The 7 Best Summer Cocktails in San Francisco

By Virginia Miller  |  July 9, 2014
Credit: Virginia Miller

Over the spring, we recommended bracing coffee cocktails, vibrantly colored prickly pear drinks, creamy coconut-laced libations, and then we ushered in summer with unique strawberry beauties. Now that we're officially over two weeks into summer, it's time to weigh in on the best seasonal cocktails on menus from Oakland to San Francisco. Today we single out our seven favorites so far. 

  • Credit: Virginia Miller

    1760's Sugar Snap Pea Cocktail

    Bar manager Christopher Longoria has done it again. Showcasing garden-fresh cocktails in true California fashion, he makes sugar snap peas shine in a cocktail that actually tastes like fresh peas without being overtly vegetal. With Brazil's sugarcane spirit cachaça as the base, he mixes the smooth libation with fresh orange juice, dry vermouth, spiced bitters and egg white for a refresher that is subtly earthy and bright.

  • Credit: Virginia Miller

    Tonga Room's Mai Tai

    The magic and history of the legendary Tonga Room — complete with rainstorms passing over the indoor lake — is unbeatable anywhere in the world. With the menu revamp a year ago, thanks to Dänny Ronen with Liquid Kitchen, the cocktails now do justice to San Francisco's historic tiki temple, using quality ingredients and not veering too sweet. Case in point: a classic mai tai is served in a coconut-shell tiki mug but brings the typically overly juicy elements of a classic rum drink into harmony. This version mixes Appleton V/X and Denizen Silver rums with locally made Small Hand Foods Orgeat, fresh lime and orange curaçao.

  • Credit: Virginia Miller

    alaMar's Urban Sombrero

    Bar manager Rob Wertheimer has crafted a number of far-too-easy-to-down cocktail beauties on his menu in Uptown Oakland. But it's his brand-new Urban Sombrero (the name is a Seinfeld reference) that we almost ordered two of. He mixes blanco tequila with sweet tomatoes he's roasted à​ la plancha (on a wood plank) and made into a house shrub. The shrub's vinegar brightness brings the whole thing to life. A Bloody Mary wishes it tasted this good.

  • Credit: Virginia Miller

    Alembic's Heir Apparent

    This newcomer is our favorite on Alembic's current menu. Yes, we love Bols Genever, which is gin's Dutch predecessor but with a malt base, giving it the depth of whiskey with gin botanicals. And we also adore St. George's aromatic pear brandy. Together with Carpano Bianco dry vermouth and muddled sage, it's a clean, crisp beauty of a drink from bartender Larry Piaskowy that feels like a fresh spring rain making way for summer.

  • Credit: Virginia Miller

    Schroeder's Werkstatt Negroni

    We've tasted many a version of the Negroni across the country and — in our city over the years — we've sipped versions made with everything from mezcal to genever. The riffs are seemingly endless. That's what makes Schroeder's new Werkstatt Negroni a fun twist. Far from the classic in many ways, it still packs the bitter-sweet punch of one of the greatest cocktails of all time. Using hoppy Hophead Vodka distilled locally at Anchor Distilling, the Czech Republic's herbal, spiced Becherovka and, of course, Italy's classic Campari, bar manager Claire Hunter has managed to bring a fresh perspective to an oft-done drink.

  • Credit: Virginia Miller

    Rye's Good Time Tom

    Sad as we are to see one of San Francisco's great bartenders and bar managers for many years, Jen Ackrill, leave our fair city for the shining shores of Hawaii, it seems only fitting as she wrapped up her last week at Rye to feature a recent drink of hers that we dig: Good Time Tom. Mixing Hayman's Old Tom Gin, the malty notes play off floral notes of Giffard's violette liqueur and lime juice, with extra-virgin olive oil imparting lushness and egg white, soft froth. This unique drink is the cocktail lover's ideal dessert: not sweet, blessed with texture and an ideal finish to a long day.

  • Credit: Virginia Miller

    Tosca's Trouble in Paradise 

    Tosca's atmospheric bar area is still the highlight of any visit to the historic North Beach perch, thanks to bar manager Isaac Shumway. (See our recent coverage on his preparation of a classic New Orleans drink, flamed in the glass.) Right now, of the many delights on his cocktail menu, the Trouble in Paradise feels like anything but. We'll take trouble if it's a thirst-quenching combination of bourbon, Campari, basil, lemon, grapefruit and black-pepper tincture. It's fruity, tart and bracing with savory whispers from the basil and black pepper.