars that have popped up recently (looking at you, Le Fantastique), this spot is surprisingly located down an alley, so it’s never too busy, and drinks take a bit longer to arrive. The cocktails are worth the wait.
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photo credit: Mateen Karimy
Blind Pig Speakeasy Lounge
The latest place for drinks with a view is Blind Pig Speakeasy Lounge, a second-floor cocktail bar with big windows overlooking Chinatown and rolling cable cars. The purple and blue-lit lounge is straight out of 1930s Shanghai with circular booths, embroidered couches, and intricately carved lamps. Cocktails arrive with as much style as the space—cinnamon sticks are lit like cigars tableside, ice cubes are branded with the outline of the bar’s titular pig, and drinks incorporate Asian-influenced ingredients like salty taro pandan and red bean five spice. Come here for a nightcap after dinner nearby, or to impress someone who just started their own mixology Instagram account.
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.
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.