Drink This Now: SF Bay Area's 30 Essential Drinks

These are the cocktails, wine, sake and afternoon tea to be drinking as 2016 winds down
December 7, 2016
by Trevor Felch

With the holidays approaching, now is the time to celebrate and grab a drink — or 30 of them. We've got cocktails that celebrate produce in its prime, like the persimmon Negroni at Rich Table, and a beer that's a winter sweater for your taste buds from Local Brewing Co. Why not expand your horizons with skin-fermented vermentino from Healdsburg's Ryme Cellars and sake from the Bay Area's very first sake distillery? Then there are the classic Bay Area December highlights that you won't want to miss, like Anchor's Christmas ale or martinis at the Top of the Mark. These are the 30 SF Bay Area drinks to try as 2016 comes to a close.

Lachlan's Antiscorbutic at The Devil’s Acre
Gimlets don’t often get the respect that, say, a Negroni or martini does (when was the last time you overheard someone order a gimlet?). No matter, the basic duo of gin and lime juice deserves its place in the classic cocktail spotlight, and this North Beach apothecary-themed bar is just the one to put it there. This drink is made with two types of gin (Old Tom–style and navy-strength), plus a housemade lime cordial and a bracing kick of sea salt. Stiff but not heavy, it's the perfect remedy for curing the winter sniffles.

256 Columbus Ave.; 415-766-4363

Dublin Honey at The Ice Cream Bar
Cole Valley’s old-fashioned soda fountain and ice cream maker has a never-ending array of options whether you just want a scoop or seek complex ice cream drinks that satisfy both your dessert and adult beverage needs. This signature concoction is a smooth, tangy-sweet drink made with Guinness, caramelized honey ice cream, chocolate syrup and a 10-year tawny port float. Warning: You'll be hooked on boozy ice cream floats after trying one.

815 Cole St.; 415-742-4932

Romanism & Rebellion at Trick Dog
This cocktail destination makes its twice-annual menu change in January and July. That means you only have a few more weeks to experience this drink from the current presidential election theme. The rum-based offering is named for a virtually unknown campaign motto in 1884 and brings together avocado, almond, cinnamon, lime and Suze (a bitter French apéritif), and is topped with silky coconut cream.

3010 20th St.; 415-471-2999

Golden Hydrant gin and tonic at Elixir 
One tap handle at the Mission's original craft cocktail saloon is dedicated as the "Golden Hydrant," with $1 from each drink donated to a good cause. This season's featured drink is a riff on a gin and tonic with pear brandy, Top Hat tonic syrup and garnished with dried lemon peel, dehydrated pear slices and juniper berries. It’s an unbeatable combination of a refreshing and complex drink. (The money currently benefits a local couple who lost their belongings in a fire).

3200 16th St.; 415-552-1633

Christmas ale at Anchor Brewing Company
Christmas in San Francisco means ice skating and shopping in Union Square, Dungeness crab feasts and snow (well, if you drive to Tahoe). Most importantly, it means the Anchor Christmas ale. The brown ale with hints of fruitcake and smoke is the brewery's 42nd version of the beer (the tree design on the label this year is a "1,000 Mile" lone pine. Try it at Anchor’s brewery after a tour in Potrero Hill, the brewery's beer garden at Mission Rock's The Yard or at many bars around the Bay Area.

1705 Mariposa St.; 415-863-8350

Tonya's flight of the month at One Market
Wine director Tonya Pitts offers a fun $25, three-wine flight at this old institution anchoring the intersection of Market Street and the Embarcadero. The latest installment is meant to pair with winter specials. The flight begins with a brut alvarinho from Portugal's Vinho Verde region (to go with the spicy Dungeness crab salad), followed by a Napa Valley grüner veltliner (that goes perfectly with the roasted monkfish dish) and an Italian red Amarone della Valpolicella (matched with steak and red wine butter).

One Market St.; 415-777-5577

Oh Snap at Pacific Cocktail Haven
Few Bay Area cocktail bars can match city bar legend Kevin Diedrich's new Lower Nob Hill hangout in the old Cantina space. Saffron? Tzatziki? Liquors infused with chrysanthemum or miso? That's just the beginning. Our current pick is this lighter, quirky tonic served tall with gin, the sweet-savory bright notes of sugar snap peas, the dryness of manzanilla sherry, and the under-arching anise blast of absinthe. Talk about a complicated but easygoing refresher that appeals to the happy-hour and cocktail nerd crowds.

580 Sutter St.; 415-398-0195

Winter Sweater porter at Local Brewing Co.
True, it doesn’t go below freezing in San Francisco, but it’s still cold enough for a winter least one of the imperial porter kind. The young brewery in SoMa offers a full-bodied, mocha and caramelized walnut-forward brew that seems perfect after a day of skiing. Or, just a day in the office when you're counting down the minutes to a 5 PM beer. At 9% ABV, it's definitely going to warm you up.

69 Bluxome St.; 415-932-6702

Sherry flights at The Treasury
When will sherry break out as a trend? If anyone can make it happen, it's sherry collector and bar manager of this FiDi cocktail stalwart, Carlos Yturria. He's got more than 25 different sherries, ranging from tart and dry fino to the lush tanginess of palo cortado, which can be enjoyed by the glass or bottle, or three-part or six-part flight. Go even further on this exploration with the food pairings.

200 Bush St. #101; 415-578-0530

Pear Down at Copita
Margaritas are the go-to at Sausalito's outstanding Mexican restaurant and bar that is adored by ferry-visiting tourists and Marin locals alike. Neither camp should underestimate the tequila cocktails, like the Pear Down, an intense autumnal creation using reposado with ginger liqueur and a fruity duo of sweet banana and the soft earthiness of pear.

739 Bridgeway, Sausalito; 415-331-7400

Arnot Roberts syrah at Rich Table and Blue Plate
Syrah from California tends to be big, burly and hot, much like the sun-drenched climates where the grapes grow. One of the state’s most forward-thinking producers, based in Sonoma County, specializes in a gentler, nuanced blackberry-forward style of syrah from colder climates along the foggy, breezy coast. It's as food-friendly a red wine as you'll find with the sturdy structure of a syrah. Find it at Rich Table in Hayes Valley, where it pairs with both briny seafood and gamey lamb tartare. It's also at Blue Plate in Bernal Heights and a no-brainer with the signature fried chicken or meatloaf.

199 Gough St.; 415-355-9085
3218 Mission St.; 415-282-6777

Squid Ink IPA at Blackhammer Brewing
Squid ink in beer? Did somebody really go that far? Well, not technically. Head to the tasting room of the SoMa brewery and discover a black malt IPA that only looks like it's dyed with squid ink. The dense, meaty IPA carefully toes the line between being a dry hoppy ale, while having the chocolate-bitter espresso character of a dry stout.

544 Bryant St.; 415-758-2223

Sage at Duke’s Spirited Cocktails
Healdsburg's dynamic newcomer is a casual neighborhood bar that could also compete with the biggest names on the cocktail circuit. To that end, try this sophisticated aromatic autumnal number that flawlessly blends medium-heavy amaro, the power of rye and brandy, and palate-cleansing sage. How often do you a find a rustic, mellow, balanced and spirit-forward sipper? Give this seasonal one a try now.

111 Plaza St., Healdsburg; 707-431-1060

English milk punch at Novela
Long before cocktails and wine on tap became part of better quality, higher volume bars, this delightful literary-themed SoMa drinking lounge offered punch on tap. Try as many punches as you can in a flight, mixing and matching seasonal varieties — the most intriguing one right now is a clarified milk punch with brandy and amaretto that's given an eyebrow-raising dash of Chinese five spice — to the signature standby, Hemingway's "Code Hero."

662 Mission St.; 415-896-6500

Changing of the Guard at Tosca Cafe
San Francisco is full of margaritas, but drinks that let tequila shine on its own? Not easy to find. The North Beach legend has recently updated its drinks menu, and this tamed tequila Manhattan, made with tequila, amontillado sherry and a blend of Italian bitters, is a winner. Tequila's distinct herbal notes are everywhere in the carefully stirred offering that's smooth but bracing. The cocktail begs to be sopped up by the prosciutto and mozzarella bar panino.

242 Columbus Ave.; 415-986-9651

The Last Mango in Paris at Louie’s Gen-Gen Room
Make a reservation for tropical-leaning but definitely not tiki drinks at the bar tucked beneath Liholiho Yacht Club. This Parisian by way of a Caribbean beach drink, tying together Lillet, Cognac, mango and lemon, is a textbook example of the distinct style Yanni Kehagiaras created on the cocktail menu. It’s elegant enough for the Ritz and properly low-key for a lazy day of drinking.

871 Sutter St.; 415-440-5446

Mele at Rambler 
Fresh-pressed apple and fennel juice may seem more like a post-spin detox remedy; however, they’re the base for a lovely gin cocktail at one of the city’s hottest new bars, which is proving to be one of the few drinking spots near Union Square with an appeal to urbane locals. The gin and juice cocktail is handsomely crowned by a foam of ginger shrub and egg whites, further enhancing the autumnal profile.

545 Post St.; 415-549-8008

Serpent’s Kiss at Foreign Cinema
This fruity but hardly cloying rum drink from the venerable Mission restaurant’s bar manager Nicky Beyries is one of the best in the city — she won a recent citywide competition with it. More citrus is added with orange and lime to play off passion fruit’s sweetness and Batavia arrack’s powerfully bitter notes add the final word. It's an alluring drink with an abundance of different flavor personalities: complex, bold and tropical.

2534 Mission St.; 415-648-7600

Holiday high tea at Top of the Mark
You don’t need an excuse to visit the bar high atop Nob Hill’s grande dame Intercontinental Mark Hopkins hotel. The views are possibly the best of any bar or restaurant in the city and the price of admission is food or drink. To really get in the seasonal mood, complement the holiday high tea and scones with a locally made fog-infused gin martini for, yes, $40. Hey, when you have such a panoramic grand view, it’s very acceptable to start happy hour at tea time. See the calendar for dates and times.

999 California St.; 415-392-3434

Clarity at Mister Jiu’s
At one of the best new restaurants of 2016, bar manager Danny Louie’s excellent cast of drinks are named for forms of good fortune — and you’ll feel fortunate to be enjoying such a smartly constructed cocktail in the heart of Chinatown. This gin-based creation clears the mind and tempts the pre-dinner palate with an umami punch (sesame) before veering towards a sour-bitter direction (melon and lime).

28 Waverly Pl.; 415-857-9688

Idlewild arneis at Hamlet
We found the brilliant arneis from Fox Hill Vineyard east of Mendocino, boasting distinct hay and soothing melon notes, available by the bottle at the newly renovated Hamlet in Noe Valley. Check it out to learn about a fantastic unheralded grape from a distinct, accomplished California producer thinking out of the Chardonnay/Cabernet box.

1199 Church St.; 415-829-3286

Grape Divide at Linden Room
The 10-seat bar adjacent to Hayes Valley’s new tasting menu hit, Nightbird, is quickly becoming a must-try destination for the refined, subtly playful cocktails and the early 20th-century decor. This marquee drink uses generally unknown grape liqueur-infused gin and is given a wintery preparation with red wine syrup, egg white and blackberries. Linden Room is a match of high-end chic and craft cocktails the city doesn’t see enough of.

330 Gough St.; 415-829-7565

Sequoia sake at Ichi
Quick quiz: How many sake distilleries are there in San Francisco? Just one. This new, pioneering Bayview-based sake producer makes the rice-based low-proof spirit in two styles: a floral and denser genshu and a more fruity, breezy nama. Try them both and decide your favorite at several local Japanese restaurants like the always fantastic Ichi (sake goes surprisingly well with the yuzu fried chicken wings) in the Bernal Heights-Mission area.

3282 Mission St.; 415-525-4750

Follow That Black Rabbit at Whitechapel
You definitely want a gin cocktail at the city's leading venue devoted to the botanical spirit, and this one gets a vintage San Francisco sidekick. Using Beefeater dry gin as the starting point, the drink lets our city's beloved Fernet-Branca be prominent but not over commanding. Orange juice, maple syrup and lemon juice turn it into a gorgeously fine-tuned drink that should be at the top of the priority list of Whitechapel’s dramatically long cocktail roster.

600 Polk St.; 415-292-5800

Satori at Roka Bar
If omakase sushi is the trend of 2016 in San Francisco, will omakase cocktails be next for 2017? Roka Akor in Jackson Square’s underground bar is pioneering the idea with a series of three drinks (and tea) at $55 per the bartender’s whimsy. Right now you might enjoy this coffee-infused Japanese rice whiskey cocktail, a deep, winter warmer with a pleasantly soft, floral finish. A housemade sherry-honey syrup lends the body, then crème de cacao, chocolate bitters and lavender bitters finish the unique drink.

801 Montgomery St.; 415-362-8887

Ryme ‘His’ vermentino at Single Thread 
Orange wines are still on the “wine nerd” fringe for many restaurant-goers, so many diners are still skeptical about skin-fermented vermentino. This husband-and-wife winemaking team based in Healdsburg also disagreed on the subject, and each made his and her own. The “Hers” from Megan Glaab is fresher, herb-tinged and not skin-fermented. The “His” by Ryan Glaab is taut and forceful with candied citrus and mineral-leaning notes that captivates from the nose to the roasted pear-tasting finish. The two-week-old Single Thread in Healdsburg has poured it as a companion to a delicate “Ibushi-gin” trout, a perfect pairing of exquisitely flaky fish and boundary-pushing wine.

131 North St., Healdsburg

Call of the Wild at Jack Rose Libation House
What's a fall cocktail list without an apple cocktail? This bourbon drink referencing Jack London's novel screams of apple pie flavors with cinnamon-pear jam, apple ice wine and allspice dram, balanced with some lemon juice so as to not go overboard on the dessert profile. Stellar drinks like this one at a cocktail-centric roadhouse at the border of Los Gatos and Saratoga make you realize the South Bay is no sleepy cocktail region.

18840 Saratoga Los Gatos Rd., Los Gatos; 408-354-0300

Istanbul at Barcha
The tried-and-true Manhattan gets a fantastic facelift at the FiDi’s year-old Mediterranean restaurant, which makes its own medjool date–infused bourbon. It’s carefully stirred with both angostura and orange bitters (that's right, the dates calm the bourbon instead of sweet vermouth) for just the right amount of thick caramelized-flavored sweetness. It’s hard to find a Manhattan that appeals to both lighter and stronger palates, but the Istanbul is a rare breed that accomplishes the twin feat.

28 Fremont St.; 415-957-5463

Persimmon Negroni at Rich Table
Just when you thought San Francisco’s fervent passion for Negronis couldn’t be more intense, the always exciting Hayes Valley restaurant decides to use persimmons in its version. Swapping sweet vermouth for a hachiya persimmon purée, it’s a gorgeous mix of fresh flavors with the distinct bitter-herbal notes of Campari and gin. Catch it now, as persimmon season is a short one.

199 Gough St.; 415-355-9085

The Dutchman’s Flat at Smokestack at Magnolia Brewing
Of all the bizarre cocktail ingredients out there, beef bouillon–infused ginger syrup might be the wackiest of the bunch. Sure, the rye-based cocktail, which partners well with the smoky char and fatty flavors of barbecue, sounds bizarre, but this flagship cocktail has been on the Dogpatch brewery-bar-restaurant’s menu since opening night in 2014. It's a genuinely easy-to-love and well-balanced drink rounded out with honey, Jerry Thomas bitters, lemon and toasted nori.

2505 3rd St.; 415-864-7468

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