- Natalie Garnett
If you’re ready to up your cool factor, you’re ready for a San Francisco speakeasy. These bars are modern twists on the prohibition parties that boomed in the 1920s. While all these establishments are legal, they still have a bit of a nod to the naughty.
A block away from Montgomery Bart sits a shop front with a few typewriters and an unassuming door. Walking inside, you descend down the stairway into an expansive underground lounge with velvet curtains and heavy mood lighting. Welcome to Local Edition. Based on the booming newspaper business of the mid-20th century, this modern-day speakeasy is scattered with printing presses, typewriters, and masses of vintage tabloids. The signature cocktails are a bit pricey, but seeing that the bartenders, dressed in suspenders, don’t hold back on the bourbon, nobody is complaining. Tables can be reserved beforehand online, though there is plenty of standing room — something the happy hour crowd takes full advantage of come Friday afternoon. Go on a night when there is live jazz music — you’ll be transported to a different era.
Local Edition, 691 Market St, San Francisco, CA, USA, +1 415 795 1375
Alchemist Bar and Lounge
With black and white silent films projected on exposed brick walls and a robot repurposed from old metal guarding the door, stepping into Alchemist is like entering an alternate, steampunk universe. The two-story venue features a bar and lounge area on the first level and an overlook up top. Alchemist is often less crowded than other similar bars and offers cocktails that are as stiff as they are delicious — they are specialty cocktails, so be prepared to wait a few minutes for your drink. For those who are easily bored by chit-chat, a shuffleboard table awaits play.
Alchemist Bar and Lounge, 679 3rd St, San Francisco, CA, USA, +1 415 746 9968
Bourbon & Branch
At the run down front door on the corner of O’Farrell and Jones, you slip the man a password — welcome to Bourbon & Branch. With dim candle lighting and a strict no cell phone policy, this speakeasy offers an intimate vibe for couples and close friends. Walking past the long bar, you will be seated in a room with tall, narrow booths that create private spaces for you to sip and savor. While they, of course, offer an outstanding selection of whiskeys, their entire specialty cocktail menu is superb, each drink being specially crafted by one of the two knowledgeable mixologists. While you’re only allowed a stay of two hours tops, the Library, a standing room bar that can be entered through a secret bookcase, awaits at the back.
Bourbon & Branch, 501 Jones St, San Francisco, CA, USA, +1 415 346 1735
Wilson & Wilson
This is a speakeasy within another speakeasy. Need we say more? Connected to Bourbon & Branch by a narrow hallway, Wilson & Wilson seats about 20 and requires reservations far in advance. Like its brother bar, each reservation is accompanied with a password for entrance. The space is disguised as a detective agency, and if you order the tasting, the drinks menu is presented in an envelope as a three course meal. Each visitor gets to choose a liquid ‘appetizer,’ ‘main,’ and ‘dessert,’ all of which are crafted to perfection by the well-trained bartenders. An intimate experience, Wilson & Wilson is perfect for a small group of friends who want to spend a luxurious night out.
The Hideout at Dalva
If you find yourself at Dalva in the Mission, head to the back room to drink handcrafted cocktails in a seductive space. This is the Hideout, a smaller, ‘secret’ bar of the Dalva establishment. Head here with someone you hope to get cozy with, and after you’ve grabbed your drinks, cuddle up in one of the corner booths. If weary of what to order, give the bartender your preferences, and he’ll whip something up that meets your needs. You can also go easy on yourself and order the specialty cocktail of the night. There’s only one rule: no vodka.
Dalva/Hideout, 3121 16th St, San Francisco, CA, USA, +1 415 252 7740