San Francisco’s top bars are shaking and stirring cocktails to rival any of the best watering holes in the country. And, good news: the bar scene in this city is incredibly deep. There are more options than ever for low-proof drinks and Latin-inspired concoctions, while the city’s classic cocktail dens continue to execute on the highest levels. If you’re looking for something specific — say, a hot new cocktail option, a time-tested dive, or a rooftop on which to imbibe — there are plenty of choices across each category. But let this be your first stop, a guide to getting to know San Francisco’s best cocktail bars.Read More
17 Essential Cocktail Bars in San Francisco
The best places to belly up for a strong drink in San Francisco
Bar Iris is the sister bar to Nisei, located in the former La Folie lounge space. It’s both elegant with cool black walls and modern decor, and not-too-stuffy, favoring fun riffs on high balls and lots of Japanese whiskey and spirits. The cocktails demonstrate restraint and care in sourcing: for example, the Okinawa is made with hard-to-find purple Japanese yams, calamansi, and rum. Plus there’s a tight menu of small plates prepared next door including karaage chicken in inky Japanese curry and several varieties of handrolls.
Li Po Cocktail Lounge
If you’re going to this classic Chinatown dive, then you’re probably ordering one thing and one thing only: the Chinese mai tai. We wish we could tell you exactly what’s in it, but that’s not possible because in 2013 the owner’s trademarked the name and aren’t sharing the secret of what makes this deceptively strong cocktail so easy to sip. Famously loved by Anthony Bourdain, this is an ideal bar for rowdy nights and old-school energy.
Find the celestial and stylish Moongate Lounge, directly above the Michelin-starred Mister Jiu’s from James Beard Award-winning chef Brandon Jew. The bar’s cocktails draw inspiration from the lunar calendar, such as the Deimos, made with bourbon and oolong topped with green walnut foam and brined black sesame honey.
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The House Of Shields
House of Shields is a cocktail institution, more than a hundred years old, dating back to 1908. It’s lined with wood panels and brass hardware, including the original floors, chandeliers, and many other details. The cocktails are classic, the bartenders have worked there for years, and it’s a trip back to another era of San Francisco.
Kona's Street Market
Consider Kona’s Street Market the fun, little sister bar to the original Pacific Cocktail Haven, a true powerhouse in its own right and recently named one of the 50 Best bars in North America. You should definitely check it out — but also, head to this spot for a globe-trotting menu filled with intriguing ingredients like date molasses and ube-coconut cream. Inspired by street markets from around the world, the menu at this dark cocktail den includes a Boracay Old Fashioned made with gin, vermouth, coconut water, calamansi, and makrut bitters, and Save Me a Piece of That Corn! made with tequila, falernum, averna, atola de elote, and horchata.
Tommy's Mexican Restaurant
This Outer Richmond Mexican restaurant is an institution for two reasons: the best tequila selection in San Francisco and pitchers of Tommy’s margaritas. Still, as long as you’re ordering, get an enchilada and taco combination plate. You’ll need it if the margaritas do their job properly.
Smuggler’s is a tiki bar that looks like the belly of a pirate ship, narrow but three stories tall, so drinkers can climb up into ropes hung with nautical gear, or descend down to a second bar filled with barrels. And it’s a rum authority, pouring hundreds of varieties, with a thick cocktail list. It’s rum-filled, of course, but there are ample options even if you favor clear spirits or something built on a whiskey base.
The Linden Room is an itty bitty bar — seriously, there are just eight seats — so you may have to wait before you can squeeze in at the first come, first served establishment. But it’s attached to chef Kim Alter’s Michelin Guide-worthy Nightbird so you can expect creative cocktails crafted with premium ingredients and precise techniques. The Ralphie Boy is a menu staple, built on a whiskey base and lifted with peach, smoked egg whites, and lemon.
After more than two and a half years away, owner Thad Vogler’s James Beard Award-winning Bar Agricole resumed shaking and stirring single-origin spirits into refined cocktails in 2022. The bar returns in a new SoMa space wrapped in warm woods and painted cool blue-and-grey tones. In addition to a menu of cocktails starring thoughtfully sourced spirits, chefs Will Napoli and Nick Balla offer seasonal and ingredient-driven plates like tomatoes with yellow wax beans and grilled chicken in green olive salsa.
ABV owners Ryan Fitzgerald, Todd Smith, and Erik Reichborn-Kjennerd, are all longtime veterans of the San Francisco bar scene, so it only makes sense that the cocktails at their Mission bar are some of the best in the city. The menu is divided by spirit, a move that makes so much sense it’s a wonder more bars haven’t adopted it. You can’t go wrong with the Whiskey in Church and “the burger.”
This bar from the team behind Range — former bar manager Jeff Lyon and owner-chef Phil West — has a subtle railway theme and cocktails that feature seasonal ingredients and hand-cut and hand-crushed ice. The cocktails are all affordable, and don’t miss the beer, shot, and bite of homemade jerky.
Cocktails and food are equally matched at this Lazy Bear spinoff in the Mission. Bar manager and partner Nicolas Torres is behind the creative beverage list, which incorporates a variety of unexpected cocktail ingredients such as the Bon Pon Ton made with lemon gin, pandan tonic, and Pineau des Charentes aperitif. Whatever you drink, don’t miss the legendary patty melt and an order of crispy mushrooms.
A trio of friends opened this modern cocktail bar, which defies American expectations for what an Irish bar should look and taste like. Drinkers can sample the collection of Irish whiskey and gin, get a smooth pint of draft Guinness, and chase it all down with fish and chips. Bonus: it’s home to one of the coolest back patios in the Mission, with graffiti-covered walls encasing a rowdy space with tables, heaters, and (oftentimes) live music.
Trick Dog is a creative cocktail powerhouse, known for a menu that changes every sixth months. Past iterations include a record album, Zodiac wheel, and San Francisco tourist map, as well as a children’s book called “Rhymes with Trick Dog.” It’s also the home of Quik Dog, a favorite for hot dogs and buttermilk-brined chicken nuggets.
What do you get when you combine the skills of a handful of cocktail industry veterans with a familiar Mission space and a bevy of fried mortadella sandwiches? Buddy, the neighborhood bar powered by Alvaro Rojas (Elda), Nicolas Torres (True Laurel), Nora Furst (Uma Casa), and Claire Sprouse (Hunky Dory in Brooklyn). Step into the buttoned-up space for expertly-crafted low-ABV cocktails, well above-average bar food, and a flood of natural wine.
Tucked into the corner of the city where the Mission butts up against Potrero Hill, Junior is a low-key spot but a worthwhile destination for mezcal cocktails including the house margarita — which can be ordered by the pitcher, by the way. The rest of the drink menu includes excellent but not overly complicated beverages such as the Utah Sunrise made with mezcal, fortified wine, curacao, and lemon.
A cocktail pro and a surfer teamed up to open White Cap, which is succeeding in warming up the Outer Sunset, a neighborhood in need of more watering holes. Filled with driftwood and a fireplace, drinkers can get cozy with a strong drink after a beach walk.