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Bars & Clubs

  • Best Nanobrewery

    Pacific Brewing Labratories

    Beakers, tubing, and propane tanks, oh my! In their SOMA workplace, the guys from Pacific Brewing Laboratories are harnessing the power of science for the good of San Francisco revelers. Open to the public twice per month, the brewery resembles a speakeasy run by a high school chemistry teacher. Along with other nanobreweries in S.F., this operation embodies the DIY spirit — a craft brewing farm league that embraces grassroots homebrewing culture. Mad scientists Bryan Hermannsson and Patrick M. Horn... More >>

  • Best Politically Connected Watering Hole

    Buck Tavern

    There was a healthy amount of debate over whether Chris Daly the politician adequately served the people. But there's no argument whatsoever that Daly the publican is doing just that. The tempestuous former supervisor's tavern is certainly the best place in this city to bump into your former, current, and future supervisors over a beer, or challenge an elected official, legislative aide, City Hall politico, or various members of the fourth estate to a game of semi-inebriated darts. While the... More >>

  • Best Yuppified Pirate Ship/Bar

    The Buccaneer

    Ahoy, mateys, step aboard — the interior be lookin' like the hull of a ship, yet the clientele be lookin' like they just came from landlubberly finance jobs downtown, scurvy curs washed ashore from a fancy watering hole on Upper Polk Street, all of which they did. While there's ample J. Crew-itude to be found, a refreshing dose of kitschy familiarity is on tap at the Buccaneer, replete with a killer happy hour and a good-sized pool table. There's a... More >>

  • Best San Francisco Cop and Firefighter Bar

    Costello's Four Deuces

    Don't grab the wallet from that guy passed out next to you — he could very well be one of San Francisco's finest, just having a finer moment. This Irish mainstay way out in the avenues is known for being the finest public safety employees' hangout in San Francisco this side of the St. Patrick's Day Parade (or the latest pension squabble). On the right day, you might stumble into an Irish wake, The Wire-style, or you might just find... More >>

  • Best True Dive Bar

    Terry's Lodge

    No windows, aside from gun-slit-like rectangles? Presence barely noted by a weak-wattage, if strong-willed ancient green neon sign? Strong pours, no BS, and no frills? Check, check, and mate: This Inner Sunset treasure may have the exterior ambiance of a poorly lit bunker, yet inside are bar games, sports on TV, and little else to distract from the task at hand. Unlike the faux dives stocked with preening pretenders more worried about their wardrobes than their livers, Terry's is built... More >>

  • Best Dog-Friendly Watering Hole

    Stray Bar

    With its free popcorn, abundant lesbians, and tail-wagging regulars, the Stray Bar is a quintessential Bernal Heights experience. It's good any night for miscellaneous sports watching, pool, Pac-man, and Bloody Marys alongside your canine companion (who will receive a cookie). But Tuesday nights are remarkable for the "smartypants" trivia quiz at 8 p.m., when locals battle it out over who knows the most useless information. Winners apparently receive neighborhood bragging rights and/or a pair of spectacles. Woof!... More >>

  • Best Flaming Drink

    Smuggler's Cove

    While the future of the Tonga Room remains in question (at least in its current location in the Fairmont Hotel), the 2-year-old and comparatively nondescript Smuggler's Cove offers a more potent alternative to the Tonga's tipples. The Top-Notch Volcano blends pineapple, lime, and passionfruit juices with maraschino plus a private reserve rum, the origins of which aren't made public. The drink is served in a bowl anchored by four tiki gods, whose heads are set aflame in a garish display.... More >>

  • Best Pop-Up Bar Night

    Absinthe Brasserie & Bar

    Absinthe's bar manager Carlos Yturria and executive chef Adam Keough host Pickled on the last Monday of each month (except December). It's essentially a pop-up bar within a bar, with a set menu that features a selection of seasonal cocktails and bites that aren't typically available elsewhere. While the permanent cocktail menu is a page-turning read of literary references and historical adaptations, Pickled is a jumping-off point for even deeper experiments into the beyond. Artichoke aperitifs, anyone?... More >>

  • Best Daytime Dance Party

    El Rio

    Unique for its sunlight, but also for the crowd it draws in said sunlight, this takes-all-kinds daytime dance party has developed a reputation for hotness and more hotness. Ever-changing costume themes have included slasher-and-surf-film attire, drag, and more, but the music — provided by DJs Brown Amy and Carnita — is always soul and the refreshments are always beer and BBQ (for $15, you can guzzle and munch all day). There is nothing particularly French about this party, but you... More >>

  • Best New Tenderloin Bar

    Mister Lew's Win Win Bar & Grand Sazerac Emporium

    There are only so many times you can drop a Benjamin at the snazzy and secretive Bourbon and Branch before somebody mentions this place across the street, which is basically the poor man's Bourbon and Branch. It's under the same ownership, and furthermore, its cocktail ingredients are just as fresh but way cheaper. For $7, you can score an elaborate whiskey, bourbon, or scotch mixed drink like the Sazerac, made of rye, Peychaud's bitters, sugar, and absinthe rinse. Once you're... More >>

  • Best New Bernal Heights Bar

    The Royal Cuckoo

    The first time we rolled into Bernal's newest bar, the Royal Cuckoo, we were not expecting to undergo a profound transformation. But that's exactly what happened. We were greeted by a harmonica-toting bouncer who then passed us on to a blind and drunk organ player. He chatted us up for about two hours while the mounted deer head and stuffed birds on the red walls stared deep into our souls. After PBR number five, the walls began melting and the... More >>

  • Best Cocktail


    Of all the newfangled cocktails served in this chronically thirsty city, nothing compares to the Rattlesnake, invented by bartender Thad Vogler and served at Beretta, an Italian joint that specializes in pizza, antipasti, and artisan cocktails. A shot of rye, a squirt of lemon, a dollop of Grade B maple syrup, a few dashes of Peychaud's bitters, and an egg white are shaken with ice, strained into a chilled wineglass, and garnished with a twist of lemon. The resulting concoction... More >>

  • Best Place to Indulge (or Unleash) Your Inner Freak

    Cat Club

    You don't get to be the city's longest-running BDSM-themed dance party for nothing. That particular illustrious label is earned for welcoming people of all experience levels, abilities, and pain thresholds to get down every Wednesday night until the cows come home (or the cops come knocking), no knots barred. Looky-loos are welcome: visual perverts are invited to kick back and watch the doers if they're not prepared to earn their own stripes — literally, depending upon the teaser of choice.... More >>

  • Best Pick-Me-Up

    Tosca Cafe

    The first thing you notice when you settle in at Tosca's bar is the lineup of glasses filled with hot chocolate, awaiting their jolt of brandy, but when it's time to fuel up for the night ahead, the cognoscenti opt for the house espresso martini. Freshly brewed espresso from the gorgeous enormous machines at either end of the bar is shaken with Bailey's, Kahlua, vanilla vodka, and ice; strained into a cocktail glass; and topped off with three coal-black coffee... More >>

  • Best Fancy Retro-Modern California Cuisine Cocktails

    Bar Agricole

    In today's boozing universe, when every respectable bar has as many house-made bitters and organic herbs and spices as it does gins, rums, and whiskies, Bar Agricole goes that extra mad-scientist farm-to-table mile. Housed in a century-old SOMA warehouse with its own Biodynamic herb garden, the place is stocked with a dazzling array of custom-distilled spirits, tinctures, and elixirs to complement an equally striking selection of top-shelf liquor. All juices are squeezed to order from locally grown fruit; 3-by-5-inch hand-cut... More >>

  • Best Giants Bar

    Gino & Carlo Cocktail Lounge

    As the Giants made their epic run for the pennant and the World Series last year, it was surprisingly difficult to find good places to cheer on Buster, the Beard, Huff Daddy, and the Freak. Most of the sports bars had half their TVs tuned to other contests, an abomination. Other places were too tame, too snarky, too snooty. But the habitués of Gino & Carlo, which has been northeastern S.F.'s Giants Central for decades, strike the perfect balance among... More >>

  • Best Bloody Mary


    At first you might be turned off by the abrasiveness of the bartenders, who don't act warm and friendly, especially when you order Bloody Marys. But this is a good thing — you want your Bloody Marys to be as spicy and saucy as the bartender shaking them up. And there's no better spot to cure your hangover with a Bloody Mary and a burger.... More >>

  • Best Old-School Bar

    House of Shields

    Although the spittoons are gone and you can sit at the bar instead of standing at the rail, the House of Shields is still one of the best places in town to get that ambience that Jack Kerouac called "ole Frisco's ... end of the land sadness, end of the world gladness." It's mahogany-dark inside, with ornate Victorian light fixtures giving off an amber glow, like the view through a tumbler of whiskey. The bar itself is a beauty in... More >>

  • Best Place to Drink Farm-Fresh Cocktails


    It's not difficult to figure out what happens when two nonprofits, one dedicated to sustainable agriculture and organizer of the Ferry Building farmers' markets (the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture, CUESA) and the largest network of bartenders dedicated to the craft of the cocktail (the United States Bartenders' Guild) host a happy hour: a dozen leading Bay Area bartenders highlighting the season's local produce in original farm-to-glass cocktails. Look for the next event in the series, Pacific Rim... More >>

  • Best Whisky Collection

    Nihon Whisky Lounge

    With Scotch whisky and American whiskey enjoying so much adoration, it's getting easier to find more than just Jack, Jim, and Johnny in most Bay Area bars. While an impressive selection might include a few dozen in a handful of categories, Nihon beats them all with a staggering 450 different bottles, about 330 of those being single-malt Scotch in what is certainly the largest whisk(e)y collection on the West Coast. Chances are that Nihon has three or four bottles of... More >>

  • Best Place to Refresh Your Distillation Science

    St. George Spirits

    Science and booze don't sound like a probable (or fun) combination, even in the best-case scenario. Somehow former Navy nuclear engineer and master distiller Lance Winters alchemized a way to create bonds between the unlikely pair at his distillery. On Saturdays at 1, 2, and 3 p.m., and Sundays at 1 p.m., tasting room manager Andie Ferman and crew lead free tours of the distillery and distillation process. Don't be surprised to find something brewing in the stills at the... More >>

  • Best Way to Drink Like You're at a Bar (at Home)

    H.M.S. Cocktails, Rye on the Road

    Most house parties require little more than Costco-sized bottles of vodka, gin, and tonic water; put some ice in a bowl next to a stack of red plastic cups and you're set. For situations where you need a real bar, bartenders turned cocktail caterers Rye on the Road and H.M.S. Cocktails free you to be a host and mingle while enjoying drinks you'd get at one of San Francisco's finest saloons. H.M.S. is headed up by H. Joseph Ehrmann (Elixir),... More >>

  • Best Reason to Stay in a Hotel

    Burritt Room

    The idea of drinking in a hotel bar usually offers little allure or promise of good cocktails. One great exception is the Burritt Room at the Crescent Hotel, which serves up reinvented seasonal and classic cocktails ($10-$12) in a dark-brick and exposed-wood-beam room. Bar manager Kevin Diedrich's original creations are the best bet, like the Kerouac (tequila, Aperol, grapefruit juice, Cointreau, lemon juice, and agave nectar) or the lighter Flying Horseman (Chardonnay, dry vermouth, Bénédictine, lemon, grapefruit, and Peychaud's bitters).... More >>

  • Best Microbrew

    21st Amendment

    We assembled a panel of brewmasters, epicures, and just plain suds lovers to select this year's best local microbrew. The verdict was overwhelming: Monk's Blood, a spicy, bracing special-occasion ale crafted by Nico Freccia and Shaun O'Sullivan of SOMA's 21st Amendment Brewery. This dark Belgian-style beer is brewed with cinnamon, vanilla, eight varieties of malt, imported Belgian sugar, and lots of Northwestern hops to cut the sweetness and then aged with oak chips and dried black Mission figs. The result... More >>

  • Best Cocktail Menu

    The Alembic

    If you like choices at a bar, stop by one of Alembic's Savoy Cocktail nights, when its usual menu is replaced with copies of Harry Craddock's 800-plus-recipe tome. The book was written in 1930 by an American bartender who escaped to Europe during Prohibition, and contains recipes for drinks that feel modern again, like the Brandy Alexander, the Corpse Reviver #2, and the Old Pal. Navigating a volume of cocktails that large can be intimidating, but bar manager Daniel Hyatt... More >>

  • Best Bar Inside a Bar

    The Hideout

    The best kind of candy when you were a kid was always the Blow Pop, because it provided two different levels of enjoyment in one small package. This sums up the beauty of the Hideout, a small and intimate craft-cocktail bar in the back of Dalva that serves up some deliciously serious concoctions ($9-$11) by a few of San Francisco's heavy hitters, including Josh Harris of upcoming Trick Dog (Mondays and Wednesdays) and Todd Smith, formerly of Bourbon and Branch... More >>

  • Best Tequila Collection

    Tommy's Mexican Restaurant

    No matter who you are, pulling up a chair at Tommy's means two things are certain: You'll learn something about tequila, and you'll have a great margarita. Having created the renowned "Tommy's" margarita (fresh lime juice, agave syrup, and tequila), astonishing for its ability to showcase the tequila rather than muddle its flavor, owner and bar manager Julio Bermejo has amassed the best and most extensive collection of blue agave tequilas, not just in number of brands, but also in... More >>

  • Best '80s Dance Night

    Cat Club

    Whether you're dying to moonwalk among other music revelers or just want an excuse to dress like film sweetheart Molly Ringwald, your best bet is the Cat Club's Thursday night All 80s dance party (formerly known as the Breakfast Club and 1984). If you arrive before 9:30 p.m., the $6 cover is waived, and all well drinks are only $1 before 10. The best part may be the two DJs spinning different '80s tracks in adjacent rooms, one leaning more... More >>

  • Best Tiki Dive Bar

    Trad'r Sam

    Fruity umbrella drinks and floral patterned booths, each with an island destination name like Hawaii and Tahiti spelled out in bamboo, divert attention from the wood paneling and anything-but-tropical stale air. But it's this tacky tiki charm, decent jukebox, and strong drinks, all under $8 (except the popular $14 Scorpion Bowl group drink) in this Outer Richmond cash-only bar that keep us coming back. A weekend hub for those living in the foggiest parts of the City, Trad'r Sam's helps... More >>

  • Best Waterfront Drinking Spot

    The Ramp

    Though San Francisco is an old port town boasting fine waterfront views, the opportunities for seaside wining and dining are somewhat limited. Skewed public policy on development has left vast swaths of the eastern shoreline a wasteland of dilapidated piers and disused industrial yards, rather than a vibrant waterfront. One welcome exception to this rule is the Ramp, a bayside bar that abuts the San Francisco Boat Works in the Dogpatch neighborhood. When the sun is shining, the Ramp is... More >>

  • Best Places to Learn to Mix Your Own

    Bourbon & Branch

    By Lou Bustamante If shaking a couple of mixing tins looks like fun or you simply want to learn to properly impress at your home bar, here are five places to discover the craft of making a perfect cocktail. Bourbon & Branch Bartending Academy 501 Jones (at O'Farrell), 931-7292 A trailblazer renowned for its seriousness with cocktails and spirits, the academy hosts some of the most in-depth classes ($95) in S.F. Held on Mondays in newly opened bar the... More >>

  • Best Al Fresco Drinking Options

    Presidio Social Club

    By Matthew Stafford The only thing more wonderful than a sunny day in San Francisco is a sunny day in San Francisco with a drink in your hand, and for a town as chronically windswept and foggy as this one, there are an awful lot of patio-, garden-, and sundeck-equipped saloons to choose from. Over the past few years we've trumpeted the breezy, boozy pleasures of Pier 23, Enrico's, the Bambuddha Lounge, the Bocce Café, Zeitgeist, and the Rosewood; here... More >>

  • Best Cocktail-and-Eats Commingling

    15 Romolo

    By Lou Bustamante Getting a delicious snack to go with a good drink might be easier at a restaurant, but these five bars prove that a small kitchen can provide food that matches the excellence of its cocktails. 15 Romolo 15 Romolo (at Broadway), 398-1359 Hidden in an alley off Broadway, this oasis of cocktails ($9-$10) offers some of the best bites to take the edge off the booze. The juicy pork sliders ($6) have become a house staple,... More >>

  • Readers' Poll Winners

    Best Dance Club DNA Lounge Best New Club Public Works Best DJ> DJ Purple Best Jazz Club Yoshi's SF Best Club/DJ Party Night Bootie SF Best Strip Club Gold Club Best Bar Zeitgeist Best Brewpub Magnolia Pub and Brewery Best Cocktail Bar The Alembic Best Wine Bar Heart Best Sports Bar Kezar Pub Best Pickup Bar Hemlock Tavern Best Dyke Bar The Lexington Club> Best Gay Bar TIE: Eagle Tavern, Q Bar Best Dive Bar 500 Club Best Karaoke Bar... More >>

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