These are the places you must have a cocktail in San Francisco

Take the Powell & Hyde Cable Car to The Buena Vista, and enjoy an Irish Coffee.
Photo:
flickr.com/photos/jpwillems

San Francisco’s cocktail scene is among the best in the U.S. Bars, from the gay variety to colorful hotel watering holes, and restaurants win awards for the original beverages that they create right in front of you.

What’s the key to success? Mixologists who create the tastiest signature “craft cocktails” use the finest and freshest quality ingredients, mixed with unique (sometimes unusual) mixers, and they know how to balance the combinations of flavors to achieve a drink that is truly special.

After much careful consideration, and a lot of drinking, we present to you our favorite spots in San Francisco to get the tastiest cocktails:

Alembic

 
 
 
 
 
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Alembic in the Haight-Ashbury district is one of the mainstays of San Francisco’s craft cocktail scene, and the cocktail menu can be dizzying at first glance. Bourbon, American whiskey, Scotch whisky, Japanese whisky, lots of gin and tequila and everything else, that arsenal of liquor bottles means the bartenders can make almost anything. A seasonal cocktail menu means repeated visits are necessary.

What to drink: Try a classic cocktail like a Blood & Sand. Smoky Scotch is cheered up by ingredients like sweet Heering cherry liqueur, and a bit of orange peel lit ablaze. A savory cocktail like the Southern Exposure is made with St. George Terroir Gin, distilled in the Bay area, with hints of California bay laurel in the mix of botanicals.

Blackbird

 
 
 
 
 
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On the northern border of the Castro, where the hipsters and the hispter gays mix and mingle, Blackbird serves house cocktails aged in oak barrels—that’s right, they make the cocktails and then put them back into barrels for a month or so. The craft game here is next-level.

What to drink: Try the Ryan Gosling, of course, with rye, lime, dark rum, and amaro, topped off by some cream soda and a photo of Ryan himself on a swizzle stick. It’s manly, yet gentle and sweet, just like Ryan himself, we imagine. If you’re day-drinking, Blackbird’s Bloody Mary is famously delicious.

Hi Tops

 
 
 
 
 
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A crowded sports bar in the middle of The Castro may not seem like a likely place for a craft cocktail. But the sporty bar staff at Hi Tops uses top shelf liquor and fresh juices, and they even make their own mixers from scratch. The Hi Tops craft cocktail menu is the real deal. And while you are enjoying your tasty beverage, perhaps a gogo dancer in a wrestling singlet will shimmy by on top of the bar.

What to drink: The craft cocktails are all named in honor of local sports heroes, with some double-entendre in the mix. Try The Big Unit, with vodka, champagne, and elderflower liqueur; the name is in honor of Randy Johnson, the 6′ 7″ pitcher with the San Francisco Giants who really was called The Big Unit. Dare we to dream why.

The Buena Vista

 
 
 
 
 
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Taking a cable car to The Buena Vista, located near Ghirardelli Square and the touristy Fisherman’s Wharf, is a rite of passage for anyone visiting San Francisco. Fortunately, the drinks and food (mostly diner fare) at The Buena Vista are actually quite good, and as a bonus, fresh San Francisco sourdough bread comes with every meal.

What to drink: Almost everybody who comes to The Buena Vista orders an Irish Coffee, a tasty concoction of Irish whiskey, coffee, sugar, and frothed cream. Although the drink was invented in Ireland, The Buena Vista created the American version. Sit at the bar during a weekday, and the bartender will do magic tricks! Good news, gays: they also serve Iced Irish Coffee, and it is smooth and refreshing.

The Rambler

 
 
 
 
 
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The Rambler, in Hotel Zeppelin, is a dark, industrial-chic restaurant and bar that is spread across two floors. Exposed brick walls and rustic wood tables are warmed up by leather furnishings, creeating a mood like something sexy is about to happen at any minute. The space used to be a restaurant run by Wolfgang Puck, and he left behind his famous pizza oven, which the restaurant happily uses with its California-Italian fusion menu.

What to drink: The Rambler Sazerac has Remy Martin, absinthe, Peychaud’s, and tobacco-infused bitters. The list of ingredients doesn’t seem like it would all work. But trust us. Go to The Rambler and order this drink. It is delicious.

Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar

 
 
 
 
 
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Sometimes tourists have the most fun, and that is absolutely true at the Tonga Room, quite possibly the campiest, kitschiest restaurant and bar in all of California. Located in the luxurious Fairmont Hotel, Tonga Room is unapologetically tiki chic, where drinks are served in totem tumblers and tables sit beneath thatched huts. A “thunderstorm” erupts every half-hour in the central pool.

What to drink: The Mai Tai, a tiki cocktail classic, was invented across the bay in Oakland, and Tonga Room’s version is just as sweet and potent as the original. If you’re with friends, order a Rainmaker to share—it has three types of rum among other types of alcohol, and drinking it might inspire you to jump into the pool. But that is not allowed. Don’t ask us how we know this.