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Friday, January 27, 2012

San Francisco's Top 10 Cocktail Bars

Posted By on Fri, Jan 27, 2012 at 11:15 AM

Bar Agricole's moonraker: Now that's a beaut. - BITTERMELLON/FLICKR
  • bittermellon/Flickr
  • Bar Agricole's moonraker: Now that's a beaut.

In the last few years, finding a bad drink in San Francisco has become harder than finding a good one. In nearly every neighborhood you'll find a bar filled with fresh juices, high-quality spirits, and a talented bartender conducting their craft. Having already covered the top 10 dive bars, now it's time for our picks of 10 bars that are moving the local cocktail culture forward, one drink at a time.

Alembic is the place for those who like choice. - BITTERMELLON/FLICKR
  • bittermellon/Flickr
  • Alembic is the place for those who like choice.

10. The Alembic, 725 Haight (at Schrader).

This Upper Haight bar seems continuously filled with intriguing mix of folks, all drawn to avant-garde cocktails like the Southern Exposure (Junipero gin, celery juice, mint, lime), a tasty twist on a Southside (a gin mojito, yo). Show up on the last Sunday of the month, when the bar replaces the usual menus with copies of Harry Craddock's Savoy Cocktail Book, an 800-plus-recipe tome by the patron saint of the cocktail revival. Don't worry -- book expert Erik Ellestad, who's made every drink on those pages, is on hand to guide you to new favorites.

9. Bar Agricole, 355 11th St. (at Folsom).

Few in San Francisco have directly improved and influenced the Bay Area bartending scene as much as Thad Vogler and Eric Johnson of Bar Agricole. Nothing behind their bar escapes careful consideration, from the ice (five different kinds) to the spirits (most local and biodynamic). With juices and produce coming from local farms, the drinks are flawless, perfectly measured, unadulterated libations like the Ti Punch (rhum agricole, lime, cane syrup).

Julio Bermejo behind the bar at Tommy's. - LOU BUSTAMANTE
  • Lou Bustamante
  • Julio Bermejo behind the bar at Tommy's.

8. Tommy's Mexican Restaurant, 5929 Geary (at 24th Ave.).

Get a coveted seat at the tiny bar and be rewarded with some tequila education and a perfect Tommy's Margarita (fresh lime juice, agave syrup, and your choice of tequila) by Tequila Ambassador to the United States Julio Bermejo. With the largest collection of 100 percent blue agave tequila around (in brands, vintages, and rare bottlings), it's worth joining Tommy's Blue Agave Club, which offers access to the most exceptional bottles in the library, but also teaches you about production, history, and enjoyment of tequila.

7. The Hideout at Dalva, 3121 16th St. (at Albion).

One of the best-kept secrets around is the tiny bar in the back of Dalva. Patrons can get inexpensive beers and well-made standards in the front, or craft cocktails made with exceptional spirits in the cozy back room. Staffed by a few of San Francisco's heavy-hitters, the Hideout ensures that there's always something interesting on the menu.

Comstock Saloon.
  • Comstock Saloon.

6. Comstock Saloon, 155 Columbus (at Kearny).

While we're mostly glad the arm-garter-and-suspender phase in the cocktail world is fading, the bar at Comstock is the exception. The historic early 1900s space, classic cocktails (including the Pisco Punch, invented a few blocks away), and saloon fare would make even designer T-shirt and jeans seem out of place. Saloonkeepers Jonny Raglin and Jeff Hollinger seamlessly evoke the Barbary Coast with drinks like the Martinez (old tom gin, sweet vermouth, Maraschino liqueur, bitters) and Hop Toad Cocktail (Jamaican rum, apricot brandy, lime, bitters).

The Agricole Rhum Punch at Slanted Door's bar. - TAMARA PALMER
  • Tamara Palmer
  • The Agricole Rhum Punch at Slanted Door's bar.

5. Slanted Door, 1 Ferry Building (at Embarcadero).

Erik Adkins, bar manager for the Slanted Door, has maintained such a high standard at Charles Phan's flagship restaurant for so long that people have started taking the bar for granted. Its version of the Pisco Apricot Tropical (Marian Farms California Pisco, pineapple gum syrup, apricot brandy, lime, bitters) is exotic, yet familiar and damn good. The bar may not be new, but the consistent, well-priced, delicious drinks make this a top spot.

A rarely seen quiet moment at Beretta. - BITTERMELLON/FLICKR
  • bittermellon/Flickr
  • A rarely seen quiet moment at Beretta.

4. Beretta, 1199 Valencia (at 23rd St.).

When this small pizza-oriented restaurant opened up in 2008, with an all-star cast of bartenders that resembled the drink-slinging Avengers, and helped ignite the current explosion of restaurants highlighting extensive cocktail programs. The short, rotating drink list continues to evolve. It now includes the Penicillin #2 (mezcal, ginger, lemon, honey), a delightfully smoky drink.

Bourbon & Branch now includes a side bar, The Wilson. - KIMBERLY SANDIE
  • Kimberly Sandie
  • Bourbon & Branch now includes a side bar, The Wilson.

3. Bourbon & Branch, 501 Jones (at O'Farrell).

The first serious cocktail bar in the city continues to innovate and maintain its quality throughout the years. Last year, Boubon & Branch expanded its speakeasy concept with the opening of The Wilson, which introduces a three-course drink menu and an attention to detail that simply isn't possible in a larger venue. Cocktail geeks rejoice!

Smugglers' Cove.
  • Smugglers' Cove.

2. Smuggler's Cove, 650 Gough (at McAllister).

Step into Smuggler's Cove, with its décor of bamboo, fishing nets, and even a waterfall, and you can't help but smile. The fun factor is a huge draw, but owner Martin Cate's drink list, which combines classic tiki drinks with new creations, is what keeps people coming back. So does one of the best rum collections around, with over 300 bottles. Veteran bartenders will make sure that your flaming Top Notch Volcano (demerara rum, lime, pineapple, passion fruit, Maraschino liqueur, cinnamon) will appease both you and Pele.

Jasper's Corner Tap - LOU BUSTAMANTE
  • Lou Bustamante
  • Jasper's Corner Tap

1. Jasper's Corner Tap, 401 Taylor (at O'Farrell).

Even though it's a relative newcomer, the perfect combination of great cocktails, casual atmosphere, and a team of talented bartenders make Jasper's Corner Tap San Francisco's top cocktail spot. The bar showcases both beer and spirits in many of its cocktails; and drinks like the haunting Black Cross (black-tea-infused Smith & Cross Rum, Dubonnet Rouge, Belle de Brillet, bitters) maintains an ideal mix of interesting and delicious.

Lou Bustamante tweets at @thevillagedrunk. Follow SFoodie at @sfoodie, and like us on Facebook.

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