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14 SF Wine Bars That Don't Suck

PHOTO: Krescent Cassaro

If the term “wine bar” makes you think of dry breadsticks and cloudy glasses of Barefoot masquerading as actual wine - or a place where someone will inevitably lecture you about grape varietals - think again. Wine bars don’t have to be sad or pretentious places - they can actually be a pretty great time.

Why? They almost always have a cheese plate, and it’s a hell of a lot faster for someone to pour you a glass of wine than for them to hand pick four and a half sprigs of thyme and grind them in a tiny thimble to put into your bespoke $16 cocktail.

Girls’ night, happy hour, first date, a drink with the parents - we say a glass of Pinot (or whatever your persuasion) is appropriate in any and all situations. Go forth and imbibe with a guide to our favorite wine bars in the city.

the spots

1
7.6
MAP

One of the cooler spaces to drink wine, Union Larder’s bar seats next to the big windows looking out on Polk are where you need to be. There’s also an actual cheesemonger who will pop out of his cheese house and advise you on what to order. The answer should be “all of it.”

2

Noir Lounge

581 Hayes St
MAP

Noir Lounge is many things. By day, they serve huge and delicious sandwiches. By early evening, they’re a casual spot to grab a drink and a bite. By the time darkness rolls around, old movies are playing on the walls and a piano player may appear to tickle the ivories. The one constant? There’s always wine.

3

Nectar Wine Lounge

3330 Steiner
MAP

Just what the Marina needs: more wine. Nectar is a strong option thanks to the excellent food and long sleek bar that’s never too crowded but always busy enough to feel happening. They also serve many wine and champagne flights. And flights are always a good idea.

Photo: Krescent Cassaro
4
7.8
MAP

Is the demographic here 99.7% females between the ages of 26-34? Yes. Is that us? Maybe. The Cow Hollow spot is small and usually packed at happy hour time, but that’s for good reason. The wine list rules and the small plates are more interesting than most other options around.

5

Press Club

20 Yerba Buena Ln
MAP

Dark and semi-swanky and expensive, Press Club is ideal for corporate cards, especially since it’s pretty near the Financial District. The real move is to head there at happy hour (before 6pm) when glasses are $3 off.

6

Etcetera Wine Bar

795 Valencia St
MAP

We once saw a waitress pour wine into a mug and drink it behind the bar here, and that’s exactly why this place rules. The setup is warm and inviting, and the staff is exceptionally nice. Etcetera is the ideal place to grab wine before or after dinner in the Mission. Or if you want to just stay put, the steak tartare and French-style pizzas (basically flatbreads) will do you right.

Photo: Tommy Noshitsky
7

Tank 18

1345 Howard St
MAP

Tank18, we have one formal request: be open every day. The huge, airy space in the no man's land between Market and Mission and SOMA is fantastic, but sadly only open Thursday through Sunday. So get yourself there quick for a chill scene where you can avail yourself of all the vino (it's a winery as well as a wine bar), small plates, and occasional pop-up food truck situation.

8
MAP

A cute little space on a side alley in Hayes Valley, Fig & Thistle is our go-to in the neighborhood. The wine (and beer) list is all from California and is generally excellent. If you can figure out why they have a bunk bed inside, let us know.

Photo: Krescent Cassaro
9

20 Spot

3565 20th St
MAP

An extremely laid-back wine bar, 20 Spot should always be in the rotation. It’s a place you’re going to want to hang out at for a while. The apps are a little small for the price, but they’re excellent across the board and plated by people who know what they’re doing.

Photo: Remy Galvan-Hale
10

Terroir

1116 Folsom St
MAP

We still live in San Francisco, so we’d be remiss not to include a wine bar focused on organic and biodynamic (what?) wine. The space is cool, they host interesting events, and there’s a small but very good food menu. Terroir is a spot for people who love wine, but would probably laugh out loud if someone called them oenophiles.

11

California Wine Merchant

2113 Chestnut St
MAP

Known to some as Cougar Town, California Wine Merchant is a great place to people watch and sip on great wine. Four glasses later on a Sunday night and you’ll be best friends with a 45-year-old named Cheyenne and definitely signing up to join CWM’s wine club. No regrets.

12

Amelie

1754 Polk St
MAP

Wine plus live music? All of the yes. And a happy hour that goes until 7? More yes. Amélie is one of the better wine bars around. The staff is friendly, the pistachio crusted goat cheese is awesome, and the scene is lively. Head there sooner rather than later.

13

Lark

4068 18th St
MAP

Lark is a relatively new addition to the Castro, and we are very happy it’s here. The menu has a Mediterranean tilt we can get down with and the wine list is diverse and interesting without being too pricey. It has a very local feel, which means you can totally drink four glasses of wine in your workout clothes and no one will judge. They’re your neighbors.

14

Klyde Cafe & Wine Bar

386 Geary St
MAP

An actually OK wine bar near Union Square? We sh*t you not. Klyde has very well-priced wines by the glass or bottle and a cozy vibe to help you forget you are actually near Union Square. Get the charcuterie plate to start. Drink wine. Maybe get the truffle fries. Drink more wine. Success.

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