12 Best Cocktails in San Francisco (And Where to Find Them)

  • Mary Macpherson
  • 09/8/20


Favorite local bars are quite personal, and Mary Macpherson offers up Original Joe’s in North Beach (in the neighborhood) and Perry’s on Union (before a Giants game, near a shuttle pick-up). San Francisco’s world class restaurants and cocktail bars all rely on their “locals”, so here’s a way to get to know a few, when the time is right: A list of 12 ‘best cocktails’ and where to find them, The abundance of options can seem overwhelming in a city with over 650 cocktail bars, but here are a cool dozen across a number of neighborhoods for finding your own “local fave.”  And if you happen to join a home sale closing with Mary sometime, you’re likely to see another tradition: Veuve Cliquot clinking in celebration.

Here are 12 top cocktails and great establishments where you can find them, done well.

Trick Dog’s Linguistics

Image of the Linguistics cocktail at Trick Dog courtesy of SFist.com
 
Located on the Mission’s 20th Street, Trick Dog is well-respected in the cocktail world for their innovative drinks, superb service, and cool atmosphere. For newcomers, this popular spot may be difficult to find at first, since Trick Dog has no business sign posted outside.
However, those in the know come back time and time again for the bar’s creatively-themed drink menu, which changes twice a year and has earned Trick Dog a number of awards and accolades.
 
Revered among some of the best bars in the world, Trick Dog has won the 2014 Spirited Award for Best American Bar Team and the 2017 and 2018 Spirited Awards for World’s Best Cocktail Menu. The bar has also repeatedly been nominated for the James Beard Award for Outstanding Cocktail Program.

It’s no surprise that their current menu offers a variety of drinks with popular followings. Linguistics is in a league of its own. This stirred drink is made with nougat-infused Bombay gin, Vermouth Routin Blanc, Bordiga Amaro Dilei, and garnished with a 3 Musketeers chocolate bar. World-class cocktails and chocolate—what’s not to love?

ABV’s Gin & Celery

Image of the Gin & Celery cocktail courtesy of ABV
 
A Mission staple, ABV serves some of the best cocktails in the city. The owners are veterans of the San Francisco bar scene and are well-versed in the types of drinks locals want. The drink menu is categorized by spirit, easing the process of choosing the ideal beverage. ABV also serves bar fare such as hamburgers, chicken tacos, and falafel lamb hot dogs to perfectly pair with one’s spirit of choice.

ABV’s Gin & Celery cocktail is a truly unique creation that’s a fun spin on traditional gin drinks. It’s made with gin, lemon, tonic, celery bitters, and salt. For lovers of Bloody Marys and more earthy flavors, it’s not to be missed!

Peacekeeper's Goddaughter

Imagef the Goddaughter cocktail at Peacekeeper courtesy of Eater San Francisco
 
Peacekeeper is the definition of a trendy cocktail bar. Located in Lower Nob Hill, this bar infuses sophisticated, yet comfortable design with notable cocktails. Among the space’s unique design elements is a retractable roof, which encourages visitors to enjoy Peacekeeper’s high-energy ambiance.

Their ever-evolving menu features tequila-focused drinks with bright and fresh flavors. Ingredients such as herbs, berries, and spices elevate these concoctions to another level. The Goddaughter is made with tequila, berry shrub, citrus, and egg whites and is a favorite among Peacekeeper patrons. This colorful and aesthetically-pleasing drink is ideal for a sunny, slow-paced afternoon. 

Pacific Cocktail Haven’s Lime in da Coconut

Image of Lime in da Coconut cocktail at Pacific Cocktail Haven courtesy of Alcademics
 
Established in 2016, Pacific Cocktail Haven quickly grew from a neighborhood bar to one of the city’s cocktail destinations. Barman Kevin Diedrich has been a well-respected name on the San Francisco cocktail scene for years before starting PCH as his first solo venture.

The welcoming atmosphere of this Financial District spot is exuded through its brick exterior and pineapple sign out front—attracting pedestrians to the tropical-flavored drinks inside.

The Union Square-based bar is known for their astonishingly innovative cocktails, such as the Miso Old Fashioned, which combines miso-butter rum, pommeau, and bitters before finishing with a PCH-branded ice cube.

The Lime in da Coconut is an incredibly refreshing drink made with Reyka Vodka, salted pistachio, coconut-lychee milk, and citrus. The complementary ingredients infuse to create a subtly sweet flavor with a kick from the salt, coconut, and citrus served over pebble ice.

Bar Agricole’s Rye Gin Old Fashioned

Image of the Rye Gin Old Fashioned at Bar Agricole courtesy of Serious Eats.
 
For true cocktail aficionados, Bar Agricole is a must-drink for any visit to San Francisco. Owned by Thad Vogler, this cocktail bar has been a James Beard Foundation Award nominee for Outstanding Bar Program every year since 2012 before finally taking the title in 2019.

Bar Agricole’s fresh ingredients, innovative techniques, and trendy atmosphere attracts a diverse crowd from around the Bay Area. From traditional cocktails to locally-distilled spirits and wines, the drink menu may appear to serve familiar fare. However, every drink at Bar Agricole is like nothing you’ve tasted before.

The Rye Gin Old Fashioned balances sweetness and bitterness through the inclusion of orange and aromatic, housemade bitters—it’s an excellent cocktail to sip on for an enjoyable evening out.
 

Local Edition’s Ava Gardner

Image of the Ava Gardner cocktail at Local Edition courtesy of Yelp
 
Located on Market Street, Local Edition gives off a bit of a speakeasy vibe, with an unmarked door, an old-fashioned clock face marking the entrance, and a basement floor lounge decorated with vintage paper presses and typewriters. The underground den exude its newspaper theme in a cool, sophisticated manner.

Local Edition’s Ava Gardner features jasmine tea-infused vodka, coconut milk, lemon, ginger, bitters, and basil served on the rocks. This creamy cocktail packs a vintage-inspired punch for easy sipping. 

Bourbon & Branch’s Frank Lloyd Wright

Image of the Frank Lloyd Wright cocktail at Bourbon & Branch courtesy of Pinterest.

During normal operating hours, Bourbon & Branch provides an exclusive experience with an intercom to buzz into and a password required for entry (obtained with a reservation). The interior features rooms behind bookcases and rotating walls. This captivating space is further amplified by the selection of exceptional drinks.

Bourbon & Branch’s 1920s Prohibition-esque atmosphere includes a strict no-phone or photography policy. Yet, the vintage ambiance and array of artisan craft cocktails will leave no need for additional entertainment.

While the exact recipe may be difficult to find, the famous Frank Lloyd Wright cocktail is a mixture of bourbon, pear liquor, dashes of Laphroaig and nocino, old-fashioned bitters, and lemon. Served on ice and poured into a chilled glass, this drink quickly transports patrons to a more bygone time.

House of Shield’s Basil Gimlet

Image of the Basil Gimlet cocktail at House of Shields courtesy of Yelp.
 
Just across from the Palace Hotel, House of Shields is an old school bar that has been continuously operating since 1908. Restored in 2011, the bar features no TVs or clocks but offers dark wood accents, dim lighting, and classic drinks. The Basil Gimlet is uncomplicated with quality ingredients that simply uses gin, basil, and lime.
 

Aub Zam Zam’s Martini

Image of a gin martini at Aub Zam Zam courtesy of Kendra Aronson
 
Aub Zam Zam has been serving high-quality cocktails in the Haight since 1941. This bar is a local landmark and a neighborhood watering hole with an exotic feel and sophisticated ambiance. Residents and visitors haven’t fully experienced San Francisco until they’ve had a martini at Aub Zam Zam. 

This Middle Eastern cocktail bar serves its signature martini the way its late owner, Bruno Mooshei, liked it. Order a dry martini with an olive to enjoy simplicity perfected.

Rickhouse’s Kentucky Buck

Image of the Kentucky Buck cocktail at Rickhouse courtesy of Sauce Magazine
 
A stop in the Financial District isn’t complete without heading to Rickhouse, a whiskey lover’s oasis! This bar is usually packed with a dedicated following, especially at the end of a workday. Rickhouse’s liquor selection is so vast it requires a rolling ladder to reach all the bottles.

Despite a wide variety to choose from, Rickhouse remains a whiskey-forward cocktail bar. The Kentucky Buck is a perfected recipe of Bourbon, lemon juice, muddled strawberry, Angostura bitters, simple syrup, ginger beer, and a lemon wheel and strawberry for garnish. This bold-flavored buck is a predecessor to many styles of cocktails and is a patron favorite. 
 

The Alembic’s Brown Butter Old-Fashioned

Image of the Brown Butter Old Fashioned at Alembic courtesy of Yelp.
 
Alembic, a Haight-Ashbury-based cocktail bar with a modern personality, has been on the cocktail scene for over a decade. It’s nearly impossible to go wrong when ordering from their carefully-curated drink menu, which features both house and seasonal cocktails. 

Alembic seamlessly balances classic drinks with fresh “new school” concoctions. The Brown Butter Old Fashioned respects the traditional old fashioned with a unique upgrade. Alembic incorporates carefully-selected 10-year-old single barrel Bourbon with a delicate balance of spice that’s not too oaky. The drink includes superfine sugar, Angostura bitters, a splash of water, and ice. This twist on the old fashioned is simplicity at its best!
 

Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant’s Tommy’s Margarita

Image of a margarita at Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant courtesy of the San Francisco Chronicle
 
Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant has earned the coveted title of “best margarita in San Francisco” for its pitcher of delicious Tommy’s Margaritas. This restaurant attracts troves of loyal patrons to Outer Richmond for the best tequila selection in the city and a menu of high-quality Mexican dishes, including enchiladas and tacos. 

The 20-minute drive from downtown to Tommy’s Mexican is worth it to taste the best tequila available and enjoy an afternoon with friends sipping on flavorful and refreshing margaritas!

For more insider info and local color on great, historic bars, get a copy of JK Dineen’s “Legacy Bars of San Francisco” (from the publisher is best). Find the Beat-poets fave, THE waterfront dive bar of all dive bars, and other fine drinking establishments: High Spirits

Interested in learning more about living in San Francisco or surrounding Bay Area communities? Contact Mary Macpherson today. Her dedication and experience as a successful real estate agent in the San Francisco Bay real estate market will help ease the process of finding the perfect piece of San Francisco luxury real estate to meet the needs of any homebuyer!

 
 

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