San Francisco’s 12 Favorite Bars

Chic interiors at Charmaine's Rooftop Lounge at the San Francisco Proper Hotel | Credit: Charmaine's Rooftop Lounge

SF boasts an enticing bar scene with award-winning cocktail programs, often starring locally made spirits and seasonal ingredients from the farmers’ markets. At these 12 standout spots, sip on trendy espresso martinis, natural wines, and pints of craft beer and cider. Expect plenty of delicious food to pair your libations with, whether it’s a rum punch and steak combo or Aperol spritz with tinned fish. Here are a dozen of the most prized bars in San Francisco—plus an honorable mention across the Bay.

Cold Drinks Bar (Chinatown)

The Sometimes Old Fashioned cocktail at Cold Drinks Bar | Credit: Cold Drinks Bar

Within the cavernous China Live emporium, Cold Drinks hides away as a secluded cocktail bar on the second story, with leather booths, black and gold accents, and a view of the Broadway tunnel. Given the speakeasy vibes, perhaps not surprisingly, the name of the drinks game here is Scotch, whether washed in luxurious duck fat or mixed with tropical flavors such as coconut and pineapple. 

Charmaine’s Rooftop Lounge (Market)

A rare rooftop view in San Francisco | Credit: Charmaine’s Rooftop Lounge

In a city with few rooftop bars—perhaps thanks to the fog—Charmaine’s rises above the crowd. Sitting at the top of the Proper Hotel, a flatiron with views up and down Market, it’s a lounge scene with couples cozying up to firepits. With a cocktail menu from the BVHospitality team, the same crew behind the trendy bar Trick Dog, and small plates courtesy of chef Jason Fox, former chef of MICHELIN-starred Commonwealth, expect an exceptional Pimm’s Cup and burger. 

Boulevard (Embarcadero)

Boulevard is a San Francisco classic at the foot of the Bay Bridge, surrounded by lapping waves and twinkling lights. In 2021, the restaurant was treated to a full renovation courtesy of acclaimed designer Ken Fulk, who expanded the bar area, amplifying the Belle Epoque ambience with velvet bar stools and twisted lead lamps. Local cocktail legend Greg Lindgren of 15 Romolo consulted on the new drinks menu, putting playful twists on cocktails such as the French 75 and, of course, the Boulevardier. 

Chezchez (Mission)

The latest opening from the acclaimed Trick Dog team flipped the former Bon Voyage space in the Mission in favor of a fresh bar serving spritzes and tinned fish. Chezchez is a Europe-inspired cafe spilling out on an open parklet. The drinks list features natural wines, spritzes, and bloody Marys, while the snack action includes tinned fish, cured meats, complex cheeses, and fried potato puffs with fancy ranch dip. For those who prefer to sip at home, the bar also offers takeout. 

Club Deluxe (Upper Haight)

Smack dab at the historic crossroads of Haight and Ashbury, this old school jazz house glows red, pulling in locals and tourists alike. It pours out classic cocktails and live music nightly, and there’s a surprisingly delicious and affordable pizza menu, too. No reservations are necessary here—just shimmy right in. 

Sushi Sato (Tenderloin)

Cocktails at Sushi Sato are infused with East Asian flavors such as oolong and shiso. | Credit: Sushi Sato

The Mins Group, also behind Sushi Hon in the Mission, opened their most ambitious project yet, debuting a triple-restaurant space in the Tenderloin in fall 2021. At the center, Sushi Sato boasts a full cocktail bar, showcasing more than 80 types of whisky, plus cocktails infused with East Asian flavors such as oolong, shiso, lychee, and more. Drinkers can snack on smaller sushi tasting sets and kick back in the modern and minimalist space. 

Perry’s – Embarcadero (Marina)

Perry’s is an old-school bar and grill where drinkers have been sipping martinis at blue-and-white checkered tables since 1969. Though not technically a sports bar, it’s still a prime spot to catch a game. The standbys are the manhattans and old fashioneds, which pair well with an excellent burger—although some prefer to up the ante with a filet mignon and wedge salad. 

Mr. Digby’s (Noe Valley)

Vibrant drinks at Mr. Digby’s | Credit: Mr. Digby’s

Noe Valley residents were left without a cocktail bar for a long time, but that’s no longer the case: Wife-and-husband Kristen and Mike McCaffery knew what the neighborhood needed. Mr. Digby’s opened in spring 2021 as a handsome black-and-white tavern, named after Mike’s childhood sheepdog. Spicy mezcal margaritas or dirty martinis come with fully loaded deviled eggs and spinach dip, slathered into sourdough cut hasselback-style. Under OpenTable experiences, check out the nightly dinner specials and drag brunches. 

Little Shamrock (Sunset)

SF has a deep-rooted history of Irish immigrant bars, and the Little Shamrock might be the oldest in the city, dating back to 1893. Though it’s a little rough around the edges, the spot is an emerald gem. Walk right in from Golden Gate Park (no reservations are necessary), order a pint at the burnished bar, and find a seat among the Tiffany lamps, live ferns, and vintage armchairs. There are 18 beers on tap, plenty of popcorn to munch on, and much fun to be had with darts and board games. 

Balboa Cafe – SF (Cow Hollow)

A brunch spread at Balboa | Credit: Balboa

More than a century old, the Balboa is still a buzzy brunch scene. Regulars order consecutive rounds of nitro smooth espresso martinis—so popular they’re on tap—along with sweet and spicy bloody Marys. The food is clubby but top-notch: the fan favorite house burger arrives on a sweet baguette with shoestring fries. 

Birba (Hayes Valley)

It would be remiss to not enjoy vino this close to wine country—Birba, just one of the many excellent wine bars in San Francisco, is tucked in a garden oasis in Hayes Valley. Sure, the shop is a bit of a squeeze, but it stretches onto a leafy patio, where drinkers sip on Italian varieties and snack on Spanish boquerones. No reservations are required. 

Palmetto (Oakland)

Tropical vibes abound at Palmetto | Credit: Palmetto

Palmetto, opened by the team behind Kon-Tiki in Oakland, launched mid-pandemic. Retro Palm Springs accents—black-and-white checkered floors, powder blue booths, a hot pink neon sign, and an abundance of greenery—abound here. The drinks have tiki undertones—expect strong rum cocktails, such as a house punch washed in milk and spiked with absinthe, which pair well with meaty plates accompanied by beef-fat fries. Palmetto also offers a couple of special experiences, including Sunday suppers. 

Becky Duffett is a food writer living and eating in San Francisco. Follow her on Instagram at @beckyduffett.

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