In order to help you figure out which new restaurants are worth going to, we created The Hit List, our guide to recently-opened spots that are actually worth your time and money. We actually get off our asses and scope these places out - just because a place is new, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily good.
We’re now doing the same thing for bars. We’ve taken on the (very challenging) task of drinking in many of SF’s newest spots for it. Frankly, some of them were empty, and some of them smelled weird - but there were also quite a few we liked a lot, and which we think you should consider checking out.
There’s something about hanging out on a stoop that will always make us feel like we’re striking cool poses and have a direct neural link to the Beastie Boys. But the weather outside isn’t always ideal for stooping, and that’s when we head to The Showdown in North Beach. This bar has a big staircase in the main room that leads to nowhere and it’s perfect for hanging out on. But aside from that, this place makes solid bar food like their spicy pork schnitzel sandwich with pickled jalapenos or their fried hominy with jalapeno cheddar seasoning that’s perfect for snacking on, alongside a few beers in preparation for playing pool. Or sitting on those stairs while you hope that Licence to Ill comes on the speakers.
Decant SF is a good last-minute date option in SoMa. It’s both a bottle shop and a wine bar, and if you’re here to drink, you can have them open a bottle you purchase or choose from a short list of options by the glass. There’s also a fridge with things like cheese and meats that you can buy, and when you do, they’ll set up your choices with some crackers and jams. So instead of trying to recreate this at home and realizing you don’t have a corkscrew or having your weird roommate refuse to leave the living room, just head here.
Moongate Lounge is the new cocktail bar from the people behind Mister Jiu’s. It’s located on top of the main restaurant and feels like somewhere billionaires would grab a few cocktails and casually discuss things like arbitrage or gifting someone a hostile takeover for their child’s 10th birthday. The drinks here are all creative and delicious - we like the Titan with scotch, barolo chinato, tea, and toasted brown rice powder on the rim and the Start of Spring with vodka and peas that’s what all green juice should aspire to taste like. There’s food here too, but it’s mostly bar snacks like spicy peanuts with Sichuan chilies and tiny anchovies and “chickens in a spacesuit,” their version of pigs in a blanket with chicken sausage, lemon aioli, and pickled onion. If you’re here with more than one other person, it’s worth making a reservation, but if you just want a quick drink, you can cycle into the seats at the bar.
Peacekeeper, the new bar from the people behind Harper & Rye, is built like a football stadium with a retractable roof so they can make it open-air whenever it’s a clear night. If the roof is open and it’s a little cold, they have a fireplace to hang out next to and a pool table for when standing around the fire brings out a primal sense of competition in you and your friends. They serve beer and wine, and a full list of specialty cocktails, like the namesake Peacekeeper with tequila, ginger, pineapple, and lime that’s sweet and a little bit spicy at the end.
Verjus is a wine bar in Jackson Square that also doubles as a bottle shop. This place is huge and split into two rooms - one is more like a restaurant and the other is a shop with ceiling-high bookshelves that hold all the bottles they serve and sell (you can drink in either). The food here is a mix of Spanish and French dishes, and it’s good, but it’s really around to give you something to snack on while you drink the wine you bought as a gift and then decided to try just to make sure it’s fit to give as a present. Come with a few friends after work or when you got roped into a double date and can’t stand the thought of going to trivia night with Alex and Morgan for the third time this month.
Spacemen were the first to figure out that the higher up you are, the less you have to worry about anything on the ground. But instead of making space travel accessible to people who want to relax and have a fun weekend, people started building rooftop bars instead, and Everdene on top of the Virgin Hotel is the newest one in San Francisco. The majority of the space is covered by a roof so you can enjoy a cocktail and a charcuterie board from their small menu without the wind whipping around you. When it’s sunny, you can step out from under cover and sit at one of the spots running along the edge of the rooftop. Though if you can’t find a seat, there are plenty of high-tops and small tables to put your drinks down if you just want to stand in the sun and take in the views from high above Yerba Buena Park.
Obispo is a rum bar in the Mission from the same team as Bar Agricole and Trou Normand. Come here to grab drinks on a first date or to catch up with a friend you haven’t seen since that one house party where your genius idea to make fondue almost caught the whole kitchen on fire. Talk about how crazy that was over a cocktail or two - we like the rum and ting. And if you do get hungry, they have a Caribbean menu with things like congri and oxtail stew, but make sure to get the pollo de Obispo.
San Francisco doesn’t have a lot of secret bars, and it’s not hard to find out about the ones that do exist since they realize that they need actual customers to survive. Pawn Shop in Soma is another “secret” spot that’s primarily a tapas bar. When you walk in, you’re greeted by a wig-wearing pawnbroker named Jerry who leads you through the ridiculously decorated “pawn shop” up front and into a windowless room with peacock-colored glowing lights and stained glass on the walls. There are no cocktails here, but the wine list is solid and goes with the small plates they serve, like pan con tomate and serrano ham. After you’ve spent enough time here to justify the usually long wait to get inside, head back out through the pawn shop and try to convince Jerry to sell you those skis on the shelf behind him.
There’s probably a universe where The Man In The Big Yellow Hat never adopted Curious George, but instead opened a bar. If we lived in that universe, that bar would be Bon Voyage on Valencia Street. This jungle-themed spot is from the people behind Trick Dog, but instead of fake-out hamburger/hotdog creations, they have dumplings and buns to go with their cocktails. You should come here primarily for drinks, but if you’re hungry, we like the pork shui jiao and the mushroom buns.