Finding your kind of bar in San Francisco has a lot to do with which district it’s in. The following is a general description of what types of bars you’re likely to find throughout the city:
- Marina/Cow Hollow bars attract a yuppie post-collegiate crowd that often gets very rowdy.
- Young, trendy hipsters who would turn their noses up at the Marina frequent the Mission District haunts. Look out for plaid, skinny jeans, and beanies.
- Haight-Ashbury caters to eclectic neighborhood cocktailers and beer-lovers.
- The Tenderloin, though still dangerous at night (take a taxi), is now a hot spot for serious mixologists and has its fair share of dark, cozy dives.
- Tourists mix with conventioneers at downtown pubs.
- North Beach serves all types, mostly tourists and post-collegiate crowds.
- Russian Hill’s Polk Street has become the new Marina/Cow Hollow scene.
- The Castro caters to gay locals and tourists.
SoMa offers an eclectic mix from sports bars to DJ lounges.
Cocktails with a View
Harry Denton’s Starlight Room -- There are few better places to raise a stylish drink with an unspoiled panorama of one of the world’s greatest cities. Most customers stay for dinner and dancing, but it’s possible to simply come and enjoy a drink at the bar (though on nights when there’s live music, you’ll pay a cover charge). Tip: Come dressed to impress (no casual jeans, open-toed shoes for men, or sneakers), or you’ll be turned away at the door. Atop the Sir Francis Drake Hotel, 450 Powell St., btw. Post and Sutter sts., 21st floor, harrydenton.com, tel. 415/395-8595. Tues–Thurs 6pm–midnight, Fri–Sat 5pm–2am, Sun 11am–3:30pm. Cover $10.
Top of the Mark -- A 19th-floor bar doesn’t sound like much, but considering it’s in a building atop Nob Hill—and one of the most famous bars in the country—both the view and the mood are high. Floor-to-ceiling windows take in the kind of panorama that makes people want to move to this city: Golden Gate Bridge, Coit Tower, Alcatraz, and beyond, all in a smart, swanky setting. The operators regularly close the space for private parties, so call ahead to make sure it’s open. From Wednesday to Saturday, musical acts are booked—mostly jazz or other nice background styles—and cover charges are surprisingly cheap. Dinner is pricey, so we recommend just coming by for the tipple. In the Mark Hopkins InterContinental, 1 Nob Hill Place (btw. California and Mason sts.), topofthemark.com, tel. 415/616-6199. Sun 10am–2pm (brunch) and 5–11:30pm, Mon–Thurs 4:30–11:30pm, Fri–Sat 4pm–12:30am. Cover on entertainment nights $5–$15.
Hidden Gem off the Beaten Path
Dog Patch—the gritty but increasingly popular artistic and industrial hub south of AT&T Park—is San Francisco’s most exciting up-and-coming neighborhood, and Third Rail, at 628 20th St. (btw. 3rd St. and Illinois St.; thirdrailbarsf.com; tel. 415/252-7966), is the ultimate example why. Its railroad theme, simple industrial design, and relaxed atmosphere pay homage to the area’s history, while unusual craft cocktails embrace the city’s artisanal cocktail trend. Instead of nuts, nosh on homemade jerky by the ounce, while sipping creative cocktails like the Mount Tam, named for the local gin used in the refreshing concoction—it smells and tastes like the moist pine needles (in a good way!) from the nearby mountain. Other libations, like the Fireside Sour and Bone Machine, experiment with texture and lesser-used liquors. Tell the bartenders what kind of flavors you like, and they’ll skillfully deliver without a hint of pretention. It’s open Sunday through Wednesday, 3pm to midnight; Thursday to Saturday 3pm to 2am.
Have a Cigar
Smoking is generally prohibited in San Francisco bars and restaurants, but if you are looking for a fine stogie with a tumbler of rare scotch—and a legal smoking room in which to enjoy your treasures—step inside the Occidental Cigar Club (471 Pine St., at Kearney St., occidentalcigarclub.com, tel. 415/834-0485). Though the name implies it is a private club, Occidental is open to the public. A varied selection of premium cigars makes good souvenirs to remember your time in the Sin City of the West. It’s open daily from noon to 1am.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.