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The Go-To Cocktail Spots in San Francisco

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During the Gold Rush, San Francisco started importing pisco from Peru, which led to the famous advent of punch in the Bay Area. Meanwhile, there were miners drinking whiskey, missionaries sipping sherry, and traders returning from Hawaii with mai tai recipes, all making merry over an eclectic mix of cocktails. You still find remnants of history in San Francisco’s bar scene, like speakeasy-inspired venues and plenty of pisco punch, but also an impressive list of modern mixologists shaking and stirring at new spots. No matter your drink of choice, San Francisco remains a place to imbibe with the best of them.

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Rickhouse

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You can choose from a selection of local beers and boutique California wines at Rickhouse, but you’ll likely want to try a whiskey-based drink here, if only because it suits the rugged look and history of the place. The ceiling is made from the staves of barrels imported from Kentucky, and the walls of the bar originally came from a Prohibition-era nunnery in the Ozarks. If you come with a group, go ahead and try the popular punch bowl to share. Bartenders use fresh juices, natural sugars, and local produce in all the cocktails.
Tony Contreras

Tunnel Top

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If you’re looking for a funky place with music and a louder crowd, check out Tunnel Top, named for its location on top of the Stockton Street Tunnel. This place is cash only, but the drinks are reasonably priced, so no need to hit the ATM too hard. The bar tends to get crowded on weekends, but the floating DJ booth makes it a fun spot for music and a cocktail. Fan favorites from the menu include the watermelon gimlet and the caipirinha.
Sean Davis

Cognac Room

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If you’re not a brandy drinker, The Cognac Room might be the place that converts you. The place is small — only 40 seats in the bar, nestled above restaurant Gaspar Brasserie — but houses the city’s largest brandy collection. Choose from more than 50 brandy-based drinks on the menu, which was created by respected San Francisco mixologist John Codd, and dive into the bar’s niche specialty. The mid-century decor of the bar makes it a quintessential Financial District spot.
Noelle Chun

Bourbon & Branch

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Bourbon drinkers, rejoice — this is a bar made just for you. The selection at Bourbon and Branch includes hand-numbered bottles of Noah's Mill, Buffalo Trace, and Rittenhouse 21 Year. In the Scotch department, they stock the Monkey Shoulder, Glenmorangie Margaux Finish (one of only 1,200 bottles in the US), and Balvenie 1971. Even if you’re not an expert in spirits, you can enjoy the ambiance of this former speakeasy that operated illegally from 1921 to 1933. Though the operation is fully legal now, Bourbon and Branch retains the secretive dim lighting and 1920s decor of that bygone era.
Jennifer Morrow

Brass Tacks

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If you’re looking for a simple place with good cocktails, you can certainly find that at Brass Tacks in Hayes Valley. Sip on the Brass Smash, made with Venezuelan rum, Cynar, mint, and lemon. For a brighter atmosphere (but still straightforward cocktails) head to Anina, which the same owners recently opened nearby. It’s more tropical and the drinks are lighter (think spritzes and aperitivos), but Matt Conway is the mixologist at both locations.
Brass Tacks

The Alembic

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For a combination of modern and traditional, head to the Alembic in the Haight and choose from the left column of the menu (dubbed “New School”) for an inventive drink, or from the right column (called “The Cannon”) for a classic cocktail. From the right column you might try a Mount Aso, which features Iwai Japanese whiskye, mirin, kabocha spice, and smoked carrot dashi. If you’re more comfortable with the classics, you can’t go wrong with an Old Fashioned. The kitchen is open Tuesday through Saturday, so order a ham sandwich, made with house-cured ham and spicy aioli. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, you’re in luck — the bar and kitchen recently collaborated for a whole suite of cocktails inspired by Girl Scout cookies, served with the treats themselves.
Heidi De Vries

El Techo

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On a nice day, it’s hard to beat the rooftop patio and Latin street food menu at El Techo in the Mission. If the rooftop views don’t do it for you, maybe the $7 happy-hour margaritas will. The menu offers other “CòCTEL” options as well, like the Hummingbird — made with pisco acholado, ginger, chamomile, lime, yellow Chartreuse, and bitters — which pairs well with the quesadilla de pibil, made with braised pork shoulder, Oaxaca cheese, and salsa roja.
Aubrie Pick

Trick Dog

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The bartenders behind Trick Dog switch up the theme of cocktail menu every six months with some unexpected elements. Their most recent initiative was maybe the most ambitious yet: the Trick Dog Mural Project. Fourteen local artists each painted their own public mural around the city, which corresponds to a cocktail on the menu named after the artist. You can even buy a book of the murals, with proceeds going to charity. Mixology and art truly collide at Trick Dog.
Trick Dog

Third Rail

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The idea of a cocktail and jerky bar sounds like a weird combination until you try Third Rail. Chef Phil West and barkeep Jeff Lyon worked together at West’s restaurant, Range, before deciding to try a joint endeavor. Choose from “refreshing drinks” or “boozy drinks” on the menu, plus a featured drink of the week. A recent highlight was the Argyle: smoky and blended Scotches, apricot liqueur, and walnut liqueur. As far as the jerky goes, with names like Spicy Beef Candy and Grandma Frances, you should probably just try it for yourself.

15 Romolo

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15 Romolo, founded by Jon Gasparini and Greg Lindgren in 1998, still offers a diverse cocktail lineup. Try the Bullfighter — Spanish brandy, Gran Classico, lemon, maraschino, and aromatic bitters — or the Queen Eleanor, made with Scottish gin, dry vermouth, créme de pêche, and celery bitters. If you’re staying to dine, check out each menu item’s suggested sherry pairing. Order the pork belly and beef meatballs to go with the Amontillado Gutierrez Colosia sherry. It’s like paint-by-numbers for those new to the sherry game, and it’s sure to elevate the dining experience.
This advertising content was produced in collaboration between Vox Creative and our sponsor, without involvement from Vox Media editorial staff.

Rickhouse

Tony Contreras
You can choose from a selection of local beers and boutique California wines at Rickhouse, but you’ll likely want to try a whiskey-based drink here, if only because it suits the rugged look and history of the place. The ceiling is made from the staves of barrels imported from Kentucky, and the walls of the bar originally came from a Prohibition-era nunnery in the Ozarks. If you come with a group, go ahead and try the popular punch bowl to share. Bartenders use fresh juices, natural sugars, and local produce in all the cocktails.
Tony Contreras

Tunnel Top

Sean Davis
If you’re looking for a funky place with music and a louder crowd, check out Tunnel Top, named for its location on top of the Stockton Street Tunnel. This place is cash only, but the drinks are reasonably priced, so no need to hit the ATM too hard. The bar tends to get crowded on weekends, but the floating DJ booth makes it a fun spot for music and a cocktail. Fan favorites from the menu include the watermelon gimlet and the caipirinha.
Sean Davis

Cognac Room

Noelle Chun
If you’re not a brandy drinker, The Cognac Room might be the place that converts you. The place is small — only 40 seats in the bar, nestled above restaurant Gaspar Brasserie — but houses the city’s largest brandy collection. Choose from more than 50 brandy-based drinks on the menu, which was created by respected San Francisco mixologist John Codd, and dive into the bar’s niche specialty. The mid-century decor of the bar makes it a quintessential Financial District spot.
Noelle Chun

Bourbon & Branch

Jennifer Morrow
Bourbon drinkers, rejoice — this is a bar made just for you. The selection at Bourbon and Branch includes hand-numbered bottles of Noah's Mill, Buffalo Trace, and Rittenhouse 21 Year. In the Scotch department, they stock the Monkey Shoulder, Glenmorangie Margaux Finish (one of only 1,200 bottles in the US), and Balvenie 1971. Even if you’re not an expert in spirits, you can enjoy the ambiance of this former speakeasy that operated illegally from 1921 to 1933. Though the operation is fully legal now, Bourbon and Branch retains the secretive dim lighting and 1920s decor of that bygone era.
Jennifer Morrow

Brass Tacks

Brass Tacks
If you’re looking for a simple place with good cocktails, you can certainly find that at Brass Tacks in Hayes Valley. Sip on the Brass Smash, made with Venezuelan rum, Cynar, mint, and lemon. For a brighter atmosphere (but still straightforward cocktails) head to Anina, which the same owners recently opened nearby. It’s more tropical and the drinks are lighter (think spritzes and aperitivos), but Matt Conway is the mixologist at both locations.
Brass Tacks

The Alembic

Heidi De Vries
For a combination of modern and traditional, head to the Alembic in the Haight and choose from the left column of the menu (dubbed “New School”) for an inventive drink, or from the right column (called “The Cannon”) for a classic cocktail. From the right column you might try a Mount Aso, which features Iwai Japanese whiskye, mirin, kabocha spice, and smoked carrot dashi. If you’re more comfortable with the classics, you can’t go wrong with an Old Fashioned. The kitchen is open Tuesday through Saturday, so order a ham sandwich, made with house-cured ham and spicy aioli. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, you’re in luck — the bar and kitchen recently collaborated for a whole suite of cocktails inspired by Girl Scout cookies, served with the treats themselves.
Heidi De Vries

El Techo

Aubrie Pick
On a nice day, it’s hard to beat the rooftop patio and Latin street food menu at El Techo in the Mission. If the rooftop views don’t do it for you, maybe the $7 happy-hour margaritas will. The menu offers other “CòCTEL” options as well, like the Hummingbird — made with pisco acholado, ginger, chamomile, lime, yellow Chartreuse, and bitters — which pairs well with the quesadilla de pibil, made with braised pork shoulder, Oaxaca cheese, and salsa roja.
Aubrie Pick

Trick Dog

Trick Dog
The bartenders behind Trick Dog switch up the theme of cocktail menu every six months with some unexpected elements. Their most recent initiative was maybe the most ambitious yet: the Trick Dog Mural Project. Fourteen local artists each painted their own public mural around the city, which corresponds to a cocktail on the menu named after the artist. You can even buy a book of the murals, with proceeds going to charity. Mixology and art truly collide at Trick Dog.
Trick Dog

Third Rail

The idea of a cocktail and jerky bar sounds like a weird combination until you try Third Rail. Chef Phil West and barkeep Jeff Lyon worked together at West’s restaurant, Range, before deciding to try a joint endeavor. Choose from “refreshing drinks” or “boozy drinks” on the menu, plus a featured drink of the week. A recent highlight was the Argyle: smoky and blended Scotches, apricot liqueur, and walnut liqueur. As far as the jerky goes, with names like Spicy Beef Candy and Grandma Frances, you should probably just try it for yourself.

15 Romolo

15 Romolo, founded by Jon Gasparini and Greg Lindgren in 1998, still offers a diverse cocktail lineup. Try the Bullfighter — Spanish brandy, Gran Classico, lemon, maraschino, and aromatic bitters — or the Queen Eleanor, made with Scottish gin, dry vermouth, créme de pêche, and celery bitters. If you’re staying to dine, check out each menu item’s suggested sherry pairing. Order the pork belly and beef meatballs to go with the Amontillado Gutierrez Colosia sherry. It’s like paint-by-numbers for those new to the sherry game, and it’s sure to elevate the dining experience.

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