story

San Francisco's Most Important Bar Openings of 2017

From an über-chic hotel rooftop bar to a brewery with a popular patio
December 4, 2017
·
by Trevor Felch

San Francisco clearly needed a few drinks in 2017. The year saw incredible growth, with bar openings spanning the seven-by-seven miles from White Cap's surfer-chic vibe and craft cocktails in the Outer Sunset to Anchor Public Taps' vintage look and seasonal beers in Potrero Hill. Wine also got the spotlight for unique pairings (Parigo in the Marina) and bubbles with a side of joie de vivre fun (The Riddler in Hayes Valley). Here's a toast to 2017's best new bars in San Francisco.

Charmaine’s

SF's most popular bar of the moment? The rooftop bar of Mid-Market's San Francisco Proper Hotel. The Miami Beach–cool vibe, outdoor fire pits, sweeping views and the shaggadellic stylish furnishings make for a straight-up spectacular setting. It’s not always the best experience on this list; crowds and under-staffing mean it can take 20 minutes to order drinks if you’re not aggressive. But that über-chic design and the superb cocktails — by Bon Vivants (Trick Dog), who add its signature wink-wink creativity in ingredients like banana bread and bay laurel brine — make Charmaine's the city’s place to be.

Must-drink: The blended Let Me Touch Your Mind (basically a Negroni meets a piña colada); A Scratch in the Sky (a frothy egg white–based cocktail with cognac, rum, lemon verbena and lime)

1100 Market St.; 628-895-2055

The Douglas Room

Benjamin Cooper (in the Hotel G) opened its younger sibling in the Tilden Hotel — and aside from the hotel connection (and the common theme of mighty delicious cocktails), the new spot retains its own cool, low-key vibe. There's a lot to love about The Douglas Room, like its version of a Philly cheesesteak (SF's best), a 2 PM opening time on weekdays and its legit cocktail menu. Somehow, it feels like The Douglas Room has been around Union Square for several years — but that might be our memory blurred after a second round of Tenderloin Tuxedos.

Must-drink: The Death Star (a perfectly balanced old fashioned–style sipper with scotch, cognac, amontillado sherry and salted chile oil); the martini-esque Tenderloin Tuxedo rounded out with absinthe and celery bitters

345 Taylor St.; 415-673-2332

Almanac Beer Taproom

Almanac is the rare brewery that covers practically every genre of beer, from extra hoppy IPAs and funky sours to burly imperial stouts and aged beer/wine hybrid “Grand Crus.” In addition, those beers poured from bottles and the 16 taps constantly rotate in and out. You'll never get bored. With so many enticing brews — plus a concise menu of delicious high-end beer-friendly eats and a pleasant backyard patio — it’s no wonder that Almanac's Mission taproom often hits capacity in the afternoon.

Must-drink: Bière de chocolat (robust porter with cacao nibs); any Farmer’s Reserve or Grand Cru barrel-aged beer

2704 24th St.; 415-932-6531

Parigo

The Barrel Room’s Marina cousin isn’t a Marina bar in the frat house sense nor is it simply a wine bar overly fixated on tasting notes. It’s a fascinating concept where chef de cuisine Danny Murcia and wine director Sarah Trubnick focus on food pairings: two wines that complement a dish and two wines that contrast. Even if you're not hungry beyond a cheese plate, Parigo is one of the city’s best spots to chat about Listan Negro at the bar or linger with your friends by the backyard patio fire pits. There are roughly 60 wines by the glass offered, so there’s a lot of “research” to be done here.

Must-drink: Any wine — you can’t go wrong, so take a chance and taste a few grape varieties you’ve never tried

3232 Scott St.; 415-580-7080

Fermentation Lab

Two major trends combine in the city’s hottest dining neighborhood at this sleek-designed Mid-Market gastropub, where fermented and pickled bites pair with an impressive selection of California-only beers. Outside of the must-order assortment of banchan (a steal for $5), hungrier appetites will appreciate the high-quality sandwiches and charcuterie for soaking up the fermented beers. It's the lively destination that this restaurant-lacking stretch of Market Street needs. As it's just a few steps from the Orpheum Theater, keep it in mind for your next pre-show destination.

Must-drink: One of the sought-after low-production NorCal brews like a Russian River sour

1230 Market St.; 415-626-1592

White Cap

The lucky Outer Sunset is home to this friendly cocktail tend started by surfer buds Matt Lopez and Carlos Yturria. It’s not a surfer-themed bar per se (no Beach Boys on the soundtrack), but the bar's low lighting with a blue and white design evokes the Pacific waves just a few feet away. White Cap's libations are split between rotating themed cocktails and a regular roster, all designed by Yturria (The Treasury). His drinks stick with simple three- or four-ingredient concepts — usually involving his beloved sherry — and pack more flavor than the descriptions suggest.

Must-drink: Maple Hammer (a smooth concoction of George Dickel rye, bitters and maple-walnut reduction served on a big cube); the refreshing mezcal, manzanilla sherry and aloe Heat Gun cocktail   

3608 Taraval St.; 415-682-4215

The Riddler

Is The Riddler a wine bar? A Paris-inspired bistro where the food is only caviar, tater tot waffles and free popcorn in a dozen flavors? The Riddler is all of those things, a raucous party with champagne as the drink of choice — and the options are plentiful, whether you’re looking for a bottle of pricey Veuve Clicquot or a cham-bong to slam. The bar has an adorable vintage decor and an irresistible joie de vivre good times personality. Hayes Valley is currently SF’s epicenter of dining and drinking, with The Riddler as its bubbly heart.

Must-drink: Champagne by the glass or the bottle; cham-bongs or "A Joan" (a glass of cheap wine filled to the top) if it’s that kind of night

528 Laguna St.; 415-741-1729

Cold Drinks 

Tucked on the second floor of the China Live complex (behind a discreet door marked with bats), this scotch-centric bar offers a glitzy old Shanghai jazz-era vibe — a stark contrast with the loud, industrial (i.e. unsexy) vibe of the main ground-floor restaurant. Cold Drinks is hands down SF's finest choice when it's time to dress up in your sharpest Don or Betty Draper wardrobe. AvroKo’s swanky design, inventive drinks and white-tuxedo-clad bartenders all make the bar feel simultaneously sexy and timeless.

Must-drink: Long Islay Iced Tea (Absolut Elyx vodka with two types of scotch, black tea, orgeat, Coca-Cola and lemon); the rum and Benromach 10 scotch-based The Blackening with coconut, Lo-Fi amaro and allspice

644 Broadway; 415-788-8188

98 Turk

Like many San Francisco cocktail hounds, we couldn’t figure out 98 Turk in its opening months. Is it called 98 Turk or BIIG? (Answer: both.) How do I get in? (Answer: e-mail or Instagram message, but you can try knocking on the locked door.) It was originally not open on Friday or Saturday but has since changed its tune. In brief: This is not your average bar. But things are normalizing, with nightly hours and a reservation system that seems to work for everyone. Once you’re seated amidst the antique glassware and taxidermy, you’re in for a treat with the thoughtful, precise riffs on classics by bar maestro Ronnie Buders.  

Must-drink: Everything — there is no menu! Give the bartender some guidance about favorite spirits and cocktail styles. 

98 Turk St.; 415-314-3680

Anina

Brass Tacks’ neighbor and Hayes Valley sibling is a tropical getaway minus the kitsch; think Moroccan tiles and floral prints, not mermaids and palm trees. Outside, Anina has a spacious adjacent patio (that has probably seen more dating app meet-ups than any space in the city) and welcomes some of the city's best food pop-ups. Best of all, the refreshing and slightly complex drinks — led by the green juice version of a daiquiri (the Fairway) — hardly play supporting cast to the atmosphere. Anina feels like the right bar at the right place at the right time.

Must-drink: Anina's namesake low-proof cocktail with amaro, Bruto Americano, Cappalletti and lime; Fairway; the mezcal-based Lucila with pineapple gum and a touch of grapefruit liqueur  

482 Hayes St.

The Snug

An all-star kitchen and bar team are the forces behind this hip new spot for Pac Heights residents and Fillmore shoppers. It’s equal parts a citywide destination for a full dinner (chef Brian Shin was at Alinea and Benu) or sampling through Jacon Racusin's (The Alembic) cocktails at the bar. Or if you're just getting the friends together, the Snug’s contemporary Irish pub vibe is particularly inviting for a lively night of good times accompanied by a few pints from the strong NorCal beer selection (by Zack Schwab and Shane Matthews, alums of The Monk’s Kettle and NYC's acclaimed The Jeffrey). The people-watching at the sidewalk window seats is as good as it gets too. 

Must-drink: 14 beers on tap; Prickly Pear cocktail (mezcal, amaro, nopales, prickly pear and habanero); the sunflower-infused vodka-based Yellow Rose (think a floral Bee's Knees)

2301 Fillmore St.; 415-562-5092

Anchor Public Taps

Finding Anchor Steam in San Francisco is as challenging as finding a hilly block, but there has always been something special about tasting the city icon here at its home in Potrero Hill. The problem was how brewery tours and tastings were held only in the late morning; in-demand weekend tours booked up months in advance. Luckily, that changed with this fall’s opening of Public Taps across the street from the main brewery. It's the taproom we've always wanted, offering Anchor's full lineup day and night, plus exclusive experimental creations.

Must-drink: Anchor Steam beer (of course!); coffee porter; pilot beers like the barrel-aged Christmas ale

495 De Haro St.; 415-863-8350

Overproof

SF cocktail fans already had the Mission's ABV on the short list for top-notch bars to return to again and again. Well, this year the bar gave them a second compelling reason to visit often: ABV transformed its mezzanine into a pop-up cocktail and dinner pairing series, where each theme would be based on a spirit or two and its geographic regions. First was rum, then whiskey, followed by gin and sherry, and concluding now with the world of agave spirits. Sadly, Overproof will end its run in early 2018 and become something new. But let's give Overproof its deserved praise for the sheer novelty of the idea and its execution, with high-caliber drinks and food. Let's hope it returns before too long.

Must-drink: Diners receive a fixed menu of roughly five (half-sized) drinks and five dishes

3174 16th St.; 415-400-4748

Mavericks at Lord George

Cocktails, oysters and mischief are the themes of this two-year-old SoMa gastropub. However, 2017 brought some real creative mischief to the bar with the debut of its Mavericks guest-bartender series. Each quarter, one of SF's top bar talents crafted a full experience with stellar drinks and clever menu themes (Alice in Wonderland, American Road Trip, Underground Icons of SF). The drink presentations are imaginative as well, like a Vermont one in a maple syrup diner pourer. We love that Mavericks offers a spotlight to individual bartenders — something these bar stars deserve more of.

Must-drink: On the current Underground Icons menu by Brain MacGregor, try the Tamale Lady (grilled corn-infused whiskey, jalapeño, Ancho Verde liqueur and cilantro syrup) and Country Joe & The Fish (mezcal, grapefruit liqueur, lime and champagne).

555 2nd St.; 415-660-7633

cocktails
rooftop bars
breweries
wine bars
opening
san francisco classic