Classic cocktails are back. And as the cocktail tradition is bringing back happy hour, night caps or even boozy brunches in a big way, it’s no surprise that drink-happy San Franciscans are at the forefront of the trend. With classic cocktails, comes fresh ingredients for which the Bay Area is known. Plus, local distilleries craft infused spirits — persimmon-infused gin, for example — that the likes of a Don Draper-esque Mad Men character would never have even heard about. The drinks are so refreshing it’s impossible to have just one. Luckily, there’s at least five bars that offer some of San Francisco’s best cocktails.
The Alembic, a Haight Street institution, is known for its innovative cocktails that have a New Orleans influence. For instance, Death in the Gulf Stream tastes both tart and bitter due to the Bols Genever gin, lime, sugar cane syrup and Angostura bitters. This spot is also known for its draught beer, which features local rotating brews listed on the chalkboard. It is so popular in the beer world that it has a cocktail series during San Francisco Beer Week. Fresh, local food is also served, with bone marrow, pork belly sliders and pickled quail eggs on the menu.
The handcrafted cocktails at Blackbird almost taste better than dessert because of all the ingredients used. For instance, the poached pear includes pear-infused gin, Lambrusco, honey, lemon and champagne, while the Bodega blossom is made using persimmon-infused Genever, Oloroso, sherry and Bonal-Gentiane Quina. The bar also serves up local wines, craft beers and an artisanal twist on typical bar food, with deviled ham, smoked trout and chicken liver mousse on the menu. Locals come for the happy hour, which offers good deals during 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. weekdays. Another nod to the San Francisco scene, the bar features rotating art from local artists.
Leave it to San Francisco hipsters to open up a trendy bar in Potrero Hill that creates drinks for customers based on horoscope signs. A Gemini, for instance, consists of Amaro Montenegro, Amaro Lucano, Noilly Prat, sour orange, sesame and cava, and is served in a flute. The food is just as trendy with pimento cheese toast, kale salad and fish tacos as just a few of the highlights. Customers can order off the creatively designed menu that fans out the same way a paint-sample booklet does.
Bourbon and Branch is so cool, customers need a password (AKA a reservation) just to get in the door. Once inside, the bar is decorated to mimic the speakeasy that once illegally operated in the same location from 1921 to 1933, during the Prohibition era. Dark wooden booths, red walls and chandeliers add to the historic ambiance. Of course, customers must abide by the house rules, which include no cell phone use, no photography and not asking for a Cosmo. The bar serves up some of the city’s best — you guessed it — bourbon selection, as well as a variety of scotch, which includes a bottle of Glenmorangie Margaux Finish (one of 1,2000 bottles in the U.S.). For those customers looking to taste some bourbon on the whim, the library space is open without a reservation if you just ring the buzzer and use the password "books."
Located down an alleyway off of Broadway, 15 Romolo is a hidden gem in San Francisco’s touristy North Beach neighborhood. The wooden floors and walls have a historic feel, while the bar menu certainly does not. It is full of pop-culture references such as the Ron Burgundy drink, which obviously consists of "scotchy, scotch, scotch," as well as a "that’s what she said" reference to the Vodka, Not Too Sweet drink. The food at this establishment is not your typical bar fare either — fitting for this atypical bar. The blackened ribeye and roasted lamb loin, however, are definitely worth checking out.