Patio drinking is so last summer. This year, take your imbibing to the next level with lots of craft libations and a little bit of time travel, whether to the days of the wild Old West or to the prosperous ‘50s. For a taste of tall tales alongside your drink, these 10 hotspots in and around San Francisco take you back through the decades — maybe even centuries.Read More
Explore Like a Local: Time Travel at These San Francisco Bars and Restaurants
Though the clientele at Zeitgeist has certainly transformed over the years as the Mission rapidly gentrified, come on the right night and you’ll easily imagine how the biker gangs and metalheads once lingered over the pool table and smoked out on the patio. Rest assured that some things at this dive will never change: the punk rock soundtrack, the secret-recipe Bloody Mary with pickled green beans, and a massive beer list (currently featuring 64 different options).
Descend into the Hearst building basement and you’ll be transported back to the heyday of the printing press — with all the ‘50s- and ‘60s-inspired glamour that high ceilings, red velvet drapes, and mood lighting evoke. Strewn with antique typewriters, archival clips, and, yes, vintage printing presses, Local Edition is at once nostalgic and posh, popular with the after-work crowd as well as weekend revelers. It’s great for group, too; each of its cocktail bottles (signature libations like the Courier, made with rum, agave, lemon, allspice dram, bitters, and sparkling wine) serves five to six patrons.
Alchemist Bar & Lounge
If you’re not one for theme bars, consider this one amenably steampunk-lite. With a drink rail made of gears, Edison lights, leather sofas, and other subtly nostalgic touches, Alchemist perfects that San Franciscan formula of craft and casualness, neither a true speakeasy nor a total dive. Order up a seasonal cocktail: The menu leans heavily on herbs and tinctures — think fennel bitters, eucalyptus essence, hickory smoke, and strawberry rhubarb shrub. A twice-monthly guest bartender program mixes it up for the regulars.
The Devil's Acre
Devil’s Acre crystallizes the 19th century apothecary of cocktail-loving dreams, decorated with vintage chemists’ canisters, pill tile replicas, and flickering gaslamp-style lights. The 22 pages of its menu, presented as an almanac, are filled with history lessons on the origins of various cordials, spirits, and cocktails. Don’t be so distracted by the trivia that you forget to order favorites like Three Sworn Enemies (a bourbon concoction with Grand Poppy, vanilla syrup, angostura and orange bitters, and gold dust) or Dupont (a bubbly treat with Fernet Branca, sweet vermouth, black tea-infused honey, lemon, soda, and nutmeg).
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Housed in a mid-century subway-tiled building in Oakland, Wolfhound channels the laid-back buzz of WWII-era watering holes. Damask wallpaper covers some walls while vintage posters cover others at this somewhat classy neighborhood hang. Locals come here for the beer —there are more than 10 on draft, from Californian brews to choices from across the country. More to love: Happy hour discounts apply on Saturdays.
Pagan Idol is one of many revivals of San Francisco (and the rest of the country’s) tiki obsession in the mid-20th century. Among the others, this bar earns a spotlight for its unabashed penchant for the fantastical — its “captain’s quarters” resemble the interior of a wooden ship, outfitted with kraken-inspired light fixtures and underwater videos styled like portholes. Its other lounge area is a tropical dreamscape of twinkling sky, thatched huts, towering totem poles, and an “erupting” volcano that spews smoke. The Mai Tai is an obvious drink of choice here, though those who prefer less saccharine tipples should order the Witch Doctor (rum, grapefruit, passion fruit, spices, and egg white).
With mahogany and hardwood everything — ceiling fans and circa-1907 bar included —Comstock Saloon recreates a pre-Prohibition playground of the Old West. Accordingly, classics like the John Collins, Manhattan, and Sazerac dominate the cocktail menu, though the Barkeep's Whimsy saves patrons the trouble of having to make up their minds. But the best throwback here is the re-institution of a brilliant saloon tradition: a free lunch special with the purchase of two alcoholic beverages (albeit offered on Fridays only).
Stookey's Club Moderne
This post-Prohibition-styled establishment has all the angular accents, banded patterns, and starburst pendant lights to please any Art Deco enthusiast. Its decor isn’t the only thing that’s historically inspired, either; among the gin-heavy cocktails and fizzes on the menu stars a vintage cocktail of the month that references homegrown as well as international creations. June’s special is Hoot’s Mon, adapted from a circa-1930 recipe book and featuring Scotch, vermouth, and Kina d'Oro bitters. Beer and wine is also on tap — along with jazz nights, readings, book signings, and talks.
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Just a tad campy, to be sure, but jailhouse-turned-lounge Barbarossa is a beloved homage to what once was San Francisco’s red light district. The area’s “Barbary Coast” moniker has ties to a former pirate territory in Northern Africa — which accounts for the curious combination of prison cell decor and bondage-themed art here. It also explains the cocktail menu’s signature grog. The pirate’s and sailor’s drink has been elevated with citrus blends (kiwi, mint, and lime, for example), to be paired with your spirit of choice. Raw bar items, cheese and charcuterie, salads, and desserts are also on offer to fuel your wayfaring.
The Ice Cream Bar Soda Fountain
With its Art Deco stylings and high bar seats, this ‘30s-inspired soda fountain shop sure looks sweet. But don’t let all the charming aesthetics or the warm smell of fresh waffle cones fool you — boozy shakes dubbed “remedies” add a little spice to The Ice Cream Bar’s menu. The Dublin Honey, for example, spikes caramelized honey ice cream and Valrhona chocolate syrup with Guinness and port. Even the non-alcoholic beverages nod to the chemists who helmed these shops back in the day; phosphate and lactart solutions add a balancing tartness to the house sodas.