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Five Best Places to Celebrate the Sunset 

It isn't absolutely necessary to be out by the seashore to celebrate the sunset. Dusk is a state of mind as much as an astrological given, a languid meteorological declaration that the workday has ended and a bit of revitalization is in order. The best place to accomplish post-vocational repairs to both body and spirit is a friendly saloon, particularly one with its own individual ambience and no shortage of bourbon. Our city is inhabited by several of these salutary watering holes; the following are a few special favorites.

Owl Tree

601 Post (at Taylor), 776-9344

The place is owl-happy -- porcelain owls, wooden owls, owl etchings, owl clocks, stained-glass owls, owl chandeliers, everywhere you look there's an owl. But the Owl Tree's real draw is its proprietor, Bobby, a crusty sort with several varieties of wisecrack and an admirable way with a Bloody Mary (his secret: A.1 sauce). The first thing that happens when you walk in is Bobby hands you a bowl of Chex Party Mix and a Wet-Nap, a singular preamble. Good, eclectic jukebox, too -- how many other places can you sip your scotch and soda to the deathless strains of "We Represent the Lollipop Guild"?

Monte Carlo

1705 Yosemite (at Lane), 822-7338

Mardi Gras is a year-round proposition at the Monte Carlo, where owner/operator Theresa DeRouen throws a nightly party to match the revels of her native Louisiana. A small stage near the entrance provides the sort of live music you can't help dancing to, and the rest of the time there's a terrific jukebox stocked with the likes of James Brown, Ray Charles, and B.B. King. Carnival beads and masks are the primary decorative accents, and to go with your cocktail there's some wonderful Cajun snacking to be had: frog legs, barbecued shrimp, big bowls of gumbo, and like that. DeRouen runs her place like a devoted, no-nonsense mom, and she makes everyone feel right at home.

Black Horse

1514 Union (at Van Ness), 928-2414

Joe, the affable bartender/proprietor, keeps things simple in his London-style pub: He offers three beers, a cheese plate, and that's it, probably because not much else could fit into the joint. The Black Horse is not only the smallest saloon in San Francisco -- its narrow confines barely accommodate half a dozen barstools -- it's one of the few where you can smoke as well. Along with the beers (always an ale, a room-temperature stout, and a draft) and the cheese (two seasonal varieties with sourdough and chutney) you'll find a dartboard, cigars for purchase, and the pleasant ambience of an after-hours hideaway.

Fifth Floor

12 Fourth St. (at Market), 348-1555

The classically elegant cocktail lounge experience is as close as the Palomar Hotel's stunning dining room. Ascend the required number of levels and stroll through lovely, indirectly lit examples of Japanese interior design to the venue's intimate bar, a handsome hideaway in rich, supple earth tones. It's the perfect spot to enjoy an ice-cold Gibson: the establishment's entire aesthetic epitomized in a cocktail. Its vessel is a sleek, singular example of martini-glass engineering; its contents are precisely, appealingly concocted; and since the only thing that distinguishes a Gibson from a martini is its pickled onions, it must be pointed out that these onions are sweeter and more caressing than any in our considerable experience. Come on up: The weather's fine.

Kelly's Mission Rock

817 China Basin (off Third Street), 626-5355

OK, maybe it would be nice to greet the darkling sky in at least one alfresco setting. This one is off the beaten path, not far from the 280 overpass and the eastern slopes of Potrero Hill overlooking the Central Basin boat slips. Although bombastic dot-commers tend to congregate here later in the evening, Mission Rock's seclusion is one of its outstanding traits, along with the tranquil bay views and the enclosing windbreaks that make this one of the waterfront's warmer locales.

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