Best Wine Bars in San Francisco

Why Drive to Napa or Sonoma? Stay in San Francisco for Wine

California is world-renowned for its wine country, so we know that many of you reading this are already planning your day-trip to Napa or Sonoma. But for those who want a taste of those vintage cabernets and exquisite pinot noirs but don't want the hassle of a long drive, we've assembled a list of the best wine bars that San Francisco has to offer. And even if you're just coming back from a wine tour in Sonoma or Napa, show off what you learned at these locations, where there's nothing as tantalizing as an informed conversation over a fine bottle of wine.

Wine has a certain cachet, and so, too, do these enticing bars that make it their focus. Specializing in reds and whites, domestics and imports, San Francisco wine bars offer superb wines by the glass, bottle, and flight. If you're not familiar with wines, come for an introduction, and if you're a connoisseur, come to search out the gems and to talk shop. To add a little romantic ambience to the occasion, stop by Hôtel Biron Wine Bar & Art Gallery. To mix and mingle with patrons of a city favorite, consider Bacar. To just enjoy the evening, visit any of San Francisco's best wine bars.


Bubble Lounge

This downtown establishment frequently draws business folks intent on relaxing after a day at the office. Wines and champagnes are prominent; in fact, the menu boasts more than 300 types of champagne (as the name would suggest). For versatility, some are available by the glass. A small selection of gourmet appetizers and tantalizing desserts can be found as well. Downstairs, there's a pool table and a second bar area. A festive, see-and-be-seen atmosphere, the Bubble Lounge lives up to its namesake. If you're looking for a lively night with a large crowd (instead of an intimate evening for two in a cozy booth that most other wine bars offer), head to Bubble Lounge.

Recommended for Wine Bars because: The Bubble Lounge is San Francisco's premier champagne and sparkling wine bar.

Tom's expert tip: Upscale champagne bar with elegant details attracts downtown professionals.

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Hôtel Biron Wine Bar & Art Gallery
Photo courtesy of used in book.

Intimate and atmospheric, this European-styled establishment captivates visitors with its unmistakable charm. Metallic furnishings, ambient lighting and a secluded area in the back help the cause, as does intriguing original art, which changes monthly. If you happen to be visiting San Francisco on the first Thursday of the month, don't miss the opening reception for their new artist, which is always a treat. French and Californian wines are prominent, but vintages hail from around the world, and selections are available by the glass or bottle. Accompany your favorite with a savory snack of cheese, caviar or olives, and relax in contented pleasure. Located behind Zuni Cafe.

Recommended for Wine Bars because: Hotel Biron thoughtfully pairs art and wine like no other wine bar in the city.

Tom's expert tip: Open until 2 am, which makes it a great late night spot.

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First Crush

A small, intimate jewel with a contemporary setting and a notable wine bar, First Crush specializes in Californian wines. The sleek, elegant establishment offers bottles, half-bottles, and flights, depending on your intent, and it presents household standards and newcomers alike. The menu, too, is upscale and well-crafted, perfectly in synch with the wines. Appetizers and desserts are particularly favored. The location is right off of Union Square and just around the corner form the Powell BART/MUNI exit, making its easily accessible via public transportation. The downstairs dining room offers a larger and more developed menu than most wine bars do.

Recommended for Wine Bars because: Legendary food/wine critic Michael Bauer called First Crush "a restaurant that offers a lot of style for not much money."

Tom's expert tip: If the Alaskan halibut is on the menu, don't pass it up.

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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. The wine list is impressive, as well. 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 Wine Bars because: Although known for cocktails, Absinthe has an excellent wine selection, too.

Tom's expert tip: Over the years, Absinthe has put together a spectacular, highly curated wine list with hundreds of the best wines from all over the world.

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Marina District

Boasting an 800-bottle collection, an appealing interior, a menu of tasty small plates, and a playful sense of itself that occasionally tends towards the overindulgent, Nectar does a brisk business, especially on weekends. The place features a bar, a lounge, and dining space, treating patrons to leisurely, wine-centered excursions. Cleverly named flights allow you to compare vintages; other options let you sip by the glass or by the taste. The menu offers sweet and savory dishes, including Moroccan spiced lamb, roasted foie gras, crisp-fried sardine filets, and Meyer lemon and olive oil cupcakes. The wine list changes often, so ask your server about the latest additions.

Recommended for Wine Bars because: Three committed wine lovers have made Nectar Wine Lounge a memorable experience.

Tom's expert tip: Worthwhile Happy Hour, 5-7 on weekdays, with 30% select wines by the glass.

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If you're looking for a hip, young, urban, trendy wine bar night, look no further than Amelie. San Francisco is a young city, and with the recent tech boom, more eager tech workers have moved to the city to find their fortunes. These same urban professionals can be found trying to defrag their hectic tech days by sitting in the Amelie's vintage theatre seats in the front or leaning against the hip, lacquered red bar in the back. Half of the list is European with a heavy emphasis on France, with the rest from California, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Chile and Argentina.

Recommended for Wine Bars because: Amelie has the best selection of French wine of any San Francisco wine bar.

Tom's expert tip: Amelie has a sister location in New York City.

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The Hidden Vine's first location, in the very back of a small hotel near Union Square in 2005, was indeed hidden. But their knowledgeable and respected staff made the Vine outgrow its humble beginnings, so The Hidden Vine moved to a larger location in the bustling financial district. The Hidden Vine remains true to its origin, though: friendly and informed service with a vast and distinguished wine list of not just California vintages but wine's from all over the world. And even though the space is a bit larger, it still offers quiet corners that will convince patrons they've stumbled into their own private tasting room.

Recommended for Wine Bars because: The Hidden Vine was named one of "America's Best Wine Bars" by Travel and Leisure, March 2012.

Tom's expert tip: A wine bar with one of the city's larger selections, over 180 different wines.

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Nook is exactly what its name promises. It's that snug hideaway, that lovely secret place to steal away with that special friend and enjoy a vintage glass of wine. Although its popularity, at times, might not make it seem like such a well-kept secret, it's wide open windows deter any feeling of claustrophobia, and it's friendly and informed staff work tirelessly to make you feel like a house guest instead of a just another customer. A nice addition to their wine menu is the sake/soju cocktail, a memorable concoction not offered by other wine bars. A thoughtful and organic small plate menu available, as well.

Recommended for Wine Bars because: Nook is the best spot for people-watching in the Russian Hill neighborhood of San Francisco.

Tom's expert tip: Sleepy coffee shop by day, romantic candle-lit wine bar by night.

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Besides understanding how to make wine from grapes, InnerFog has shown the ability to make lemon out of lemonade. Instead of bemoaning the recent bursting of a water pipe which caused major damage, the clever managers of InnerFog saw opportunity in crisis. The result: a new tap system featuring 10 new red and white wines and draft micro beers; a food prep station offering locally sourced food items that pair well with wine and beer selections; and a new stainless steel refrigerator and glass shelving to display beer and wine glasses and wine carafes. Plenty of wines by the bottle or glass still available, too.

Recommended for Wine Bars because: InnerFog is the hippest spot in the Inner Sunset neighborhood.

Tom's expert tip: A recent remodel has added a tap system that includes red and white wines as well as microbrews.

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The easiest way to determine the quality of a business is its popularity with patrons. Yield Wine Bar opened in August of 2006 in the historic Dogpatch neighborhood of San Francisco. Yield was so popular and so well-managed by Owner and Wine Director Chris Tavelli that a second location on Market Street was opened, named Pause. Both locations offer everything you'd like in a wine bar: a comfy space with an extensive wine list served by a friendly staff eager to answer your questions and in no rush to see you leave. The original location is a great reason to visit the interesting Dogpatch neighborhood of San Francisco, which is blooming with new business ventures.

Recommended for Wine Bars because: Yield and Pause Wine Bars specialize in eco-friendly wines.

Tom's expert tip: "Trivia Tuesdays" is a popular event.

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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.

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