San Francisco is one of the pioneering bar towns in the country, not only in the cocktail renaissance of the last 15-20 years, but even going back to the 1800s when groundbreaking bartenders like Jerry Thomas were shaking up fizzes and the Barbary Coast was rocking with an endless array of watering holes. These days, cocktail quality across the region is a given (not an exception), and often preferred in our city in a relaxed setting. Restaurants have also upped their bar game, and, as this list shows, frequently offer some of the best drinks in town.
This year also saw the opening of some excellent new beer and wine bars, a whole other subject entirely. For this list, we focus on the 14 new 2014 cocktail bars that may also excel in beer and wine, but first and foremost, in cocktails.
Thanks to bar manager John Codd and bar master Erik Adkins (Slanted Door, Hard Water), The Coachman is one of the great new bars in SF. The drinks are expertly made, based off obscure, historic recipes, and the Scotch and rum selections are strong...as is the food from Charles Phan and team.
Todd Smith (founding bartender of Bourbon & Branch, currently also The Hideout), Ryan Fitzgerald (formerly Beretta and brand ambassador for Del Maguey Mezcal) and Erik Reichborn-Kjennerud (Dalva/The Hideout owner) have opened a drink (and food) industry magnet, welcoming everyone with a smile, quality cocktails across a range of spirits, and creative bar food from one of our Zagat 30 Under 30 chefs this year, Kevin Cimino.
Trou Normand feels like Paris meets NY in SoMa, with house charcuterie that makes all others seem lackluster. The elegant, high-ceilinged bar — from Bar Agricole owner Thad Vogler and crew — is all about house-selected barrels of armagnac, cognac and calvados, and refined cocktails made with these French spirits (and beyond).
The pioneering Long Now Foundation's Salon has one of the coolest bars in this (or any) city, complete with salon talks and a library. Thanks to bar manager Jennifer Colliau (the mastermind behind some of the best cocktail modifiers out there, Small Hand Foods), the multiple menus-within-a-menu are innovative, including a Drinking Around the World menu highlighting drinking customs from many countries.
Upscale Fifth Floor transformed to casual-but-chic hideaway Dirty Habit this past spring, thankfully with the same team in effect, including chef David Bazirgan and lead bartender Brian Means. Following a complete remodeling, the sleek outdoor patio with a rectangular rock fireplace has become one of the coolest downtown hangout/gathering spots. But most importantly, besides memorable food, Means' cocktails — and an extensive selection of whiskeys and rarities — still make it a destination bar.
Danny Louie (formerly of the Alembic) has long been one of SF's great bartenders, and he now has a venue to showcase his playful use of Asian spirits like baijiu. Look out for Asian teas, boba slushie cocktails and all manner of ingredients on his creative drink list, the big draw at the new Chino.
Devil's Acre just opened in North Beach mid-December, taking an old neighborhood nickname from back in the Barbary Coast days. The elegant space (in the former Jazz at Pearl’s) recalls that era with an apothecary style, complete with a beautiful menu designed like a classic almanac, featuring ads from other businesses in the area, and even a selection of "healthy" remedies and elixirs in $2 shot format. There's also a second bar downstairs. It's the latest entry in Future Bars' ever-expanding group, including Bourbon & Branch, The Wilson, Cask, Tradition and Local Edition. Bar leads Darren Crawford and Jay Pouliot created the cocktail menu with a wide range of offerings, including a nonalcoholic soda-fountain section; see our early favorites here.
A new location and first-time full bar for this longtime creative-Mexican gem (which also has a new sister Peruvian-Mexican restaurant, Loló Cevicheria) brought a solid initial cocktail menu into the mix. But at the end of summer, bartenders David Gallardo and Leon Vasquez stepped up the game with Trick Dog-esque artistry: a cocktail menu lineup using Mexican lotería playing cards. Call it most improved within a couple months of opening.
Offering gratifying Mexican dishes from none other than Traci Des Jardins, Arguello opened in the historic (and just remodeled) Officers’ Club in the Presidio this October with an agave spirits list (heavy on tequila and mezcal, as well as the less common spirits sotol and bacanora) and excellent cocktails from Enrique Sanchez (formerly of Puerto 27 and La Mar Cebicheria). His balanced, delicious drinks go well with relaxing out on the fresh, white-walled patio, surrounded by majestic cypress and eucalyptus trees.
Opened in May in the Dogpatch, Smokestack is an ever-bustling source for BBQ and Magnolia beers (since the owner is Dave McLean of Magnolia). But bar manager Eric Quilty adds standout cocktails, bringing an elegant-yet-approachable touch to beer and 'cue in the wood-heavy, hip space.
Urchin Bistrot serves excellent modern French bistro fare at reasonable prices, and the France-and-beyond wine list is appealing too. But cocktails from former Comal bartender Rafael Jimenez Rivera are also a draw, sometimes highlighting French aperitif liqueurs and Italian amaro. There always seems to be a seat at the bar and a warm welcome, making the space feel like some of the best neighborhood places in Europe.
One of San Francisco's most beloved ramen chefs of the past four years, chef Richie Nakano opened Hapa Ramen's first brick-and-mortar restaurant in November, a comfortable, modern-day Japanese pub where cocktails stand strong with the food. The bar is lined with an impressive spirits collection (thankfully heavy on Japanese whiskey), while house cocktails were created by former Future Bars Co. gurus, Justin Lew and Ian Scalzo. Think a playful, Polynesian-inspired theme contrasting ramen's salty, umami notes with citrus and elements like house wasabi honey syrup and star anise, or shichimi togarashi tinctures.
Back in full force since his pioneering, much-missed Incanto closed earlier this year, chef Chris Cosentino launched his long-awaited Cockscomb December 1 in the former Zuppa space. Unexpectedly, one of the key attractions, besides Cosentino's cooking, is the 65-plus gin collection and the quality cocktails, alongside a good selection of wine and beer, plus a Negroni cocktail, cider and wine on draft. Head to either the upstairs or downstairs bar for drinks with gin and house jam (pictured) and plenty of other spirits besides.
Longitude opened this summer in downtown Oakland, bringing an oasis for elegant tiki and rum cocktails partnered with pupu platters. Behind covered windows wrapped in vintage maps lies an otherworldly space, with plenty of green, bamboo, palms, mounted wall masks and artwork — much of it collected personally by owner Suzanne Long — from Indonesia to Africa. A fantastic exotica soundtrack transports in Polynesian tiki style, with refined, rum-centric cocktails.