Nob Hill’s watering holes range from sophisticated to shabby, and each one has its own particular appeal. Whether the mood calls for a kitschy-cool tiki joint, a classy San Francisco hotel bar, a taproom brimming with craft beer choices or a sleek lounge pouring inventive cocktails, Nob Hill’s bar scene can quench any thirst.
The story of the Cinch Saloon provides a crash course in Polk Street’s evolution. The facade is a remnant of the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition, which gave part of the street a cowboy movie makeover. Three decades later, a plethora of gay bars reflected Polk Street’s status as the city’s center of gay life. As the sole holdover from that era and one of the oldest gay bars in San Francisco, the Cinch Saloon is well worth a visit. Inside, televisions broadcast beefcake photo reels alongside Warriors and Giants games, and erotic artwork hangs beneath mounted cattle horns.
The selection at Liquid Gold, part taproom and part bottle shop, spans the spectrum of brew hues from pale blonde to espresso. With a tap list 30 beers strong, custom tasting flight combinations abound. You can also transform your brew of choice into a beer float with the addition of a scoop of Humphrey Slocombe Tahitian vanilla ice cream. Don’t forget to check the cold cases for a few craft beers to take home.
At Harper & Rye the beamed ceilings, herringbone plank floor and industrial railings befit a modern-rustic destination for craft cocktails, and the drinks are just as carefully considered as the decor. Deft use of bitters, herbs and spices adds depth to each concoction, and precisely calibrated recipes keep sweet, spicy and savory notes in balance. As weekend nights get later, the line outside gets longer and the music inside gets louder. Go on a weeknight or early on the weekend to sip and chat in a more relaxed environment. Either way, the drinks will be stellar.
The aptly named Nook, at the corner of Hyde and Jackson, pours coffee by day and wine, beer and cocktails by night, and its cafe menu includes tasty options for any hour. There’s a daily happy hour and sangria specials all day on Mondays, making Nook a solid, unfussy neighborhood staple. Nook | Courtesy of Nook
Even without a sign to announce its presence, Zeki’s Bar is an inviting oasis removed from the more heavily trafficked Polk and Hyde streets. Inside, dark blue-gray walls and a fireplace create a cozy vibe. A stuffed pheasant and ram serve as dueling bar mascots, while modern light fixtures provide a counterpoint to the hunting lodge decor. The beverage offerings will please cocktail connoisseurs, beer lovers and wine drinkers. Zeki’s Bar | Courtesy of Courtney Peter
The San Francisco bar scene guarantees neither space nor food, but Lower Nob Hill’s Hopwater Distribution delivers both. Mingle on the main level or retire to a mini booth on the mezzanine, a perfect spot to catch up with a friend. There’s no table service here. All orders are placed at the bar, where 31 gleaming copper taps pour California beers exclusively. When hunger strikes, a menu featuring tater tots, deviled eggs, salads and sandwiches stands at the ready. Hopwater Distribution | Courtesy of Courtney Peter
Even in wine-crazed California, a state that’s also home to more than 400 breweries, there’s room for an alternative beverage. Sample the fruits of the craft cider craze at Upcider, which opened in 2012 as San Francisco’s first cider bar. A wide variety of domestic offerings, as well as dry, complex varieties from England and Europe, showcases impressive range. Head to this second-floor cider house/gastropub to break out of your beer rut and watch the nightly shenanigans unfold below on Polk Street. Upcider | Courtesy of Courtney Peter