5 new bars to try right now in San Francisco
Exotic tastes and flavors, all in this beloved 49 square mile city
She Francisco is a global city, a metropolis that now has more than 1,200 parklets thanks to the city’s shared spaces program. Downtown SF is slowly but surely coming back to life; the sun shines in the bustling cafes of the Mission district; San Franciscans are gathering in parks to take advantage of the current shift toward more spring-like weather. All that to say, now is the perfect time to check out some of the city’s newest bars… and bar menus.
So whether it’s a gorgeous new bar with comfort food, new and old bars launching new menus, or one of the world’s top 50 discovery bars reborn after a fire devastating, these five are worth drinking (and eating) right now.
Bottle Club Pub: beautiful newcomer to Bar Vets
OOfficially opened on March 23, Bottle Club Pub (BCP) is the latest of the Future Bars (FB) pioneers behind Bourbon & Branch, Rickhouse, Pagan Idol, etc. It’s beautiful as FB – with designer Andrea Gifford – completely gutted, designed and brought to life in a historic, lofty, brick-walled space that has been covered and buried as a restaurant for decades. Its curved corner building with massive windows and skylights provides natural, striking and elegant light with an old world elegance, relaxed ambience, dramatic rotating bottle racks and vintage ceramic whiskey decanters lining the walls.
Best of all, BCP’s food and drink is top-notch: bar vet and general manager Jayson Wilde (Bourbon & Branch, Bottle & Barlow in Sacramento, Raised by Wolves in San Diego) with chef-elevated pub fare consultant Matt Lowe (Season), inspired by the 1950s to 1970s. This era is in keeping with the namesake “Bottle Clubs,” which began in Berkeley and San Francisco in 1952, eventually sweeping the country. It’s a bygone era when collectors traded ornate, whimsical ceramic decanters (think of Ponderosa Ranch as a bottle) filled with whiskeys from distilleries like Beam, Ezra Brooks, Cyrus Noble, and Stitzel-Weller.
BCP will be hosting events to open some of these bottles tasting original whiskeys and then fill them with cocktails for the group to sip together bringing and showing off their own decanters (I have a few that I would love to join in with) . Music is another key and common element, with Wilde’s cocktails named after popular songs from the same era. A few standouts include the subtly sesame-tinged Pimm’s Cup variant, One Track Mind (Pimm’s №1, lime, pineapple, black pepper, cucumber tonic, toasted sesame oil), Mr. Sandman (rye, sweet vermouth, coconut , espresso, Angostura bitters) and under the “Sweet Treats” alcoholic cocktail section, a dreamy, creamy-but-frothy solid gold Cadillac (Strega, creme de cacao, nutmeg, French vanilla creme).
On the food side, Lowe’s Loaded Fingerling Potatoes are more exciting than you might think, loaded with scallions, pickled jalapenos, cilantro, and onions in a spicy Velveeta cheese sauce. It’s hard to resist the fried chicken with (buttermilk) chicken in a damn good creamy black pepper sauce, or the superb beer-battered fish and chips in a dusting of malt vinegar. I only wish BCP was open all day as it’s a great watering hole and gathering place where great drinks and food make for a memorable space.
// 555 Geary Street, www.bottleclubpub.com
PCH is reborn in a new space since this devastating fire
We were heartbroken when our beloved Pacific Cocktail Haven (PCH) burned down due to a fire on the block in early 2021. Literally rising from the ashes, PCH reopened just a few doors down on March 16, 2022. J ‘ve written about the award-winning bartender Kevin Diedrich since before 2010 when he worked at Jasper’s, Burritt Room, Bourbon and Branch, etc. (like his Leeward Negroni years before the pandan cocktail craze hit). The expanded PCH space has an inviting front patio under PCH neon signage, expanded inside with bench seating and an expansive bar.
The PCH classics are back, with new drinks to be added later in the year as the team gets locked in with the crowds already arriving. Favorites include OH Snap! (Sipsmith Gin, sugar snap peas, manzanilla sherry, absinthe, citrus, tonic) and Thrilla in Manila (Evan Williams bourbon, shiso, calamansi, coco, absinthe, li-hing mui). Long live PCH!
// 550 Sutter Street, https://pacificcocktailsf.com
Pabu’s new cocktail menu
EEarly this year, I reviewed eight-year-old Pabu, an all-around mainstay for all things sushi, robata and sake. I mentioned the basic cocktail menu from previous menus, a repercussion of pandemic times. But Mina Group bars manager for all locations, Michael Lay, recently stepped out of Vegas to launch Pabu’s latest cocktail menu, playfully inspired by games and phenoms like Super Sumo Smackdown, Dance Battle and Galactic. Defender 9000. You will find a long-standing Pabu cocktail. Favorite, cantaloupe-mezcal-lemongrass M Bison back on the menu, alongside a host of new Laic creations. My two best are the refreshing, layered Tokyo Drift ’88 (Cachaça, pear brandy, Calpico, lychee, salty lemon sakura cordial) and the spirited, elegantly light fiery flower (Barr Hill Gin, umeshu sake, Chartreuse yellow, yuzu bitters).
// 101 California Street, www.michaelmina.net/restaurants/pabu/san-francisco
Empress by Boon’s Spring Cocktail Menu
JJust in time for spring, Empress by Boon bar manager Emily Parian concocted a few new cocktails and continues with previous favorites in the historic Chinatown restaurant and lounge with stunning views of Chinatown, North Beach and the Financial District. . You’ll find ingredients that complement foods like duck fat, Sichuan peppercorns and dragon fruit, alongside Chinese Baijiu (the most widely consumed alcohol in the world, given China’s huge population) , presented simply but cleanly in drinks like You Know What It Is: Ming River Baijiu, triple sec, orgeat, lime, orange bitters. There’s Nanjing Cocktail, a duck fat-washed Knob Creek Rye with blood orange and Sichuan bitters, but after tasting literally hundreds of fat-washed cocktails over the past two decades, it’s difficult to be attracted. Unexpectedly, I found my cocktail choice on the new menu is Too Damn Gorgeous.
Although its backbone is vodka, it showcases my beloved Calvados (French apple brandy), with a delicate touch of dragon fruit, chrysanthemum, rose and lemon.
// 838 Grant Avenue, www.theempresssf.com
Rye: industry favorite and bar pioneer
Ssince 2006, Greg Lindgren & Jon Gasparini Rye was a pioneer of the SF bar and industry hangout, following their groundbreaking opening on 15 Romolo in June 1998 (although currently Romolo has a very simplified and very basic menu from its sherry glory days and beyond). Thankfully open again seven days a week (not typical after the fallout of the pandemic), Rye attracts bartenders, the spirits industry and other drinkers who linger here on nights off or for the recently launched Wiener Wednesdays featuring hot dogs with all the fixins.
Phil Mauro, the rock star bar manager, sets the fun, low-key tone. This unassuming haven offers naughty well-made cocktails like Usch da Colada (curry-infused Hendricks Gin and Santa Teresa Rum banana Colada) or Thief’s Reward (Pierde Almas La Puritita Verda mezcal, bacanora, strawberry, lemon, basil gum syrup, salt and the bitterness of Suze).
// 688 Geary Street, www.ryesf.com