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Bourbon & Branch © Jennifer Morrow/Flickr
Bourbon & Branch © Jennifer Morrow/Flickr
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A Night At Bourbon And Branch Speakeasy

Picture of Danika Peterson
Updated: 1 December 2016
On Jones Street, there is an unmarked door that goes unnoticed by most wide-eyed tourists and native San Franciscans. In the light of day it appears an average stockroom door that never opens. At night, when the shadows begin to play on the sidewalk, anyone can saddle up to that door and walk in, if you know the right word. And if you can talk the talk, then welcome to Bourbon and Branch, one of San Francisco’s original speakeasies.

In the 1920s, alcohol was illegal in the United States, which created a seedy underbelly in most major cities. Bourbon and Branch has operated as a bar, from the same location, since 1867. It functioned illegally during Prohibition and remained hidden from unwelcome eyes until 1933, when liquor was made legal again. But Bourbon never lost its 1920s swagger.

"Wilson and Wilson" © Flickr/Jennifer Morrow
Wilson and Wilson | © Flickr/Jennifer Morrow

Before you enter, there are some house rules. ‘Please, speak easy,’ they say, keep your phone in your pocket, and best of all, ‘don’t even think of ordering a cosmo.’ The first room, and possibly only room you will enter, has floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, so it’s referred to as ‘the library.’ Inside it’s dark and the art deco room is dimly lit by spiked chandeliers. Voices in the library are hushed, like the walls are filled with magic from the past. The people move closer and murmur secrets in each others’ ears. With the right whispers in the right ears, you might get a tour of the five hidden rooms inside the speakeasy.

Behind moving bookcases and trap doors, there are separate barrooms each with its own distinct taste. Through an unassuming door in the wall is Wilson and Wilson, there’s a decidedly noir bar with cool bartenders and even cooler patrons. However, if there are any secrets still hidden inside Bourbon, they’re probably in the basement and original speakeasy portion of the establishment. The bar is intact and stores bottles of rare liquor. You can still escape through the getaway tunnels that will lead you safely to Geary or O’Farrell Street. It is no longer available to the public, due to unsafe conditions and the age of the building. Not to worry, the owners are working to fix it up.

Chandelier | © Danika Peterson
Chandelier | © Danika Peterson

The drinks here might not be considered for the faint of heart. Several of their signature cocktails include absinthe, minus the green fairy, and some bourbon that will set your body on fire. The bartenders here aren’t the pretentious mixologists you are used to. They have a poised demeanor to match the establishment and are dedicated to making you the best drink you will ever have. Each bartender is rigorously trained and put through a boozy hell before they receive the honor of tending to some of the more private barrooms. The drinks are priced accordingly, but don’t let that stop you. Every drink on the menu is worth a taste. Think less of it as spending money and more as expanding your pallet – you will not regret it.

Drinks at Bourbon and Branch © Danika Peterson
Drinks at Bourbon and Branch | © Danika Peterson

This weekend, get dressed up and treat yourself to something a little sinful. Escape into Bourbon’s dark rooms and get a little romantic with the 1920s. The atmosphere is for close friends, new lovers, and drinking connoisseurs. If you are looking for a venue for your next date, make a reservation for Russell’s Room and you are guaranteed a booth all to yourself. Some of their more hidden rooms are open to large groups as well. If you happen to be passing by, speak ‘books’ and enter. As for Bourbon and Branch: 150 years of nightcaps and still going.