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Where to Drink Now in San Francisco

Craft cocktails and master mixologists are all the rage in the City by the Bay. Here are a few places you need to consider

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Pacific Cocktail Haven

It’s almost as if Kevin Diedrich is hiding in plain sight. The expert barman used to command the bars at BDK, Jasper’s, and Burritt Room before opening up Pacific Cocktail Haven, his own tiki-inspired bar near Union Square, which serves up reasonably priced cocktails to locals and tourists alike. Add to that the low-key interiors, and you might think he’s out to prove that all that really matters are the drinks. And his drinks really matter. Cocktail connoisseurs slip in to Pacific Cocktail Haven alongside disoriented tourists, ask Diedrich to mix them something special, and head to the quiet back room, away from the glow of neon above the bar. And they know that if they see Diedrich duck out from behind the bar, he’s probably heading to the basement for three different freezers of specialty styles of ice, including spears, shavings, and custom branded Pacific Cocktail Haven rocks. The latter show up in drinks like the Miso Old-Fashioned, a mix of miso-butter-infused Bacardi rum, Pommeau, and bitters. In the know or not, everyone gets the good stuff here. Showy bowls of punch like the Pimm’s Explosion may be crowd-pleasers, but with Pimm’s No. 1, Beefeater, ginger beer, fresh strawberries, cucumber, and mint, what’s not to love?

Bar Agricole

Is Bar Agricole the best bar in the city? It’s certainly in the top five, based on the groundbreaking cocktail program developed by bartender and owner Thad Vogler; the award-winning architecture and interior design by local favorite Aidlin Darling; and a daring menu centered around produce from nearby organic and biodynamic farms. Vogler used to bartend in Tokyo, and his obsession with Japanese precision shows. You’ll see influences of that in the hand-cut ice cubes he uses, and in Agricole’s glassware and aprons (all from Japan). The bar stocks a limited selection of 20 or 30 spirits, almost all small batch, and with a special focus on rum. Come for drinks, come for dinner, or come for brunch: the midday menu highlights include ricotta doughnuts with quince marmalade and a chicory salad with fuyu persimmon and house-made vinegar. Pro tips: In winter, book the private dining room (nicknamed the Grotto) for a seated, though still laid-back, dinner for up to 32 people; for an outdoor event, Bar Agricole’s covered and heated patio is perfect for larger, more casual groups. For lessons in liquor, check out the private spirits tastings that Vogler offers through IfOnly.

The Riddler

With the rise of the craft cocktail, sometimes it can feel as if the bubbles have been left behind, which is what makes the Riddler such an effervescent addition to the San Francisco scene. It’s a wine bar with a laser focus, offering more than 100 champagnes by the bottle and dozens of sparkling wines by the glass. The vibe is posh and playful inside the charming Hayes Valley building, which dates back to the 1800s. The ceilings were gold-leafed by the artist Caroline Lizarragara and the back bar is lined with vintage champagne buckets and glassware, including Zalto Burgundy stems and hand-cut Belarusian crystal coupes. Oh yes, and caviar. The menu is overflowing with it, from a generous scoop atop the signature tater tot waffles to an indulgent serving of Kaluga Hybrid on house-made potato chips with crème fraîche and chives.

True Laurel

If chef David Barzelay’s Michelin-starred restaurant Lazy Bear is the dinner party, True Laurel is the after-party. Barzelay opened this cocktail bar just a few blocks from Lazy Bear, and while it’s touted as a drinking establishment, it’s hard to ignore the stellar food disguised as bar bites. And unlike Lazy Bear, which requires a hard-to-come-by ticket to get in, to score a spot at True Laurel, simply walk through the door. Barzelay teamed up with spirits-whisperer Nicolas Torres to oversee the bar program, and the cocktails go head-to-head with the food. Original, exotic concoctions such as the A-Dilla, which marries aquavit with makrut lime leaf, coconut, passion fruit, pomegranate, and dill, is just as complex and satisfying as the hen-of-the-wood mushrooms with a sour cream–allium dip. And while the entire experience is currently still first come, first served, keep an eye on the bar’s eerily analog website (or better yet, follow it on Barzelay’s preferred medium, Twitter) to find out when the eight-seat cocktail tasting bar, which is sure to be stocked with rare bottles, will start taking reservations.

Sightglass

San Franciscans take their coffee seriously. Very seriously. The authenticity and provenance of beans matter to customers, and as a result, third-wave coffee companies abound here. Sightglass is one of the best independently owned and operated roasters. Brothers Justin and Jerad Morrison helped reinvent and redefine the city’s café scene when they opened their flagship SoMA brick-and-mortar coffee shop in 2011, adding lots of warm wood and matte Carrera marble to a warehouse space. Come for perfect cortados, pour-overs, and kouign-amann pastries, and watch the roasting process in the open space. Buy beans to bring home: Its single-origin offerings from Kenya, Ethiopia, Guatemala, and Colombia all stand out. Sightglass also sells an assortment of brew-it-at-home coffee accoutrements, from Japanese wood-handled kettles to chlorine-free filters. Don’t miss the affogato bar on the second level. Pro tip: True coffee geeks should call ahead to see about hour-long cupping classes (think winetasting for coffee). Sightglass also has shops on Divisadero Street, in the SFMOMA, at the Ferry Building Farmers’ Market, and in the Mission District.

San Francisco Proper Hotel

The San Francisco Proper Hotel is the hottest new hotel in town. The reason why? International grande dame of maximalism, designer Kelly Wearstler, revamped a down-and-out tourist hotel deep in the heart of the city, and established the Proper as a magnet for trendsetting visitors and locals. When guests arrive at the 131-room hotel and step inside the flatiron building, they’re treated to Wearstler’s signature pattern-on-pattern aesthetic. In the ground floor lobby, Wearstler sets the mood with salon-style seating areas using richly reupholstered vintage furnishings and Cubism-inspired paintings. Michael Adams, formerly of Central Kitchen, oversees the hotel’s main restaurant, Villon. And while the Proper isn’t the place for those looking for a Zen retreat, it is the place to order a Fifi the Flea cocktail (Tequila Ocho Plata, Ancho Reyes, Ancho Reyes Verde, grapefruit, honey, vanilla, lime, smoked salt) at Charmaine’s, the stylish rooftop bar. Between the fire pits and the bird’s-eye view of Market Street all the way to the bay, it’s no wonder the Proper has become the destination to see and be seen.

Liholiho Yacht Club

If you’ve never tried Spam, the canned cooked meat product, Liholiho Yacht Club is the place to finally take the plunge. Ask your server for the Spam musubi, slices of grilled Spam set atop a ball of sticky rice and wrapped in nori. Chef Ravi Kapur’s dishes are a playful mash-up of fresh California cuisine and the culinary traditions of his native Hawaii. To experience the full range of what the restaurant offers, order the Ohana table tasting menu, which features such favorites as duck liver toast with jalapeño and pickled pineapple alongside continent-hopping dishes like Cornish game hen katsu, with Japanese curry and daikon kimchi. And don’t forget the international language of cocktails—Liholiho’s bar program has made ordering all those fun island-themed concoctions a delicious proposition. One sip of the Pineapple Dance, made with plantation pineapple rum, Cynar, and freshly squeezed pineapple and lemon juices, and you may be inspired to do a little hula in your bar stool.

Tartine Manufactory

In 2002, pastry chef Elisabeth Prueitt and her husband, bread baker Chad Robertson, opened Tartine Bakery in San Francisco’s Mission District. Ever since, crowds of locals and tourists have lined up outside the artisanal bakery for country bread, morning buns, and croque monsieurs. In 2016, the couple expanded by opening Tartine Manufactory—a coffee shop, bakery, restaurant, and bar rolled into one—in a light-filled corner of the massive Heath Ceramics building. The Los Angeles–based design studio Commune collaborated with San Francisco architect Charles Hemminger to build out the 5,000-square-foot space, and the aesthetic is equal parts modern Scandinavian, rustic Japanese, and sunny Californian. All day long, the casual Manufactory turns out ingredient-first dishes: for breakfast, coddled eggs served with trout roe, horseradish, za’atar, and grilled bread; for dinner, California halibut crudo with kiwi, leeks, puffed rice, mint, and cilantro. The wine list includes a mix of local producers plus notable varietals from France, Italy, and Germany. The food presentation is as attractive and innovative as the space, and Prueitt and Robertson see the restaurant as a natural extension of their close collaborations with local farmers, artists, other chefs, and winemakers.

In Partnership with Afar.

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