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The Best Cocktail Bars and Lounges in San Francisco, 2021

The best cocktail bars and lounges in San Francisco, according to Yelp.

By The Smoking Chair Editors  |  2021

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San Francisco is flooded with incredible nightlife options. There are literally hundreds of great options in The City for that perfect spot to celebrate with a beverage. In fact, there are too many. We scoured Yelp to save you hours — you’re welcome — and here are fifteen of the best.

San Francisco is known for its cool summers, fog, steep rolling hills, eclectic mix of architecture, and landmarks, including the Golden Gate Bridge, cable cars, the former Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, Fisherman’s Wharf, and its Chinatown district. The city, and the surrounding Bay Area, is a global center of the sciences and arts and is home to a number of educational and cultural institutions, such as the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), the University of San Francisco (USF), San Francisco State University(SFSU), the de Young Museum, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the SFJAZZ Center, the San Francisco Symphony and the California Academy of Sciences.

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San Francisco

#1: Brew @ 382

386 Grand Ave

$ • Bars

Great spot to grab drinks after work!

My coworkers and I came by around 5 on a Thursday and the tables were about half full. There’s seating both outside and inside, and the inside of the bar is really nice, with a very modern and clean feel.

There’s a great selection of local craft beers and wine. The beers on tap rotate pretty often, last time I got a sour cranberry from Barebottle that was pretty tasty. There’s also currently a dark cherry cider that’s super good, would recommend if you like something sweet. You can check what beers they have available with this link:

untappd.com/v/brew-382/9…

There’s also some tasty bar food here. The garlic fries / fries have some great texture, perfectly crispy and soft on the inside. The calamari was also pretty good. It’s pretty standard food but it’s made well and very satisfying to have with a drink.

There was only one person working the tap but service was pretty fast since it wasn’t busy. Overall, a great spot to grab a beer. There’s a nice ambiance and buzz of people enjoying time with each other.

— Review by Lanna T.

San Francisco

#2: Trade Routes

1750 Polk St

Bars

Coolest new bar in Pork Gulch! Amazing ambiance and super inspired cocktail menu. Prices are fair, and the coolest part is that they do a Happy Hour with a new global drink each week.

This week – Italian Negronis. Next week – Greece is the country! Will be back to try it out 🙂

Perfect spot for a date or drinks with a friend. I hear they’re even adding big-screen TVs in a few weeks to play Monday Night Football

— Review by Emily C.

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Flight Deals: SFO ↔ HNL | HNL ↔ SFO

San Francisco

#3: Lion’s Den Bar and Lounge

57 Wentworth Pl

$$ • Lounges, Piano Bars, Music Venues

What a great spot to meet up with friends, have a drink, listen to good music, dance a bit and party!  I am not that familiar with Chinatown so I was not sure whether or not Wentworth Place was an actual street or alley.  No matter as it’s all about the destination in this case.  

You are first greeted by the doorman/bouncer who confirms you are vaccinated (commonplace nowadays).  The entrance is inviting as you come upon a large wall hanging depicting a bird and dragon, along with a shrine in honor of ancestors, etc.  This main floor has a bar and a retro sitting area in case you want to relax and get away from the fun downstairs.  While sitting and sipping on your drink, definitely take in the old school photos from “the good ole days”.  

Walk down a flight of stars and you are greeted to a modern, speakeasy type space where you either stand, sit at the bar, or partake in one of the reserved tables.  Note that the reserved tables have a minimum purchase requirement of food (from a neighboring joint) and drinks.  We were here when a friend of mines band was playing.  The music was on point, the crowd lively, with all having a great time.  After the band played, a DJ came on to keep the party going!

— Review by Gene D.

San Francisco

#4: Iron Horse Cocktails

25 Maiden Ln

$ • Cocktail Bars, Lounges

Came in for a quick drink before a spa appointment last night.  It appeared to be a pretty dim, sexy bar, so I was a little nervous to go in by myself.  But I was so pleasantly surprised by how welcoming it was!  Anita stirred me up an absolutely perfect dirty martini with bleu cheese stuffed olives.  The cocktail was served in a beautiful chilled crystal martini glass (it almost looked like a Waterford toasting flute) and the olive pick was adorned with a little crystal bead.  Beautiful details.  The best part, though was chit chatting with Anita!  She was so super sweet and fun to chat with, she made me feel right at home.   Can’t wait to go back!!!

— Review by Emma H.

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Flight Deals: SFO ↔ LAS | LAS ↔ SFO

San Francisco

#5: Mersea

699 Ave Of The Palms

$ • American (Traditional), Bars

We stopped by here for lunch to escape the business of the city.
We ordered Shaved Mexican street corn, local halibut salad, and clam chowder. I felt the food were elevated, better than expected and the view is amazing!
I would come here again to relax and recharge.

— Review by Betty H.

Top Dishes: Fish and Chips, Fish Tacos, Roasted Chicken Breast, Clam Chowder, Jersey Girl Sandwich, Double Stacked Cheeseburger, Fish Chowder

San Francisco

#6: Pacific Cocktail Haven

580 Sutter St

$ • Cocktail Bars

One of the coolest bars I’ve been to in SF.

Been there during the holidays and it does not disappoint. The decorations are amazing, service is on point, and cocktails are outstanding!

I know due to covid, they’ve been following the mandates and have done a great job. Outdoor seating looks amazing and I hope to check it out again once things settle back down.

Great work to the team at PCH!

Happy drinking!

Maria

“High on Life. High on Food.”

— Review by Maria T.

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Flight Deals: SFO ↔ SJD | SJD ↔ SFO

San Francisco

#7: Hawthorn

46 Geary St

$ • Cocktail Bars, Lounges, Venues & Event Spaces

The night was young as we enter this swanky bar for the first time.  It was a very nice nightclub. The Deejays were off-the-hook this past Friday!

TonyTone and TruthLive were spinning that night.  The music was hot I tell you, HOT! So hot, there was a couple making out by the dance floor all night.  

The drinks were super yummy and got me sweating and pulling in all kinds of people to dance with. People are so warm and friendly there. It could also be that with vaccination checks, everyone feels more at ease dancing with strangers again.

Whatever it was, Girls’ Night Out past Friday was the best!

— Review by Moua L.

San Francisco

#8: The Pawn Shop

993 Mission St

$ • Speakeasies, Wine Bars, Tapas Bars

My first speakeasy! Had to look twice to make sure this was the right place. Aptly-named, because it literally looks like a pawn shop from the outside. After pawning some items/telling a joke/showing off a skill, the doorman allows you to enter. The doorman was very friendly, entertaining, and helpful.

Once inside the actual restaurant, you have your pickings of tapas to choose from. Some of the items we ordered: seasonal sangria, pulpo with potato fingerlings and cherry tomatoes, jamón serrano, fried cauliflower, chicken skewer with pickled cucumbers and yogurt sauce. Each dish used fresh ingredients and were plated beautifully.

The interior definitely has that old-timey bar vibe. There’s even a jukebox (non-operational by the way) on the upstairs balcony seating area

Wait staff checked in on us frequently. Even the chef stopped by to check in on us.

The whole experience was a lot of fun and the food was delicious!

— Review by Nina Z.

Top Dishes: Patatas Bravas, Bacon Wrapped Dates, Chicken Skewers, Hanger Steak Skewers, Coca De Sobrasada, Pan Con Tomate, Fried Calamari, Coliflor Con Romesco, Mushroom Croquettes, Oysters

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San Francisco

#9: Shotwell’s

3349 20th St

$ • Pubs

We got 2 pitchers of beer and had a great time here. Great vibes and music. They have a few pinball machines, a dart board, and a pool table. They have both indoor and ourdoor seating which is nice.

We played one game of pool which cost $2. Was well worth it!

This is a great spot to hang out with your friends!

— Review by Ethan C.

San Francisco

#10: Holy Water

309 Cortland Ave

$ • Cocktail Bars, Beer Bar

I’m in love with this bar. Holy water offers classic and modern cocktails from coconut and mezcal to vieux carre and sazeracs. The bartenders are talented and unpretentious, The atmosphere dim lit and intimate. A very well thought out establishment, I’m happy to have you here Holy water.

— Review by Marian B.

San Francisco

#11: Last Rites

718 14th St

$ • Cocktail Bars, Tiki Bars

Tried to go in during a Friday 8pm a couple months ago and wasn’t even allowed in and was quoted hours of wait time … tried again another Friday shortly after they opened at 6 pm and there was plenty of seating, and the bar area was almost entirely empty. Kali ma’s doom is perfect if you don’t like strong cocktails, drink was super sweet and the watermelon and marshmallow toppings say it all. They also have many options for those who like stronger drinks, there’s a couple on the menu that are limit 2 per customer. Great atmosphere with a really cool plane crash theme in all the decor, and not too cramped like other tiki bars in the city.

— Review by Judy S.

San Francisco

#12: Third Rail

628 20th St

$ • Cocktail Bars

We needed a place we could come to prior to our dinner reservations, so we popped on Yelp to provide the recommendation. I am NEVER disappointed by Yelp and this place has turned to my hidden gem of 2021.

When you approach the place, you’ll notice the parklets offering a few outdoor dining tables. Inside, the place is low lit, dark wooden panels, large clocks on the wall, and then there’s the bar area. The bar is lit up and definitely the attention focus. It’s filled with tons of bottles of spirits and also a “Wall of Jerky.” What is this place?! A quick search online reveals that this place is known for their cocktails and oddly enough, their jerky. When we approached the bar, the mixologists were hard at work, creating orders, but super personable! I can’t for the life of me, remember their names but there were two gentlemen running the bar and truly the highlight of experience. They were nice, funny and super patient with us as searched for our drinks.

As for our drinks and food, here’s what we got:
Each jerky ounce is about $4.50. We got three to try: the rope a dope, Sonoma and Mighty. They are served on a wooden platter with butcher paper lined on the bottom and a cute stamp on the paper with the type of jerky you ordered – nice touch!  
– Mighty Meat – black pepper, paprika, coriander
– Sonoma – smoked beef, ginger, brown sugar, onion, soy sauce (from Sonoma County Meat Co.)
– Rope a Dope – rope style jerky with brown sugar and garlic
My favorites were the sonoma and rope a dope. They were complex, easy to chew and had a hint of sweetness that made the flavor dynamic. Great taste! We loved it so much, we went home with a few ounces of each. FWIW, the bartenders mentioned that the Sonoma, Sriracha, and rope dope are made from Sonoma Jerky Company; the rest are made from the owner of this bar.

We also got the Evil Twin cocktail for $13. It’s made with Mezcal tequila, aperol, grapefruit, lemon, habanero and topped with a lemon rind slice. OH EM GEE – this cocktail was fantastic. Loved that the mezcal was prominent and yet delicate. The grapefruit and lemon citrus helped to tone the tequila flavor down. It’s served in a coupe cocktail glass and so so good! I enjoyed every minute of my THREE servings of this.

Listen, don’t sleep on Dogpatch. It’s up and coming and has some really great businesses like Third Rail. This place is a gem and I can’t wait to return. Our bartenders gave us a token for a free drink, so that we would return. Token or not, we’ll definitely be back!

— Review by Rockne H.

San Francisco

#13: Stookey’s Club Moderne

895 Bush St

$ • Cocktail Bars

We were heading elsewhere when recalled our hotel staff recommending this place.  So we went in and there was Kenny, a bartender extraordinaire. I wanted a digestif and my other half wanted something with bourbon. Kelly asked us a couple of questions and came up with two outstanding drinks….a Brown Derby for one and mine had Amaro and Mezcal. Two absolutely perfect balanced drinks with the perfect amount of booze. It’s really good to have an expert craftsman like Kelly creating exactly what you want and need.

— Review by Keith J.

San Francisco

#14: Exploratorium After Dark

Pier 15

$ • Bars, Museums

What’s better than the Exploratorium during the day? The Exploratorium After Dark!

Adults only + alcohol is truly the only thing that can make the Exploratorium better than it usually is. The Exploratorium After Dark (EAD) series features most, if not all Exploratorium offerings, and there is nearly always a theme that brings in a few more attractions (usually booths or shows).

I’ve been to EAD twice, once for a “Future Foods” event and once for a Glow event.

At the Future Foods event, I learned about cellular seafood with Finless Foods, about sustainable agriculture with CUESA, about smart gardens with Kijani Grows, about vertical farming with Green Skies Vertical Farms, and listened to institute for the Future’s Rebecca Chesney talk about recipes for the next decade. I also re-tried the vegan Impossible Burger, tried chips made of crickets, and got a free persimmon on the way out!

The Glow event just had cool lighting and lasers and stuff…it could have had a lot more that I missed, but it didn’t seem much different than a themeless EAD.

I’ve been wanting to draw with that weird pendulum machine for a while but there are always too many people in line. Maybe one day…

Oh and although there is alcohol, keep in mind that it’s kinda pricey and there are only special drinks on themed nights.

— Review by Colby D.

San Francisco

#15: Lost and Found

1439 Taraval St

$ • Cocktail Bars, Venues & Event Spaces

Lost & Found is my fav SF bar to 1) get drunk and 2) eat after getting drunk at.  I’m not really a mixed drinks type of gal, but they have pretty creative options here! You can also buy bottles if you’re into that.

Their bar food: P H E N O M E N A L. My favorites are the tomyum wings, mushroom risotto, shishito peppers, and birria tacos —  all sooooo good and come in very generous portions. I’m salivating reminiscing about the food.

Chill atmosphere, cute (IG/TikTok worthy)  interior. The bartenders are always super friendly and personable. It’s also a perfect place for game day! Lost & Found is definitely a staple in the sunset district.

— Review by Nancy C.

San Francisco

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