SFGuide

The 19 Best Cocktail Bars In SF

Where to go for all things shaken and stirred.
The 19 Best Cocktail Bars In SF image

photo credit: Mary Lagier

There are approximately 865,789 bars in San Francisco, and we would probably have more if the rents in SF weren’t so damn high. So in general, there are tons of options. But sometimes a local dive or sports bar doesn’t quite cut it. Enter the cocktail bar. Here are the 20 best places for everything stirred, shaken, and all other verbs-turned-adjectives.

THE SPOTS

photo credit: Pacific Cocktail Haven

Bar

Union Square

$$$$Perfect For:Drinking Good CocktailsDate Night
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Pacific Cocktail Haven is a lively cocktail bar just a few blocks from Union Square. The crowd is a mix of tourists and locals mingling over impressively made and delicious cocktails inspired by Asian Pacific flavors. The long drink menu is also an equal opportunist—you’ll find as many rum and whiskey-based drinks as you will gin and agave, plus high balls and punches. This place will make you feel sexy thanks to the dim lighting and red banquettes, and you can always cool off in the courtyard out front (SF weather dependent). 

Trick Dog is a ridiculously popular bar (and Flour + Water waiting spot) in the Mission that serves creative cocktails that are actually good (and not just pretentious). No matter the night, Trick Dog will have a random splattering of people who are here to drink whatever’s on their seasonal, themed menu. Pop, R&B, and rap play on the speakers, and it’s just loud enough for you to still be able to chat with that person you brought over from the climbing gym around the corner. There’s also a short food menu of hot dogs, burgers, and salads to be enjoyed upstairs—but let’s be real, the reason you’re here is to look sexy and chat up the person you met the day before.

You dig relaxing in a room full of greenery, so head to Propagation. At this Lower Nob Hill bar, leafy things take over the bright, though somewhat maze-like space. Which means you'll chill on a leather couch beside a giant palm, or post up barside next to a towering euphorbia. At Propagation, plants don’t just exist to look pretty. Many of their excellent, botanical-leaning cocktails roll with the plant theme, like the Thriller Spiller Filler with vodka, lemongrass, strawberries, and citrus. 

photo credit: Amanda Chet Lee

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You want a cocktail and you have Miranda Priestly-levels of taste. Head to Chinatown’s Moongate Lounge. The spot above Mister Jiu’s is straight up sexy, looking like a Bond lair, but with an illuminated bar, red velvet everywhere, and elegant lotus chandeliers. It’s all very swank, but a night here tends to add up. So dig in, vibe under the fluorescent blue and pink lights next to someone who’s probably cooler than you, and drink a frothy cocktail inspired by the Chinese lunar calendar. The glowing skylight beckons.

Dalva is a Mission cocktail bar that hits the sweet spot: it’s affordable, impressive, and relaxing all at once. The decades-old dive (which got less divey and more swanky after a makeover) works best if you come with a date since most of the tables are two-tops. But if you’re alone, it’s easy to scoot onto a barstool and drink fantastic cocktails, which achieve the rare SF feat of costing $14 or less. Coming here before or after dinner nearby is always a great idea—the wavy orange mural, geometric tiles, and more wood than a sauna make it easy to kick back and order more than one round.

The Interval is one of the city's more unusual bars, and will instantly impress anyone you take simply by showing them you know it exists. This all-day spot has kind of a coffee shop vibe that combines the offices of a chemistry professor and a Mission start-up. Instead of tea and coffee though, they serve a long and impressive list of cocktails. It’s a good spot for a solo drink, or for a small group after you've walked around the Presidio.

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Violet’s is a cozy restaurant and bar in the Richmond that works for date nights and third tier friend catch-ups. While you could stop in for the $35 prix fixe meal of mostly solid American dishes (ranging from stuffed eggplant to pasta to burgers), we actually prefer coming here for a butterfly pea gin or hibiscus-infused tequila cocktail, or four, at the bar. All the drinks are consistently smooth and well-balanced, and the curved counter also has enough seating that you can find an open stool at any time. If you do need to munch on something, their “Big Ass Chocolate Chip Cookie” (legitimately the circumference of a soccer ball) is a great bet. 

The Alembic opened in 2006 on the wave of the city’s craft cocktail movement. While most bars in town have long since figured out how to make a damn good Manhattan, we still love the Alembic. It’s a fantastic bar with fantastic drinks and a mainstay for casual hangouts and dates in the Haight. It looks like an apothecary crossed with a scholar’s den, with floral wallpaper, dark wood, and shelves stocked with books. As much as you might want to read about medicinal plant healing, the drinks are the most important aspect here. There are classic negronis, herbaceous gin drinks, and cocktails that change seasonally. And like any great bar, there’s a substantive food menu that includes everything from light bites to a full-on meal. 

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 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. 

If you want that long day to be over and you’d like to mark it with a martini or something classic, head to Comstock in North Beach. It’s the kind of old-school bar that feels like it's been around since people rushed to the city to pan for gold. The bartenders are all very knowledgeable about what they do—so if you ask them to make something that suits your taste, you won’t be disappointed. This place is primarily a bar (there are actually two of them), but they have some of the best bar food around.

Drinking outside is fun. Drinking outside with friends and enormous fruity punch bowls? Even better. Anina feels like a tropical beer garden, with a ton of rum and botanical-leaning drinks. Buzzy and borderline preppy-hip (typical Hayes Valley), you should expect to see a designer dog or two. And, because of the city's unpredictable weather, there’s also an airy indoor bar with vibrant floral murals. This place never disappoints. Just get here early to secure an outdoor table.

Ask us where we're going for nightcaps or after-work drinks with friends, and we'll say Blackbird every time. This literary-themed, low-key bar in the Castro isn’t totally overplayed, and is always reliable and fun. They have cool art on the walls, friendly bartenders, a weekday Happy Hour, and tons of room to move about. More importantly, they make excellent cocktails that are best enjoyed at the bar, the tufted banquette, or a table in back.

$$$$Perfect For:Drinking Good Cocktails

Soaking in the salty sea air at Ocean Beach got you thirsty? Make your way to White Cap. The Outer Sunset spot a few blocks from the water is a neighborhood hub for classic cocktails that are well-made (and get the job done), like the house paloma or 131 Hearts with tequila, pineapple, and tomatillo. This place is pretty mellow—an Outer Sunset requirement—with a fireplace in the back and ‘90s hip-hop playing. And in case you forget you’re by the beach, just look at the blue banquettes and wooden walls that make you feel like you’re on a boat. 

We appreciate a bar that knows how to keep things interesting. At this Dogpatch spot, they're serving cocktails alongside homemade jerky. There are plenty of flavors to choose from, but we like the red-eye jerky with coffee and the candy version with brown sugar. They also do shot, beer, and jerky combos for $10, because, of course. Aside from the tasty cured meats, the cocktails alone make coming to Third Rail worth it.

If you dream of visiting the Gropius House and actively search Instagram for pictures of Marcel Breuer slate floors, you'll love True Laurel. Even if you didn’t understand any of the words we just strung together, you'll still enjoy yourself here. This cocktail bar in the Mission (from the people behind Lazy Bear) is beautifully designed to a mid-century modern T, and brings equal creative genius to its drinks, which tend to involve specialty ingredients like fermented honey and roasted quince. The space is small, and we highly recommend trying to get bar seats so you can watch the bartenders at work. Getting a patty melt to soak up the booze isn’t a bad idea, either.

The NoPa cocktail bar should be high on your list of top date spots, mainly because there really is no downside to coming here. This place makes great drinks and serves both snacks and full plates for whenever your (hopefully) not awkward conversation makes you work up an appetite. And since Horsefeather is open by 2pm most days and has a big skylight that floods their semi-outdoor atrium with a ton of natural light, this spot is an excellent call for a day drinking or late-afternoon date.

Kona’s Street Market in SoMa is from the people behind Pacific Cocktail Haven. When you get here, scoot into a booth or plop down at the bar under the neon signs, which flash the cocktail specials of the day. The drink menu is split into different regions from around the world and highlights ingredients and spirits from each, like ube coconut cream, pandan, and shochu in the “Asia + Pacific” section, and horchata or mezcal under “Americas.” The drinks are strong yet refreshing, and the inviting space always makes us want to linger, especially since they also host karaoke Tuesdays, DJs, and themed events.

ABV is a great get-to-know-you bar, which is why it's high on our list of great spots for first (or 20th) dates. This casual place is the right size where it’s not crammed-full tiny, but isn’t so big that you’ll be fighting a crowd for drinks. The cocktails are about three steps above most other spots, and they have snacks like cheese and charcuterie boards that feel plucked out of the top wine bars in town. But if you’re really hungry, the burger is one of the best in the city.

This place has been making incredible cocktails since 1998, which is one reason to plan a trip here. The other is that the speakeasy/gastropub situated off a quiet alley in North Beach sets the bar high for all other cocktail spots in the city. It’s also cozy, dimly lit, and minimalist—there are seats at the bar and along the wall and not much else, so you can focus on moving past the small talk stage if you’re with a date, or talking about culturally relevant things with friends.

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