The 7 Best Bars in San Francisco

Cocktails at 15 Romlo
Cocktails at 15 Romlo | © Balthazar Media / 15Romolo
Photo of Daisy Barringer
2 July 2019

San Francisco is known for inspiring, innovative ideas, and that also translates to the city’s bar scene. These seven spots serve creative and delicious cocktails in a welcoming environment. San Francisco is a big enough city to have a variety of bars that could qualify as “the best.” There are neighborhood bars where the bartender knows patrons’ orders, classic hotel bars with excellent martinis, and many bars where visitors are just happy to be wherever they are in at that moment. For this list, we included our favorite San Francisco spots where the cocktails are creative and consistently excellent, complete with welcoming vibes. There are also the places we keep coming back for either solo or with friends or out-of-town guests.

15 Romolo

Cocktail Bar, Cocktails, $$$
This “hidden” bar up an alley off of Broadway gets packed on the weekends with people ready to drink serious cocktails and sing along to the jukebox, which is one of the best in town. During the week, it’s a mellow spot to enjoy those serious cocktails with some fancy bar food, like a chili-honey fried chicken sandwich, or the Romolo poutine. 15 Romolo is also known for its sherry selection. The bartenders really know what they’re doing, so it’s worth asking what they recommend in that arena.

ABV, San Francisco

Bar, Cocktail Bar, American, $$$

There’s nothing overly fancy about this Mission hotspot; the dimly-lit narrow space is sleek but unassuming with lots of wood, dark floors, and a couple of communal tables in the back. But that’s for the best as it allows the real heroes, the cocktails and the food, to shine. ABV’s 16-drink cocktail menu is full of creative concoctions, most of which you will not see on other menus, and is organized by spirit to make choosing that much easier. The food (served until 1am) is sophisticated for any restaurant, much less a cocktail bar, but feels right at home thanks to low prices and the fact that none of the dishes require silverware.

The Interval at Long Now

Bar, Cocktail Bar, Cocktails, $$$

This Fort Mason treasure is part café, part museum, and part bar, which easily earns it the title of the most fascinating spot to get a cocktail in San Francisco. The cocktail menu at The Interval consists of pages of reading material about the history of the different drinks, but the knowledgeable bartenders are also happy to lead the way. While you’re enjoying your drink, you can peruse the floor-to-ceiling library of books, look at a prototype of a 10,000 Year Clock (that’s designed to run for 10 millennia with minimal interruption and maintenance), and watch the digital ambient painting that will go through millions of iterations before repeating.

Pacific Cocktail Haven, San Francisco

Bar, Pub Grub, $$$
P.C.H. may be right next to Union Square, but it feels a lot like a neighborhood bar. The space is pretty bare bones with an exposed brick wall and a seating area in the back, but the vibe is still very welcoming (the bar’s logo is a pineapple, which is an international symbol of hospitality). The drinks are creative with unusual ingredients, like wasabi in a scotch cocktail or old fashioned with miso and the menu includes sketches of the cocktails, so you know how it will be presented. There are also a couple of large-format punches, as well as some low-proof options.

The Riddler

Bar, Cocktail Bar, Cocktails, $$$

This Hayes Valley champagne bar is the ultimate first date/girls night spot. The space is chic and sexy with lots of gold, marble, and greenery, and the menu includes over 100 bottles of champagne. (If you try 100 of them, you get inducted into the “100 Club” and get your very own Riddler bomber jacket with your name embroidered in gold.) There’s also a chambong (a bong of bubbles) and “A Joan,” which is a glass of cheap house wine filled to the brim for when you’ve “had a hard day.” The Riddler also offers snacks that pair well with sparkling wine, including tater tot waffles, cheese and charcuterie boards, caviar and free serve-yourself popcorn.

Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant

Bar, Mexican, $$$
Tommy’s may seem like a surprising addition to this list since it’s in an old-school bar in a residential neighborhood, but when it comes to tequila selection and quality margaritas, there’s no better spot in the city. Sure, it means you have to go all the way to the Outer Richmond, but a trip to the unassuming bar marked with a red neon sign is well worth it for anyone looking to not just sample a range of tequilas, but to also learn about them from the knowledgeable bartenders who are happy to share their expertise as you sip.

Trick Dog

Bar, Cocktail Bar, Restaurant, American

If there’s one bar in SF everyone will agree should be on a “Best Bars in SF” list, it’s Trick Dog. The incredibly creative menu changes every six months and each iteration is as, if not more, impressive than the one before it. Past menus have included an aviation-themed safety card like you’d find at the back of airplane seats, a rhyming children’s book, and a cookbook built in collaboration with popular San Francisco chefs – and each one has been well worth tasting through in its entirety.

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