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Hottest Bars in San Francisco

By Virginia Miller
July 7, 2014
Photo by: Virginia Miller

Bar openings continue to flood the scene with more gin, bourbon, tequila and beer than anyone can handle. To help you navigate these boozy waters, here are the 10 San Francisco bars you've got to hit right now, including particularly notable restaurant bars with top-notch cocktails and/or excellent beer and wine lists. Some of these places even have amazing bar food to go with your drinks. Get ready for the 10 Hottest Bars in San Francisco. 

  • Photo by: Virginia Miller

    The Interval

    Why It's Hot: New this June, it's a cafe, workspace and museum for the Long Now Foundation by day, and a bar and salon to stimulate discussion and community, helmed by bar manager Jennifer Colliau of Small Hand Foods, by night.
    Must-Drink: Out of 8 cocktail sections, including a martini and a daiquiri menu, we recommend Drinking Around the World, which honors drinking traditions from various countries. Try ponche de granada, a tradition around Mexico of aging fresh pomegranate juice and sugar with either tequila or mezcal. It's served at room temperature with spiced pecans.
    Insider Tip: The Foundation's much-discussed, Swiss-designed chalkboard robots will soon be assembled. One of them will write on a large chalkboard hanging next to the bar. The other will assist behind the bar(!).

    2 Marina Blvd, Fort Mason Building A; 415-561-6582

  • Photo by: Virginia Miller

    Dirty Habit

    Why It's Hot: Quality hits every aspect of Dirty Habit's menu. There are drinks from bar manager Brian Means in lovely vintage glassware, a stellar spirits and wine collection and standout dishes from Chef David Bazirgan. Not to mention: there's the seductively dim space and killer outdoor patio tucked away on the fifth floor of the Hotel Palomar.
    Must-Drink: Spritz & Giggles is a bottled and carbonated Belvedere Vodka drink mixed with a bracing strawberry shrub, local Sutton Cellars vermouth and corn tea. A dash of salt makes it sing.
    Insider Tip: Don't miss the extensive, playfully grouped wine list from sommelier Jose Maria Aguirre and Master Sommelier Emily Wines.

    12 Fourth St.; 415-348-1555

  • Photo by: Virginia Miller

    The European

    Why It's Hot: The European is a gorgeous new metropolitan-style bar, opened on June 6th in The Warwick hotel. Right in the midst of all the Union Square galleries and theaters, Adam Wilson oversees an elegant, relaxed bar inspired by Paris during Prohibition through today, heavy on low-proof apéritifs and champagne cocktails.
    Must-Drink: Violet Fizz is like a glorified egg cream or a Ramos Gin Fizz, combining gin with cream and seltzer. House black currant and crème de violette purée is dramatically poured into the beverage right before your eyes. Creamy-white and marked by shocks of violet with an edible flower garnish, it's almost too pretty to drink. But then you stir it all together into a soft purple hue and it goes down all too easy.
    Insider Tip: Wilson is working with Betsy Ross, the sommelier at the hotel's restaurant, Aveline, to develop an extensive sparkling wine and champagne program with plenty of half-bottles on offer.

    490 Geary St.; 415-292-6430

  • Photo by: Virginia Miller

    Gaspar Brasserie

    Why It's Hot: Gaspar Brasserie is alluring in red, black, polished brass and dark wood under low ceilings. Upstairs there's the seductive, low-ceiling cognac bar. Downstairs is a gorgeous lounge meant for cocktails, champagne and French bites. Drinks from bar manager extraordinaire Kevin Diedrich shine with French spirits (cognac, Armagnac, absinthe, Calvados) and plenty of light alcohol/low-proof apéritifs.
    Must-Drink: Thrilled we are to see an absinthe frappé on the menu — particularly one made with one of the great French absinthes, Vieux Pontarlier. You find this classic drink everywhere in New Orleans, and it goes down easy on a hot day. Diedrich tones down the anise notes that steer some drinkers away from absinthe, putting it all in balance with lime, mint, soda and a bit of botanical-melon flavors from locally made Chareau Aloe Liqueur. This is the one you want as a refresher, as a starter before dinner, or as an afternoon sipper. Try it instead of a Southside or mojito. You just might be hooked.
    Insider Tip: Request the off-menu, classic New Orleans presentation of Café Brûlot, a coffee and cognac drink flamed tableside on a cart.

    185 Sutter St.; 415-576-8800

  • Photo by: Virginia Miller

    The Coachman

    Why It's Hot: Featuring British-influenced food from owner Charles Phan, The Coachman's true prize is the cocktail menu from bar director Erik Adkins and bar manager John Codd.
    Must-Drink: Bartender Keli Rivers played with Heidelberg Cup No. 9, an 1869 recipe from Cooling Cups & Dainty Drinks to get the elements just right. Diep 9 Belgian Genever, a house lemon cordial and Nahe Austrian Riesling come together over crushed ice for a dry, malty, stimulating spring sipper.
    Insider Tip: Request a glass of The Coachman's bartending master Erik Ellestad’s lovely, dry, spicy ginger beer, which he’s fermenting in the bottle in the champagne style.

    1148 Mission St.; 415-831-1701

  • Photo by: Virginia Miller

    Trou Normand

    Why It's Hot: If Manhattan met Paris at an all-day cafe with San Francisco-quality ingredients, it might look a lot like Trou Normand, the new French-influenced restaurant and bar from Thad Vogler and the Bar Agricole crew. Housed in the historic Pacific Telephone Building, the space is cavernous and dramatic with lofty ceilings, but it still feels intimate thanks to massive booths, exposed brick and a curved bar facing a tasteful nude drawing (pictured above).
    Must-Drink: The Supreme is a Calvados-based (French apple brandy) cocktail that's tart with lemon, nutty with orgeat (almond syrup) and pink with grenadine (pomegranate syrup).
    Insider Tip: "Trou normand" is the long-held Normandy tradition of drinking a shot of Calvados in the middle of a meal to reawaken the appetite. In keeping with the name, Vogler and his team personally source single barrels of Armagnac, cognac and Calvados from small producers in France — all available for $5 a pour and used in many of the cocktails.

    140 New Montgomery St.; 415-975-0876

  • Photo by: Virginia Miller

    Smokestack

    Why It's Hot: Opened in May in the Dogpatch, Smokestack is all about BBQ, Magnolia beers (since the owner is Dave McLean of Magnolia) and bar manager Eric Quilty's cocktails designed to partner with BBQ smoke.
    Must-Drink: Any of the latest Magnolia beer brews. Also try the Mission in the Rain cocktail (pictured). Named for one of Smokestack owner Dave McLean's favorite Jerry Garcia songs, it was inspired by the smells on a foggy Bay Area day. Bay leaf-steeped cordial and oregano garnish have the cumulative effect of an herbal rainforest mixed with subtly smoky smells and flavors from mezcal, mixed with a housemade white apéritif and a bit of apricot liqueur that makes for a clean and dry finish.
    Insider Tip: Get there early when they open at 4 PM to get a seat or avoid long lines for order-at-the-counter BBQ.

    2505 Third St.; 415-864-7468

  • Photo by: Virginia Miller

    Schroeder's

    Why It's Hot: SF's historic beer hall has been remodeled and modernized with more upscale food. But it still maintains its Germanic spirit — and those amazing murals. The first half of the massive beer hall is bar central, flowing with giant steins of beer, Germanic wines and cocktails that feature German spirits.
    Must-Drink: Choose from 22 international draft beers selected by Master Cicerone Rich Higgins. Only five of them are from Belgium and the U.S. The majority are German, Czech or Austrian. Also try Claire Jane Hunter's Werkstatt Negroni (pictured), combining local Anchor Distillery's Hophead Vodka, Campari and the herbal, fall spices of Czech spirit Becherovka.
    Insider Tip: In keeping with historic Schroeder's traditions, live polka bands, a month of Oktoberfest celebrations and stein-holding contests are all in the works.

    240 Front St.; 415-421-4778

  • Photo by: SF Athletic Club's Facebook Page

    San Francisco Athletic Club

    Why It's Hot: The San Francisco Athletic Club is the savvy, hip sports fanatic's new bar, designed like an old school gymnasium. From The Corner Store owners Ezra Berman and Miles Palliser and Kezar Pub's Neil Holbrook, the bar just opened in the former Tortilla Heights space in Lower Pac Heights and is ground zero for the World Cup, with no less than 28 TVs.
    Must-Drink: There are 12 draft beers and eight wines on tap. But you can also go for refreshing cocktails like the Italian Mule, mixing Fernet Branca, Snap (a gingersnap liqueur), lime and ginger beer.
    Insider Tip: You'll want bacon-wrapped hot dogs, spicy green beans, nachos or wings in four flavors to go with a porcelain bathtub full of beers for the table (no lie).

    1750 Divisadero St.; 415-923-8989

  • Photo by: Hopwater Distribution

    Hopwater Distribution

    Why It's Hot: This funky-cool, two-story space in a historic brick building houses upstairs tables gazing down over a bar lined with 31 taps, all featuring California brewmasters.
    Must-Drink: Selections are ever-changing, but you might try Two Rivers Pink Lady Cider ($6) or Rasputin's Nitro Imperial Stout ($7).
    Insider Tip: Bruce Paton serves bar bites like Dungeness tater tots, deviled eggs with bacon jam, or fried chicken tenders dipped in mango chipotle sauce.

    850 Bush St.

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Places Mentioned

The Interval

Cafe • Marina District

Food- Decor- Service- CostI
 
 
 
Dirty Habit

Bar • SoMa

Atmo.- Decor- Service- CostM
 
 
 
The European

Nob Hill

Atmo.- Decor- Service- CostM
 
 
 
Trou Normand

New American • SoMa

Food- Decor- Service- CostE
 
 
 
Gaspar Brasserie

French • Downtown

Food- Decor- Service- CostM
 
 
 
Smokestack

Dogpatch

Food- Decor- Service- CostI
 
 
 
Schroeder's Restaurant

German • Downtown

Food16 Decor18 Service20 Cost$31
 
 
 
Food- Decor- Service- CostI
 
 
 
The Coachman

British • SoMa

Food- Decor- Service- CostM
 
 
 
 
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