(415) 674-3567, www.thehiddenvine.com
BARLEY 'N HOPS
Barley 'n Hops is the kind of place you'd never stumble on. You'd have to know it was there, tucked away on the second floor of the 55 Parc Hotel. It has bright lights and carpet and an airport-lounge feel. Also a sports theme, with Angels autographs on the walls, a Giants helmet on a pedestal, and televisions blaring news and sports. But I'm not fooled by such sterile-seeming ambience. I know this is a place to make secret deals, to order a hit, to plot the overthrow of an evil dictator. Or to down a few shots of Patrón and get out before I'm tempted to thwart a coup.
55 Parc Hotel, 55 Cyril Magnin, SF. (415) 392-8000
WOULD YOU BELIEVE?
The first time I drove by this bar, I was on one of those strange adventures involving interpersonal dynamics and unreal drama that can't be written about in a nonfiction format. The kind of day when my answer was, "No, dear bar, I wouldn't believe." So of course, I had to return to this Richmond enigma as part of my search for tippling treasure. What is it, I wondered, that the bar didn't think I'd believe? Turns out it's that the place is so ... well ... normal. A bit divey, a bit upscale. Ridiculously attractive bartenders juxtaposed with middle-aged clientele rolling dice on the bar and locals playing pool in the sunken foyer. Perhaps I also wouldn't believe that I'd find myself there on a Wednesday, swing dancing to the Rolling Stones and sipping a fantastic mojito and an impressive Godfather (whiskey and something ...) before seeing dawn on yet another workday. But now, I believe. I believe.
4642 Geary, SF. (415) 752-7444
Those in the know call it "the Philly." I knew it only as the lone beacon of light in the otherwise dark and quiet West Portal neighborhood near the tunnel. From its name, you'd expect an interior wreathed by curls of smoke rising from cigarettes held by fedora-wearing men discussing Nietzsche and Kant. But the place is much more like a neighborhood pub. Unpretentious. Friendly. Comfortable. The light hanging over the pool table resembled a '50s surfer station wagon. "Why is it called the Philosopher's Club?" I asked the bartender, who's also the owner. His answer, appropriately Socratic: "Why not?"
824 Ulloa, SF. (415) 753-0599
"If you found us, do not tell others." That's the Bar 821 golden rule, a rule just begging to be broken if you're a spirits sleuth like Nancy Drink. The forced speakeasy theme seems painfully pretentious until you actually visit the tiny NoPa (yes, folks, where Club Waziema is headed, Bar 821 has already arrived) haunt. The spot offers affordable champagne cocktails, plenty of Belgian beers, and a small, swank, but surprisingly unsnooty interior perfect for intimate conversations. Get there early, though. The place stops letting people in at 11 p.m. Whether the bartenders kick you out then, though, is a nightly mystery ...
821 Divisadero, SF. www.bar821.com