Best Bars in San Francisco
Our favorite watering holes in the city, from old-school dives to tiki faves to elegant lounges
The German-influenced bar menu is nice and hearty (the bratwurst with curried potatoes is a fave) and the constantly rotating list of foreign and domestic beers is always good for a pleasant discovery. But it’s the atmosphere—a converted lot at the edge of Hayes Valley strung with lights and packed with picnic tables—that’s the real charmer. San Francisco is not known for its outdoor dining (thank you, fog), so this cheerful gathering spot packs ‘em in on any warmish day. Kids welcome. 424 Octavia St.; biergartensf.com.
Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar
Home to pupu platters, Singapore Slings and, yes, an indoor lake, this classic tiki lounge in the Fairmont Hotel brings kitsch to a whole new level. Happy hour begins at 5:00; the tropical cocktails are $9 and the artificial thunderstorms are free. 950 Mason St.; tongaroom.com.
The Redwood Room
Modern glitz—art displayed on plasma screen and DJs every weekend—meets old school elegance—glowing redwood paneling and an enormous bar carved from a single tree—at this Union Square classic. The drinks are expensive and the food is minimal, but it’s still the chicest spot in town (fair warning: nix the sneakers and jeans) 495 Geary St.; redwoodroomsf.com.
This is a connoisseur’s bar—the word mixologist may finally apply—where the cocktails tend toward the exotic (ingredients might include things like dill, sharp cheddar or sandalwood) and the simple, updated comfort food takes a supporting role. The changing drink menu is inspired by a theme (Pantone, horoscopes, Chinatown). We don’t know what’s next, but we can guarantee it will be worth going to find out. 3010 20th St.; trickdogbar.com.
This rum-centric bar has a laid-back, Old Havana pirate vibe and more than 500 rums on the menu. Cocktails include tiki bar classics and modern rum concoctions (yes, there is a full bar for non-rum drinkers). But get there early; it only seats 49 and once it’s full the line outside can get long fast. 650 Gough St.; smugglerscovesf.com.
Yes, it’s touristy and yes, the drinks are not exactly what you’d call innovative (it’s a beer and well drink kind of joint). But snag a seat at the piano on a Friday or Saturday night, you will end up singing along to Elton John hits with your new best friends from all over the world. 33 Geary St.; leftyodouls.biz.