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Jean Bai

14 Hotel Bars Worth a Visit in San Francisco

Some have the best views, some the best cocktails

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As America’s latest epoch of cocktail sophistication enters another year, it stands to reason that hotels across the country have upped their bar game in order to keep up with the times. Nowhere is that more in evidence than in San Francisco, where many hotel bars have had major makeovers in the last few years, and where cocktail consultants are in high demand.

Along with the bevy of destination- and date-worthy hotel bars that already dot the city, an influx of newcomers (many of which are on this list) clearly means that the term “hotel bar” can’t be used in the derogative ever again. Hotels are where it’s at in this city — sometimes for the cocktails, and sometimes just for the view.

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The Bar at Hotel Kabuki

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After a $31 million remodel, Hotel Kabuki now stands as the coolest large hotel outside the Union Square/Nob Hill environs. Its bar, which is now integrated with the lobby with cozy lounge seating, overlooks the revamped Japanese garden courtyard at the center of the hotel, and it’s an airy, welcoming, and modern space full of Douglas fir beams and glass.

Chambers

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Styled on a rock-and-roll theme, as a number of hip boutique hotels are these days, Chambers is bedecked with many shelves of vintage LPs, Chambers Eat + Drink at the Phoenix Hotel. The cozy space is divided into a bar and lounge on one side where snacks can be ordered, and a more restaurant-focused side with its own bar, and several booths that make great venues for catching up with old friends, or quiet dates. Don’t be fooled by the blunt simplicity of the cocktail menu, with drink names like “Rum Drink,” “Gin Drink,” and “Scotch Smash” — these are all, in fact, well-imagined and delicious concoctions.

Charmaine's

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If you want to visit the side of New San Francisco that feels most like LA, head over to Charmaine’s any night of the week, but be prepared to wait in line. A gorgeous design by (LA-based) designer Kelly Wearstler and a one-of-a-kind view overlooking mid-Market Street and the Federal Building are offset by a dash of pretension usually reserved for sceney LA bars. The crowd is a mix of tech workers and bougie tourists from all over staying at the Proper Hotel downstairs, and the many fire pits are sure to be a big draw. All told, it’s a must-visit spot for the view and the couches alone.

Tratto hasn’t made big waves food-wise in the Union Square area, but its handsome, big-windowed bar at the Marker Hotel is nonetheless a pleasant option for pre- and post-show cocktails, or drinks with a friend in town who’s staying nearby. The drink menu features a number of fun takes on drinks, such as the Campari-laced margarita, while the Torino Tonic is the house gin and tonic.  And, differentiating the space from its former incarnations are some cool line-drawing murals by local artist Amos Goldbaum.

Top of the Mark

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The grandaddy of SF’s top-floor tourist magnets, Top of the Mark at the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins, manages to still be a thing in the 21st Century because the 360-degree view is impossible to beat. Yes, you may be made to sit at a table and the Martini menu is not recommended (it’s basically unchanged since the 90s). Wander in for a drink on a weekend afternoon, and it should be pretty mellow and easy to snag a prime view. Fun fact: There’s a bottle of whiskey kept in a case by the elevator that members of the armed services have been taking nips from (and periodically replacing) since WWII, and signing the log book when they do.

Top of the Mark

Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar

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No list of SF’s hotel bars would be complete without the vintage Tiki masterpiece that is the Tonga Room, lurking in the depths of the Fairmont Hotel. It’s been preserved in almost all its original pseudo-Polynesian details, as originally designed by MGM set designer Mel Melvin back in 1945. Nautical roping, palm frond huts, and kitsch galore fill the space, at the center of which is a pool of water where it “rains” with thunder and lightning every half hour, and where a live band floats on a raft several nights a week. The Tiki drinks, while better than they used to be thanks to the re-introduction of fresh juices during a menu revamp, are still overly sweet and nowhere near the standard-bearers being served at Smuggler’s Cove. But stick to Mai Tais and Singapore Slings and you can’t go too wrong, or just order a gin and tonic and wait for the next tropical storm to pass through.

Rise Over Run

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The LINE brand of hotels is known for its trendy design and the San Francisco outpost is no different, bringing a new restaurant Tenderheart, a rooftop bar, and a lobby bar to mid-Market. Although Dark Bar, the hotel’s lobby bar, is set to open in December, the sweeping rooftop views at Rise Over Run make it the place to head for a drink, which are made by former Mister Jiu’s bartender Danny Louie. Of course, you can sit outside amongst the plants and fresh air, but there’s also the solarium with glass-encased views of the city that seems more weather-proof for the winter. There will be oysters to snack on, as well as cocktail drinks such as the Full Moon Over Rise, a rum-based drink made with piment, matcha, cucumber, apple, and orgeat.

Jean Bai

Clock Bar

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Just off the lobby in the Westin St. Francis is Clock Bar, now over a decade old as one of the first hotel bars in the city to up its mixology game and become a draw for local cocktail hounds. The low-ceilinged, mid-century vibe of this den-like hideout is enough to warm you on a chilly SF evening, and it’s a good little secret to have in your back pocket when seeking out a top-notch cocktail, right on Union Square.

Clock Bar

Bar and Lounge at Parallel 37

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Walking into the Ritz-Carlton, situated just at the edge of Nob Hill and above Union Square, automatically makes you feel like a baller. The marble-lined lobby and dark gray lobby bar with its rectangular chandelier are luxe and moody spaces, and then further inside the building is Parallel 37, the hotel’s restaurant with a bar up front. The lobby bar demands a stiff drink like a scotch on the rocks or a Manhattan, but in Parallel 37 there are fruitier mixed concoctions (some of them good), and an internationally inspired menu that sticks to basics with some seasonal California twists.

Entrance to Parallel 37
Parallel 37

The Cavalier

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The only bar/restaurant on this list to be a semi-finalist for a James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant, The Cavalier is the British-inspired tavern from the talented team behind Marlowe, Park Tavern, and Leo’s Oyster Bar, attached to the Hotel Zetta (which also has a small and less exciting lobby bar next door). Bartenders here do a top-notch job with English classics like the Vesper and the Pimm’s Cup, and the bar bites are great too — don’t miss the Scotched duck egg, the lamb scrumpets, and the hen egg hollandaise with ham-and-cheese soldiers, for dipping.

The Cavalier
Patricia Chang

Dirty Habit

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Despite its puzzling name choice, Dirty Habit sets itself apart as one of the more sophisticated and cool hotel bars in town. Tucked up on the fifth floor of the Hotel Zelos, in the space that was home for many years to the fine-dining spot Fifth Floor, Dirty Habit boasts a warm and inviting, low-ceilinged bar and lounge perfect for foggy-night drinks, as well as a bright and airy patio in the interior courtyard which makes for an excellent warm-weather happy hour destination. The six-page cocktail menu is the focus here, with new and classic cocktail options filed under the header “Old & New Habits.” Go for the Arrogant Hipster, a blend of Neft Vodka, Mr. Black Coffee Liqueur and Blue Bottle Coffee cold brew for their take on the espresso martini, or a classic Vieux Carre.

The View at the Marriott Marquis

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The View may feel supremely dated in some ways and doesn’t offer anything special, drinks-wise, but that is not the point. The lounge areas inside the top floor of the jukebox-topped Marriott offer uniquely stunning sunset and nighttime views of San Francisco and all its hills, bridges, and freeways. It’s too gorgeous of a vantage point to be reserved for tourists alone, made more unique because the windows are as tall as they are wide. The move is to order something simple, pay more for it than you think you should, and spend an hour or two just watching the light change over the Bay Bridge, or Sutro Tower.

La Société Bar & Café

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La Société is the new restaurant and bar from the folks at TableOne Hospitality, the spinoff restaurant group from Mina Group, and it’s diving deep into French food with chef Alexandre Viriot at the helm. Nestled inside the Hyatt Regency San Francisco Downtown Soma, the bar allows you to snack on smoked salmon rillettes or steak tartare at the bar and lounge, while sipping on the bar’s take on cocktail classics, such as the French Quarter, made with Calvados, rye, cardamom lavender, and absinthe. If cordials are your thing, the bar also has a generous list of offerings.

Terrene

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The newer 1 Hotel San Francisco debuted in 2022, centered around sustainability and opening its all-day restaurant with rooftop patio, Terrene, which runs from breakfast to dinner. But if you’re interested in just the cocktails, take heart in the bar continuing its environmental theme with “sustainable cocktails” such as the Tiny Sea Monster or Lula’s Heart, as well as drinks made with ingredients sourced within 50 miles of the hotel (much like the food menu). Tequila and mezcal fans will also be pleased to know the bar skews in this direction with a number of options on hand to try as a sipper or in a well-mixed drink, while pondering the views of the waterfront.

Conor Hagen

The Bar at Hotel Kabuki

After a $31 million remodel, Hotel Kabuki now stands as the coolest large hotel outside the Union Square/Nob Hill environs. Its bar, which is now integrated with the lobby with cozy lounge seating, overlooks the revamped Japanese garden courtyard at the center of the hotel, and it’s an airy, welcoming, and modern space full of Douglas fir beams and glass.

Chambers

Styled on a rock-and-roll theme, as a number of hip boutique hotels are these days, Chambers is bedecked with many shelves of vintage LPs, Chambers Eat + Drink at the Phoenix Hotel. The cozy space is divided into a bar and lounge on one side where snacks can be ordered, and a more restaurant-focused side with its own bar, and several booths that make great venues for catching up with old friends, or quiet dates. Don’t be fooled by the blunt simplicity of the cocktail menu, with drink names like “Rum Drink,” “Gin Drink,” and “Scotch Smash” — these are all, in fact, well-imagined and delicious concoctions.

Charmaine's

If you want to visit the side of New San Francisco that feels most like LA, head over to Charmaine’s any night of the week, but be prepared to wait in line. A gorgeous design by (LA-based) designer Kelly Wearstler and a one-of-a-kind view overlooking mid-Market Street and the Federal Building are offset by a dash of pretension usually reserved for sceney LA bars. The crowd is a mix of tech workers and bougie tourists from all over staying at the Proper Hotel downstairs, and the many fire pits are sure to be a big draw. All told, it’s a must-visit spot for the view and the couches alone.

Tratto

Tratto hasn’t made big waves food-wise in the Union Square area, but its handsome, big-windowed bar at the Marker Hotel is nonetheless a pleasant option for pre- and post-show cocktails, or drinks with a friend in town who’s staying nearby. The drink menu features a number of fun takes on drinks, such as the Campari-laced margarita, while the Torino Tonic is the house gin and tonic.  And, differentiating the space from its former incarnations are some cool line-drawing murals by local artist Amos Goldbaum.

Top of the Mark

The grandaddy of SF’s top-floor tourist magnets, Top of the Mark at the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins, manages to still be a thing in the 21st Century because the 360-degree view is impossible to beat. Yes, you may be made to sit at a table and the Martini menu is not recommended (it’s basically unchanged since the 90s). Wander in for a drink on a weekend afternoon, and it should be pretty mellow and easy to snag a prime view. Fun fact: There’s a bottle of whiskey kept in a case by the elevator that members of the armed services have been taking nips from (and periodically replacing) since WWII, and signing the log book when they do.

Top of the Mark

Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar

No list of SF’s hotel bars would be complete without the vintage Tiki masterpiece that is the Tonga Room, lurking in the depths of the Fairmont Hotel. It’s been preserved in almost all its original pseudo-Polynesian details, as originally designed by MGM set designer Mel Melvin back in 1945. Nautical roping, palm frond huts, and kitsch galore fill the space, at the center of which is a pool of water where it “rains” with thunder and lightning every half hour, and where a live band floats on a raft several nights a week. The Tiki drinks, while better than they used to be thanks to the re-introduction of fresh juices during a menu revamp, are still overly sweet and nowhere near the standard-bearers being served at Smuggler’s Cove. But stick to Mai Tais and Singapore Slings and you can’t go too wrong, or just order a gin and tonic and wait for the next tropical storm to pass through.

Rise Over Run

The LINE brand of hotels is known for its trendy design and the San Francisco outpost is no different, bringing a new restaurant Tenderheart, a rooftop bar, and a lobby bar to mid-Market. Although Dark Bar, the hotel’s lobby bar, is set to open in December, the sweeping rooftop views at Rise Over Run make it the place to head for a drink, which are made by former Mister Jiu’s bartender Danny Louie. Of course, you can sit outside amongst the plants and fresh air, but there’s also the solarium with glass-encased views of the city that seems more weather-proof for the winter. There will be oysters to snack on, as well as cocktail drinks such as the Full Moon Over Rise, a rum-based drink made with piment, matcha, cucumber, apple, and orgeat.

Jean Bai

Clock Bar

Just off the lobby in the Westin St. Francis is Clock Bar, now over a decade old as one of the first hotel bars in the city to up its mixology game and become a draw for local cocktail hounds. The low-ceilinged, mid-century vibe of this den-like hideout is enough to warm you on a chilly SF evening, and it’s a good little secret to have in your back pocket when seeking out a top-notch cocktail, right on Union Square.

Clock Bar

Bar and Lounge at Parallel 37

Walking into the Ritz-Carlton, situated just at the edge of Nob Hill and above Union Square, automatically makes you feel like a baller. The marble-lined lobby and dark gray lobby bar with its rectangular chandelier are luxe and moody spaces, and then further inside the building is Parallel 37, the hotel’s restaurant with a bar up front. The lobby bar demands a stiff drink like a scotch on the rocks or a Manhattan, but in Parallel 37 there are fruitier mixed concoctions (some of them good), and an internationally inspired menu that sticks to basics with some seasonal California twists.

Entrance to Parallel 37
Parallel 37

The Cavalier

The only bar/restaurant on this list to be a semi-finalist for a James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant, The Cavalier is the British-inspired tavern from the talented team behind Marlowe, Park Tavern, and Leo’s Oyster Bar, attached to the Hotel Zetta (which also has a small and less exciting lobby bar next door). Bartenders here do a top-notch job with English classics like the Vesper and the Pimm’s Cup, and the bar bites are great too — don’t miss the Scotched duck egg, the lamb scrumpets, and the hen egg hollandaise with ham-and-cheese soldiers, for dipping.

The Cavalier
Patricia Chang

Dirty Habit

Despite its puzzling name choice, Dirty Habit sets itself apart as one of the more sophisticated and cool hotel bars in town. Tucked up on the fifth floor of the Hotel Zelos, in the space that was home for many years to the fine-dining spot Fifth Floor, Dirty Habit boasts a warm and inviting, low-ceilinged bar and lounge perfect for foggy-night drinks, as well as a bright and airy patio in the interior courtyard which makes for an excellent warm-weather happy hour destination. The six-page cocktail menu is the focus here, with new and classic cocktail options filed under the header “Old & New Habits.” Go for the Arrogant Hipster, a blend of Neft Vodka, Mr. Black Coffee Liqueur and Blue Bottle Coffee cold brew for their take on the espresso martini, or a classic Vieux Carre.

The View at the Marriott Marquis

The View may feel supremely dated in some ways and doesn’t offer anything special, drinks-wise, but that is not the point. The lounge areas inside the top floor of the jukebox-topped Marriott offer uniquely stunning sunset and nighttime views of San Francisco and all its hills, bridges, and freeways. It’s too gorgeous of a vantage point to be reserved for tourists alone, made more unique because the windows are as tall as they are wide. The move is to order something simple, pay more for it than you think you should, and spend an hour or two just watching the light change over the Bay Bridge, or Sutro Tower.

La Société Bar & Café

La Société is the new restaurant and bar from the folks at TableOne Hospitality, the spinoff restaurant group from Mina Group, and it’s diving deep into French food with chef Alexandre Viriot at the helm. Nestled inside the Hyatt Regency San Francisco Downtown Soma, the bar allows you to snack on smoked salmon rillettes or steak tartare at the bar and lounge, while sipping on the bar’s take on cocktail classics, such as the French Quarter, made with Calvados, rye, cardamom lavender, and absinthe. If cordials are your thing, the bar also has a generous list of offerings.

Terrene

The newer 1 Hotel San Francisco debuted in 2022, centered around sustainability and opening its all-day restaurant with rooftop patio, Terrene, which runs from breakfast to dinner. But if you’re interested in just the cocktails, take heart in the bar continuing its environmental theme with “sustainable cocktails” such as the Tiny Sea Monster or Lula’s Heart, as well as drinks made with ingredients sourced within 50 miles of the hotel (much like the food menu). Tequila and mezcal fans will also be pleased to know the bar skews in this direction with a number of options on hand to try as a sipper or in a well-mixed drink, while pondering the views of the waterfront.

Conor Hagen

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