From splashy dives to upscale classics (and everything in between) — our favorite spots to grab a drink
May rumors of the Huntington Hotel's new owners doing away with this fantastic, historic bar — the jewel of Nob Hill — be untrue. For decades, the Big 4, named for the Central Pacific Railroad's "big fiour" tycoons, has been the archetypal old school bar in a restaurant. Its dark wood setting and fireplace evoking an ur-capitalist gentleman's club and martini lounge set to the nightly, live piano strains of Michael Parsons (Sundays it's Steve Klawiter).
1075 California, SF. (415) 771-1140, www.big4restaurant.com
Financial District, $$
Classic, Cocktail Destination, Musical
One of the more dazzling dining rooms in town. You enter thick curtains off a downtown alley into Bix's dramatic space — like walking into a Thin Man movie. Live jazz and beautiful Negronis confirm you've entered another, jazzier era, one Bix has faithfully preserved since 1988. Here's to many more decades.
56 Gold, SF. (415) 433-6300, www.bixrestaurant.com
The Castro is one of the most social neighborhoods in SF, rife with numerous watering holes and gathering places. But not until Blackbird was there a cocktailian's haven, serving elegant drinks — with a well-curated wine ist to match — utilizing house made pistachio orgeat, hibiscus-infused brandy, and other handcrafter ingredients.
2124 Market, SF. (415) 503-0630, www.blackbirdbar.com
BOURBON AND BRANCH
Cocktail Destination, Memorable Atmosphere, Mellow, Spirits Selection,
Love or hate the new speakeasy bars, Bourbon and Branch, now eight years old, was one of the earliest progenitors of the theme outside of NYC. And despite owner Future Bars' notable other bars (Tradition, Local Edition), B&B remains the best. Rarely is a bar this transporting: ring a doorbell next to an unmarked door and enter the 1920s. This reservations-only hideaway guarantees a seat, a romantic escape for conversation and quality drink. Its bar-within-a-bar, Wilson and Wilson, is likewise one of SF's best, digging even deeper into housemade ingredients and unusual combinations. Consider it the impressive place to take out-of-towners for a drink.
501 Jones, SF. (415) 346-1735, www.bourbonandbranch.com
Spirits Selection, Dive, Gourmet Bites
This dive in the outer reaches of SF draws whiskey fans from afar. With every chef who sets up shop in Broken Record's back room, kick-ass bar food (Southern BBQ, elevated burgers) results. From pool table to patio, it's everything you want in a dive bar and more, including laid back bartenders, a genuine vibe, and more than 250 whiskies at reasonable prices.
1166 Geneva, SF. (415) 963-1713, www.facebook.com/brokenrecordsf
Union Square, $–$$
Pioneering South and Central American cocktails, Cantina has been keeping it real for years with refreshing drinks highlighting tequila, mezcal, cachaca, and pisco (owner Duggan McDonnell is also one of the creators of Campo Encanto Pisco). Cantina's basement hosts all kinds of events, a community gathering place.
580 Sutter, SF. (415) 398-0193, www.cantinasf.com