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The Best Whiskey Bars in San Francisco

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Once derided as somewhat out of fashion, whisk(e)y, whether it's bourbon, Scotch, rye, Japanese whisky, or more unusual global offerings, has come roaring back in popularity with the advent of the craft-cocktail movement. And as with all things cocktail-related, SF offers some of the best bars to indulge in a dram, whether they're out-of-the-way dives with massive (and comparatively inexpensive) selections, Japanese-style sushi dens with private lockers, or Embarcadero hideaways packed with rare allocations and bottles from extinct distilleries. For Cocktail Week, we offer a map of ten of SF's best bars to sip a rare whisk(e)y, with accompaniments ranging from sashimi to cigars to pub grub. (They're in no particular order.)


Virginia Miller

Did we miss any great whiskey spots? Let us know in the comments.

· Heatmap: Where to Drink Cocktails in SF Right Now, Fall 2013 [~ ESF ~]
· 11 Great Old Fashioneds To Drink In San Francisco [~ ESF ~]
· All Eater Maps [~ ESF ~]

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Hard Water

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Pier 3
San Francisco, CA 94105
(415) 392-3021
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Bring an American whiskey aficionado to Hard Water, or show them the long list of “allocated or out of production” bottles at Charles Phan's whiskey bar serving New Orleans-influenced cuisine, and watch them start to salivate. Phan's barman, Erik Adkins, has assembled a superlative collection of rare American whiskies here, including no-longer-made game-changers like Parker’s Heritage Golden Anniversary (a five-decade blend of bourbons from one of the country’s great distillers), Willett Ryes from 5 to 25 years of age, and original bottlings of A.H. Hirsch 16 year Reserve.

2. Wingtip

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550 Montgomery St
San Francisco, CA 94111
(415) 765-0993
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It's members-only at this exclusive club, but those who can handle the fee will be rewarded with one of the most extensive whisk(e)y selections in the city from bar director Brian MacGregor. Besides crafting some of the best whisk(e)y-centric cocktails in SF, MacGregor stocks a number of Diageo's Rare Malts selections (Rosebank 21 year, Auchriosk 20, Glen Spey 21), the standard-setting Highland Park line (splurge on a flight of the 12-, 18-, 30- and 40-year), the reasonably-priced Glen Garioch line, and Tasmanian single malt whisky from Lark Distillery. Cigars and lounging are encouraged.

3. The Occidental Cigar Club

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471 Pine St
San Francisco, CA 94104
(415) 834-0485
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Since one of the best whisk(e)y companions is cigars, it's no surprise that the intimate Occidental Cigar Club stocks plenty of whiskies. That stogie might beg for Wild Geese Rare Irish Whiskey, or the bracing, cask-strength peaty complexity of Ardbeg Uigeadail. And don't miss the special Occidental house blend of Angel’s Envy bourbon from Kentucky.

4. 83 Proof

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83 1st St
San Francisco, CA 94105
(415) 296-8383
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Open since 2007, 83 Proof stocks an extensive collection of spirits, including more than 300 whiskies. Besides the expected whisk(e)y-making regions, drinkers can choose from rare Swiss, Belgian or German whiskies, like Aecht Schlenkerla Smokemalt Aged Rauchbier Spirit from Germany, where Schlenkerla Brewery’s popular Smokebeer has been distilled, then aged in Michel Couvreur casks with freshly smoked barley malt. They also stock rare German whiskies Uerige Stickum and Stickum Plus, the latter a brown ale/altbier aged in Cognac barrels. Bonus: proprietor Marc Goldfine just brought back hand-numbered (#2 and #3) and very rare bottles of single-malt barley whiskey from the fabulous FEW Spirits, just outside of Chicago.

5. Fifth Floor

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12 4th St
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 348-1555
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On the fifth floor of the Hotel Palomar is both a superb restaurant and a mellow den of cocktail greatness, thanks to lead bartender Brian Means. The bar packs no short supply of rare whiskies, like Highland Park Loki, a limited-edition 15 Year old Scotch; Dalmore’s lovely King Alexander, a 30 year old Islay Scotch from Port Ellen, a distillery that was shut down in the 1980’s; or Gordon & Macphail Dallus Dhu 1979, another rarity from a distillery extinct since 1983. Once some of these babies are gone, they’re gone.

6. Bourbon & Branch

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501 Jones St
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 346-1735
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The original and gold-standard SF cocktail bar, Bourbon & Branch stocks an extensive spirits collection served with a trendsetting '20s speakeasy vibe that's great for date night or out-of-towners. With a backdrop of soft '20s jazz, order rare gems like Balvenie 1971, hand-numbered bottles of Noah’s Mill bourbon and Rittenhouse 21-year rye, one of only 1200 US bottles of Glenmorangie Margaux Finish, or a themed whisk(e)y flight. Nearby Swig, from the same owners, also has a superlative whisk(e)y collection.

7. The Alembic

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1725 Haight St
San Francisco, CA 94117
(415) 666-0822
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Since Alembic opened in 2006, it’s offered one of the early, extensive American whiskey collections in the country (though they stock a mean selection of all manner of spirits, from eaux de vie to mezcal). When heavily-allocated rarities like Pappy Van Winkle bourbons or Van Winkle’s dream of a rye emerge, Alembic is quite likely to score a couple of bottles, even if they only last a few hours.

8. Elixir

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3200 16th St
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 552-1633
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In a space that first opened as a saloon back in 1858, H. Joseph Ehrmann presides over one of the city's best collections of American whiskies and Scotch, starting with his own house barrels, which he’s been hand-selecting in Kentucky in recent years (currently it’s four different Four Roses barrels, which can be ordered individually or as a flight). He also stocks rare bottlings of Scotch, like the 2nd and 3rd editions of Compass Box’s Flaming Heart, 20th anniversary whisky from Chicago bar Deliliah's (which was just poured at WhiskyFest), rare Black Adder Scotch, and the first bottling of Bruichladdich Octomore, the original "peat bomb."

9. Nihon Whisky Lounge

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1779 Folsom St
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 552-4400
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Nihon has been going strong for the better part of a decade with sushi, sashimi, and over 500 whiskies, roughly 400 of which are single-malts. Unsurprisingly, every single Japanese whisky imported into the U.S. can be found here. The retro-modern lounge setting can get quite noisy (except for the mellower private room upstairs), but it’s a bustling space to bring friends and indulge in a bottle-- which drinkers can purchase and store in their own private Nihon locker.

10. Broken Record

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1166 Geneva Ave
San Francisco, CA 94112
(415) 963-1713
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Broken Record has been the Excelsior's great whisk(e)y dive bar for years, offering over 250 whiskies. It's cash-only, but prices are reasonable compared to what many downtown bars might charge for the same pour. Order Hirsch 28-year Reserve or 25 year rye, Bushmill's lovely 21-year Irish whiskey, bargain pours ($7) like Hancock’s Presidents Reserve from Buffalo Trace, or a Belgian Owl Single Malt from, you guessed it, Belgium.

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1. Hard Water

Pier 3, San Francisco, CA 94105
Bring an American whiskey aficionado to Hard Water, or show them the long list of “allocated or out of production” bottles at Charles Phan's whiskey bar serving New Orleans-influenced cuisine, and watch them start to salivate. Phan's barman, Erik Adkins, has assembled a superlative collection of rare American whiskies here, including no-longer-made game-changers like Parker’s Heritage Golden Anniversary (a five-decade blend of bourbons from one of the country’s great distillers), Willett Ryes from 5 to 25 years of age, and original bottlings of A.H. Hirsch 16 year Reserve.
Pier 3
San Francisco, CA 94105

2. Wingtip

550 Montgomery St, San Francisco, CA 94111
It's members-only at this exclusive club, but those who can handle the fee will be rewarded with one of the most extensive whisk(e)y selections in the city from bar director Brian MacGregor. Besides crafting some of the best whisk(e)y-centric cocktails in SF, MacGregor stocks a number of Diageo's Rare Malts selections (Rosebank 21 year, Auchriosk 20, Glen Spey 21), the standard-setting Highland Park line (splurge on a flight of the 12-, 18-, 30- and 40-year), the reasonably-priced Glen Garioch line, and Tasmanian single malt whisky from Lark Distillery. Cigars and lounging are encouraged.
550 Montgomery St
San Francisco, CA 94111

3. The Occidental Cigar Club

471 Pine St, San Francisco, CA 94104
Since one of the best whisk(e)y companions is cigars, it's no surprise that the intimate Occidental Cigar Club stocks plenty of whiskies. That stogie might beg for Wild Geese Rare Irish Whiskey, or the bracing, cask-strength peaty complexity of Ardbeg Uigeadail. And don't miss the special Occidental house blend of Angel’s Envy bourbon from Kentucky.
471 Pine St
San Francisco, CA 94104

4. 83 Proof

83 1st St, San Francisco, CA 94105
Open since 2007, 83 Proof stocks an extensive collection of spirits, including more than 300 whiskies. Besides the expected whisk(e)y-making regions, drinkers can choose from rare Swiss, Belgian or German whiskies, like Aecht Schlenkerla Smokemalt Aged Rauchbier Spirit from Germany, where Schlenkerla Brewery’s popular Smokebeer has been distilled, then aged in Michel Couvreur casks with freshly smoked barley malt. They also stock rare German whiskies Uerige Stickum and Stickum Plus, the latter a brown ale/altbier aged in Cognac barrels. Bonus: proprietor Marc Goldfine just brought back hand-numbered (#2 and #3) and very rare bottles of single-malt barley whiskey from the fabulous FEW Spirits, just outside of Chicago.
83 1st St
San Francisco, CA 94105

5. Fifth Floor

12 4th St, San Francisco, CA 94103
On the fifth floor of the Hotel Palomar is both a superb restaurant and a mellow den of cocktail greatness, thanks to lead bartender Brian Means. The bar packs no short supply of rare whiskies, like Highland Park Loki, a limited-edition 15 Year old Scotch; Dalmore’s lovely King Alexander, a 30 year old Islay Scotch from Port Ellen, a distillery that was shut down in the 1980’s; or Gordon & Macphail Dallus Dhu 1979, another rarity from a distillery extinct since 1983. Once some of these babies are gone, they’re gone.
12 4th St
San Francisco, CA 94103

6. Bourbon & Branch

501 Jones St, San Francisco, CA 94102
The original and gold-standard SF cocktail bar, Bourbon & Branch stocks an extensive spirits collection served with a trendsetting '20s speakeasy vibe that's great for date night or out-of-towners. With a backdrop of soft '20s jazz, order rare gems like Balvenie 1971, hand-numbered bottles of Noah’s Mill bourbon and Rittenhouse 21-year rye, one of only 1200 US bottles of Glenmorangie Margaux Finish, or a themed whisk(e)y flight. Nearby Swig, from the same owners, also has a superlative whisk(e)y collection.
501 Jones St
San Francisco, CA 94102

7. The Alembic

1725 Haight St, San Francisco, CA 94117
Since Alembic opened in 2006, it’s offered one of the early, extensive American whiskey collections in the country (though they stock a mean selection of all manner of spirits, from eaux de vie to mezcal). When heavily-allocated rarities like Pappy Van Winkle bourbons or Van Winkle’s dream of a rye emerge, Alembic is quite likely to score a couple of bottles, even if they only last a few hours.
1725 Haight St
San Francisco, CA 94117

8. Elixir

3200 16th St, San Francisco, CA 94103
In a space that first opened as a saloon back in 1858, H. Joseph Ehrmann presides over one of the city's best collections of American whiskies and Scotch, starting with his own house barrels, which he’s been hand-selecting in Kentucky in recent years (currently it’s four different Four Roses barrels, which can be ordered individually or as a flight). He also stocks rare bottlings of Scotch, like the 2nd and 3rd editions of Compass Box’s Flaming Heart, 20th anniversary whisky from Chicago bar Deliliah's (which was just poured at WhiskyFest), rare Black Adder Scotch, and the first bottling of Bruichladdich Octomore, the original "peat bomb."
3200 16th St
San Francisco, CA 94103

9. Nihon Whisky Lounge

1779 Folsom St, San Francisco, CA 94103
Nihon has been going strong for the better part of a decade with sushi, sashimi, and over 500 whiskies, roughly 400 of which are single-malts. Unsurprisingly, every single Japanese whisky imported into the U.S. can be found here. The retro-modern lounge setting can get quite noisy (except for the mellower private room upstairs), but it’s a bustling space to bring friends and indulge in a bottle-- which drinkers can purchase and store in their own private Nihon locker.
1779 Folsom St
San Francisco, CA 94103

10. Broken Record

1166 Geneva Ave, San Francisco, CA 94112
Broken Record has been the Excelsior's great whisk(e)y dive bar for years, offering over 250 whiskies. It's cash-only, but prices are reasonable compared to what many downtown bars might charge for the same pour. Order Hirsch 28-year Reserve or 25 year rye, Bushmill's lovely 21-year Irish whiskey, bargain pours ($7) like Hancock’s Presidents Reserve from Buffalo Trace, or a Belgian Owl Single Malt from, you guessed it, Belgium.
1166 Geneva Ave
San Francisco, CA 94112

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