One of the finest aspects of the urban holiday experience is meeting friends for a hot toddy in an elegant and festively decorated saloon: a modern-day variation on those ancient winter festivals our forebears conjured up to distance the damp, cold darkness.
My favorite rendezvous is the Big Four, a cozy little bar just off the Huntington Hotel lobby at Taylor and California, where the questing merrymaker can sip a perfectly crafted cocktail by the crackling hearth while the resident piano man noodles his way through the Vince Guaraldi songbook.
The city's finest hot buttered rum is prepared at the handsome new Clock Bar off the St. Francis lobby at Geary and Powell: sweet, spicy cream-laden rocket fuel in a sleek, slender package. The Grandviews Lounge atop the Hyatt Union Square offers toddies, eggnog and other holiday restoratives as well as a stellar view of the city 36 floors below, and Schroeder's on Front Street is an excellent source for hearty German ales and lagers and that Old World black-forest gemutlichkeit. Prosit! --Matthew Stafford