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Ten Best Bars from Bay to Breakers in San Francisco



Long-known as a "foodie" city that practically invented the organic food movement, San Francisco is applying the same love and devotion she's had towards food to another favorite pastime: drinking.

Just as the organic food movement was defined by local and sustainable ingredients, the trend in most San Francisco bars is to offer locally made beers and spirits. For example, many visitors are familiar with San Francisco's local beer Anchor Steam. Local bars are not only stocking this popular brew, but also adding the small-batch, traditionally distilled spirits of Anchor Distilling Company, as well. 

Not really into locally-made drinks? If your idea of nightlife includes hitting a bar for socializing, our San Francisco guide also includes that. Capitalizing on first-hand experience and extensive research, we've located the best bars in San Francisco for hanging out and kicking back. From the classic "Beat" hangout of Vesuvio to a hot new bar created by the latest tech boom like Trick Dog, we've got that perfect mix of old and new so your nightlife has the best of both worlds in San Francisco.

What's the energy like? How do the bartenders pour? Are most bars located in the sizzling Mission area? No fear - we share all the facts!


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10
The Tenderloin
Cafe Royale
Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy


Nestled between the seedy Tenderloin and ritzy Nob Hill neighborhoods, Cafe Royale has a fantastic selection of local brews, such as "Inception" by Triple Voodoo - very hard to find on tap anywhere else in town. The walls are covered with the work of local photographers and painters, and jazz on Sundays always draws an eclectic and friendly crowd. Sushi Tuesday is quickly becoming a staple classic. The crowd is young and friendly, and the bartenders are knowledgable. If you want good beer, versatile bartenders and a look at an up-and-coming San Francisco hotspot, head to Cafe Royale. (Happy Hours, 3-6.)

Recommended for Bars because: For those stuck between Nob Hill and the Tenderloin, Cafe Royale is the best bar for blocks and blocks.

Tom's expert tip: New ownership is putting this beautiful space to good use.

Read more about Cafe Royale →


Blackbird Bar


Blackbird's motto really does capture the essence of this bar: "Ever Classic, Never Stuffy, Welcome to the Bird." Featuring local wines, artisanal craft beers, and handmade cocktails, The Blackbird is everything you should expect in a bar. The weekday Happy Hour from 5-8 features $1-2 off of their draughts; $5-6 wine; $5 sours; and $2 Bud, Bud Light, or PBR. In other words, something for everyone. The house speciality is barrel-aged cocktails, such as their 4-6 week oak-aged whiskey. Pairs nicely with their Deviled Ham or Smoked Trout. Central location in the Castro, just forty feet away from the Church Street MUNI Station.

Recommended for Bars because: Blackbird Bar is always in the top five of local media outlets' "best of" bar lists.

Tom's expert tip: Easy to release the inhibitions at the Blackbird Bar.

Read more about Blackbird Bar →




A nightlife hotspot in the revamped and recharged Hayes Valley neighborhood, the Absinthe is very popular for lunch and dinner. But if you stick around until night, the city's best and brightest always step into the Absinthe, definitely one of San Francisco's favorite places "to see and be seen." And their signature "Sacred Heart" cocktail alone is worth a visit. If your idea of a fun San Francisco nightlife is cheap drinks and rowdy crowds, Absinthe Brasserie is not your place. But if you want to see how San Francisco's upper-crust lets their hair down, Absinthe Brasserie is the perfect choice.

Recommended for Bars because: Absinthe is an excellent bar choice if you feel like getting dressed up and a bit fancy. Not a hole-in-the-wall, by any means.

Tom's expert tip: The two-course prix-fixe lunch is a steal.

Read more about Absinthe Brasserie & Bar →


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Press Club
Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy


Located two blocks from both Union Square and the Moscone Convention Center, Press Club is an extraordinary wine-tasting venue. Because Press Club rotates wines from artisan vintners on a monthly basis, guests are guaranteed a taste of the best wines in the region. And Press Club has included an expansion into beer, as well, with an impressive beer list served as three-ounce flights to let you really savor the taste. Throw in an incredibly attentive and informed staff, and you'll find it hard to leave Press Club. If you want to enjoy world-class wine in a stunning space that is grand without being grandiose, be sure to stop by Press Club.

Recommended for Bars because: Press Club is one of San Francisco's premier wine bars.

Tom's expert tip: Whether you order wine or beer, a highly trained staff member will suggest the perfect small bite pairing, like Crab Cake Sliders on Onion Buns or Salmon Gravlax Salad.

Read more about Press Club →




If you've had it with your average night out, take a trip back to 1920's Prohibition at this sleek and elegant bar. They take their cocktails and their "house rules" seriously, though - this isn't the place to scream and twirl your glowsticks. They follow the "speakeasy" custom of the 20's, when alcohol was banned so patrons were quiet and did not try to call attention to themselves. No problem - Bourbon and Branch's outstanding drinks should be more than enough to occupy your mouth. If you want to kick off your night in swanky style, make time for a stop at this uber-hip bar.

Recommended for Bars because: Bourbon and Branch offers a glimpse of where the San Francisco bar scene has been, as well as where it's headed.

Tom's expert tip: Be sure to check their website to get the password to the ultra-cool library area.

Read more about Bourbon and Branch →




At this mid-20th century San Francisco landmark, the bar's patrons order at the same bar top as did the free-spirited Beat poets of the 1950s and 60s, including writer Jack Kerouac. Today, lingering historic charm and beatnik vibes delight visitors as they knock back local brews and specialties like "The Jack Kerouac" and "Bohemian Coffee." The crowd is eclectic and engaging, while warm muted decor and inviting nooks create lovely places to linger and chat. You'd be hard-pressed to find a better "people-watching" bar in all of San Francisco, as Vesuvio draws in both tourists and locals in similar numbers.

Recommended for Bars because: With its rich "Beat" era history, Vesuvio is part bar, part natural history museum.

Tom's expert tip: Don't skip legendary City Light bookstore right next door.

Read more about Vesuvio →




Part of locally beloved Lolo restaurant, this mescal inspired, craft cocktail bar has gotten more popular by the minute. Some of the cocktails sound good enough to eat - and with good reason. Bar managers Gallardo and Vasquez are always peeking over at the kitchen to see what fresh fruits and vegetables are in store for diners that night. They take their own cocktail inspiration from whatever is fresh on the menu, which creates a perfect pairing for those who want to spin off their stool after a drink and enjoy the world-class dining going on behind them. The joyous clamor of colorful art will get you in the perfect mood for the star of the show: your cocktail.

Recommended for Bars because: Some consider Agave the hottest bar in the sizzling nightlife epicenter that is the Mission District.

Tom's expert tip: Try "The Player" (cynar, rye whisky, grapefruit bitters, Anchor Steam beer).

Read more about Agave Bar at Lolo →




Just like its specialty food item, a hamburger in a hot dog bun, Trick Dog brings the same clever and refreshing attitude towards its drinks and overall ambience. If you want to feel how the tech boom has pushed San Francisco right up to the edge,Trick Dog teeters on that edge with wild glee every night. Housed in an enormous two-level warehouse with classic Edison lighting and 1950s office-style metal and vinyl-upholstered chairs, Trick Dog has successfully captured the urban hipster feel that has claimed the Mission District. The cocktails are not only tasty, but they also offer out-of-towners a tour of San Francisco from their bar seats. From "The Castro Theatre" (with Black Grouse Scotch) to "Sutro Baths" (with Sightglass Coffee), Trick Dog cocktails are all named after iconic San Francisco sights.

Recommended for Bars because: Trick Dog is the lead dog in the hipster pack of bars roaming the Mission.

Tom's expert tip: Grab a bar bite with your drink, like the zesty Pickle Board for only $9.

Read more about Trick Dog →




Every city needs a bar that remembers her history, and San Francisco's Pied Pipe does just that. Taking its name from the famous Maxfield Parrish painting that adorns the bar, the Pied Piper, located in the historic Palace Hotel, is popular with travelers and locals alike. Drinks are pricey but the atmosphere can't be beat. If you're in the mood for a cocktail, try the classic Boothby Cocktail, named after William Boothby, a former bartender at Pied Piper. He was an original "mixologist" before the term became uber-hip. Speaking of beating the trends, if you're in the mood for a beer, sample the crisp and clean Pied Piper Bock.

Recommended for Bars because: Pied Pier is a great example of the classic, old-time San Francisco bar.

Tom's expert tip: The Pied Piper's IPA is not short on hops for that classic Indian Pale Ale bite.

Read more about Pied Piper Bar and Grill →




Given how quickly trends come and go in San Francisco, the fact that the Alembic has been making craft cocktails for several years actually makes the bar one of the forerunners of this latest hip trend. A house favorite is the "Sazerac," a New Orleans classic that features whiskey, Peychaud's Bitters, sugar, and according to the bar - "a glass rinsed with a green bitter liquid that shall remain nameless." Known for whiskey, The Alembic serves up fantastic food, as well. It's expanding into the recently closed Red Vic theatre, so it's dinner menu is expected to expand, as well.

Recommended for Bars because: Alembic Bar has an incredibly knowledgeable and well-trained staff who are hip the most current drink crazes.

Tom's expert tip: If you've spent the day in the panhandle of Golden Gate Park and need a good drink or dinner option, the Alembic is a short walk away.

Read more about Alembic Bar →


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Meet Tom Molanphy

The only thing that Tom Molanphy loves more than the food, art, music, and culture of San Francisco is sharing it with others. San Francisco never gets old for Tom.

Tom has lived in the San...  More About Tom

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