The 10 Top Winter Cocktails in SF

What to drink now on menus around the Bay Area
January 7, 2015
by Virginia Miller

Winter calls for a bracing cocktail, a drink to brighten a dreary day or refresh a sunny one. Here are 10 of the cocktails we're loving now on menus around the Bay Area — many of them from brand new restaurants or bars.

Arguello's National Fog

The cocktail and spirits menu at Traci Des Jardins' Arguello in the Presidio goes heavy on tequila, mezcal and less common agave spirits: sotol and bacanora. Cocktails are created by Enrique Sanchez (formerly of Puerto 27, La Mar Cebicheria), invigorated by the fresh air on the outdoor patio, surrounded by high, white walls with a glimpse of the nearby Bay. National Fog is a dreamy cocktail with a base of hibiscus-infused Corralejo reposado tequila, the rosy drink soft yet vibrant with La Pinta pomegranate liqueur, orange curaçao and egg whites.

The Progress' The Concession

Next door to a little phenomenon known as State Bird Provisions, its long-awaited sister restaurant, The Progress opened days before Christmas from the stellar team of Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski — this time with a bar and cocktails from bar manager Bryan Hamann. So far, we love The Concession (pictured right), a playful rum-based drink infused with popcorn, which imparts a subtly butteriness and melds seamlessly with cherry-cola syrup and dry vermouth.

STEM's Liquid Gold

With bocce ball amid a living garden used by the kitchen at STEM — all laid out before striking Bay views — the new STEM's cocktails are unexpectedly good, thanks to bar manager Michael Downs, who also draws from the garden for his drinks. Try the Liquid Gold, a vivid orange cocktail that's vibrant with persimmon juice and a base of Diep 9 Young Genever from Belgium, brightened by variegated lime and a garden shrub, its subtle vinegar contrasted with apple, orange and cinnamon.

Devil's Acre's Call A Treuse

Devil's Acre opened in North Beach just before Christmas hearkening back to the 'hood's Barbary Coast days with apothecary style and a beautiful menu designed like a classic almanac, the latest entry in Future Bars' ever-expanding bar group. Bar leads Darren Crawford and Jay Pouliot created the thoughtful cocktail menu with an initial standout in Call A Treuse. It's a frothy-light yet complex cocktail combining both green and yellow Chartreuse with a house blend dry vermouth, lemon, vanilla syrup (just a touch), those gold-flecked Gold Rush bitters and egg white. It is garden-fresh and herbaceous, especially with a sprig of thyme.

Plaj's Ragnarok

Plaj (pronounced "play") is our treasure of a Scandinavian restaurant veering towards the Swedish side of things given chef Roberth Sundell's background. His wife Andrea runs the restaurant with him and oversees the bar, which offers changing cocktail specials alongside the regular menu. Pulling on a name from Norse mythology, Ragnarök refers to a series of future events, or in this case, it's the name of a Milagro silver tequila-based cocktail intense with sweet onion. You heard right. In the mix with vibrant lime, tarragon and raspberry is savory, intense onion. For those of you who already like picklebacks and Bloody Marys, this won't be much of a stretch.

Alembic's Haiku D'Etat

Fresh off the heels of their new kitchen being built out and open (with food that is better than ever), bar manager Larry Piaskowy has created cocktails that work beautifully with chef Ted Fleury's menu. One of the new cocktail standouts is Haiku D'Etat, a touch of Japan by way of Scotland. Piaskowy imparts shiso, honey and bright citrus to Akashi White Oak Japanese whiskey with a subtle wash of Laphroaig 10-year scotch for added smoke/peat.

Cockscomb's Bullitt

Chris Cosentino opened his long-awaited restaurant Cockscomb on December 1. One of the highlights is the 65+ (and growing) gin list and the cocktails, enjoyed at two small bars both upstairs and downstairs. This standout is not gin-based and is just right for winter: Bullitt is a straightforward, bracing drink of Cynar (Italian artichoke herbal liqueur) and grapefruit bitters, showcasing local Old Potrero Rye Whiskey from Anchor Distilling.

Hapa Ramen's Hilo Gimlet

One of San Francisco's most beloved pop-ups, chef Richie Nakano's Hapa Ramen opened its first brick-and-mortar restaurant this November and with it an impressive bar offering a broad spirits collection and Polynesian-inspired, house cocktails created by former Future Bars Co. gurus, Justin Lew and Ian Scalzo. Our initial favorite may be the Hilo Gimlet. Rather than being sweet, it thankfully plays like a proper gimlet, bracing and tart with gin and lime. Watch for a curveball from Hawaiian punch syrup (made in-house) and a tincture made from Hi-Chew (a popular, fruit-flavored Japanese candy). The latter two elements add a candied note balanced by the acidity of the lime.

398's Spanish Harlem

Just open in December, 398 Restaurant & Bar's striking airy, striking space is ideally just one block from Union Square with cocktails by Brian Felley and Mo Hodges (whose bartending and drinks we had missed from the now-closed BIG — their new bar Benjamin Cooper will open upstairs from 398 in early 2015). On the approachable cocktail list, Spanish Harlem (pictured back) is an elegantly balanced winner on the booze-forward side: Spanish brandy and the bitter of Campari are touched with subtle, earthy chocolate notes from crème de cacao and bitters, brightened by dry vermouth.

The Farmer & the Fox's Countess of Carrack

Beverage director James Kendall turns out creative cocktails in a new destination restaurant with modern British influences in St. Helena. One of the most memorable is the Countess of Carrack, which shows off the caraway and dill notes of Scandinavian-style aquavit made in Oregon, Krogstad Aquavit, light and lovely with beet juice, fennel bitters, lemon juice and egg white.