5 San Francisco Bars Locals Love

From neighborhood dives to Tiki bars to craft cocktail hubs, the city has a wealth of options.

By Jenna Scatena, ContributorJuly 5, 2017
By Jenna Scatena, ContributorJuly 5, 2017, at 9:00 a.m.
U.S. News & World Report

5 San Francisco Bars Locals Love

Waterbar exterior with Golden Gate Bridge

Waterbar boasts large windows with up-front views of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and Treasure Island.(Courtesy of Waterbar)

If you're looking to grab a drink in San Francisco, you'll find the city's bar scene is as diverse as its residents, with seemingly as many options. Even so, a few clear winners tend to stick out. Whether you're looking to blend in with the locals at a neighborhood haunt or enjoy a well-crafted cocktail in a romantic setting, U.S. News tapped a few in-the-know experts to help narrow your choices. Here's where concierges at some of San Francisco's top hotels said to go.

Trick Dog

To enjoy the inventive cocktails at Trick Dog, you'll have to head to the Mission District. There, you'll find hip locals crowding the industrial-chic bar in the early evenings while they flip through the menus – which are themselves a draw. Trick Dog’s clever menu gets revamped with a new theme semiannually, and recently, the refresh was inspired by a citywide mural project that the bar's owners coordinated.

Whatever the menu topic, the craft cocktails are always at the top of their game. Try the Tunstall & Plock, a mix of Don Q Anejo and Foursquare Port Cask Finish rums with white chocolate, tapache, pineapple, rye berries and lime. The bar menu serves a mix of healthy and comfort foods, like the popular kale salad with avocado, Parmesan, pepitos and slow-cooked egg yolk dressing, or the banana leaf shrimp dumplings with lemongrass, ginger, Thai chili and mint. It's no surprise Trick Dog was a semifinalist for a coveted James Beard Award for the Outstanding Bar Program category in 2016.

Bar Agricole

Bar Agricole(Colin Price)

A James Beard Award heavyweight, Bar Agricole has earned several nominations for Outstanding Bar Program and one win for Outstanding Restaurant Design. Located in the bustling South of Market, or SoMa, neighborhood, Bar Agricole is a go-to spot for after-work – or post-sightseeing – drinks.

"Bar Agricole has one of the top mixologists in the city. It's a cool environment," says Nancy K. DuBois, chief concierge at Cavallo Point.

The approachable, yet elegant, cocktail bar sets the tone with plenty of natural light, contemporary decor and inventive drinks, making it feel more like a restaurant than a typical bar. It has modernist accents, like wood-paneled walls and vintage swivel bar stools, and the cozy covered patio outside has ample heating. All this draws a well-heeled crowd who come to mingle with friends or even host an informal work meeting. Enjoy it all with a cocktail in hand, like the Whiz Bang, a mix of Scotch whisky, dry vermouth, grenadine and absinthe.

Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar

"The top of Nob Hill is a great cocktail destination," says Tom Wolfe, chief concierge and director of heritage at the Fairmont San Francisco. "Make the rounds at a few iconic places famous for fancy cocktails." Among them, Wolfe says, is the Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar, located in the lower level of his hotel.

This over-the-top Tiki hideaway features live music, a dance floor and rum-laced island drinks. The music stage is situated on a thatch-covered barge in the middle of a pool of water at the bar's center. With its super kitschy Polynesian-style decor, the restaurant and bar draw locals who want to pretend they're on vacation – if only for the evening. The menu features classic Tiki cocktails like mai tais, as well as the establishment's own tropical-inspired drinks. Groups love to order the potent A Monk Walks Into A Luau (a punch bowl is $32 for two and $56 for four) with cachaca, herbal liqueur, pineapple, grapefruit, lime, coconut and pomegranate. For an extra $12, you can have any beverage served in a freshly cored pineapple.

Horsefeather

Horsefeather(Deb Leal)

This Alamo Square haunt is a classic San Francisco neighborhood bar with the vibe of an artisanal cocktail lair. Inside, you'll find lots of locals from the neighborhood and a few others who have ventured from farther away to get there. "Horsefeather on Divisadero is a favorite," says Jose Lopez, chief concierge at Palace Hotel, A Luxury Collection Hotel. "A small, little cocktail bar with a lot of locals and great service but a relaxed ambiance."

The atmosphere is stylish but laid-back – a great place for a low-key drink after exploring the neighborhood and snapping photos in front of San Francisco's iconic painted ladies, the brilliantly colored Victorian homes. The dog-friendly heated patio has ample seating and a handsome wood bar. If you can't find what you're looking for on the menu, the friendly mixologists take requests, though a local go-to for an early evening boost is the Blackjack – a mix of Green Chartreuse Barrel Aged Whiskey from Mosswood Distilleries, bourbon, Sibona Amaro, maple and Benedictine. Don't overlook the ever-changing gourmet bar food menu, which features dishes like stinging nettle agnolotti with homemade ricotta, lemon, garlic, breadcrumbs and chili oil, and the tuna poke bowl with unagi sauce.

Waterbar

Waterbar(Courtesy of Waterbar)

When it comes to the best happy hour views in the city, Waterbar is at the top of the list. Perched on the edge of the Embarcadero waterfront, the upscale establishment boasts large picture windows with up-front views of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and Treasure Island. Go for happy hour when Waterbar serves $1.05 oysters and $8 glasses of prosecco (get there early, as it fills up quickly). Linger through the evening as the sun sets and The Bay Lights, an art installation on the Bay Bridge, flickers on.

To experience more of what San Francisco has to offer, check out the U.S. News Travel guide.

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Jenna Scatena, Contributor

Jenna Scatena writes about San Francisco for U.S. News & World Report. Her work has appeared ...  Read more

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