Monday, May 5, 2008

Today's Top 5: San Francisco Bars

YMMV. I’m excluding places where I typically see live music, because I’m there to see the band, not to be at the bar itself. If I were doing music venues, you’d see Café du Nord, the Independent, and 12 Galaxies.

ANYWAY, here goes. If you’ve got other faves that I haven’t included, post ‘em in the comments. And remember, this is purely subjective.

1. Zeitgeist

The clear winner. Not just my favorite bar; maybe one of my favorite places on Earth. There’s just something great about a nice Saturday afternoon, a pitcher of beer, and a few friends at a picnic table in the backyard at Zeitgeist. The semi-forced intimacy with the people around you also produces a friendly vibe conducive to meeting people unlike anywhere else in the city. I want my ashes sprinkled here after I die. Not by the Porta-Potties, pls.

2. Hemlock

This one’s another no-brainer for me. Sure, it gets jam-packed with hipsters on weekend nights, but it’s got a great feel and a cool layout. (I realize there’s live music here, but it’s in a separate room with its own admission, so I’m not counting it as a music venue.) The glassed-in smoking room is a major bonus, since you don’t have to freeze your ass off outside to have a smoke. Also: hot peanuts in the shell.

3. Tosca

Since I lived in North Beach for a few years, I became intimately familiar with the many and varied bars of the area. There are some clubs on Broadway that turn over every few years, but I’ve never been a club person anyway. Shock, I know. Then there are the bars that have been there since before your Dad had a fake I.D. This is one of those places. From the bartenders wearing white jackets to the opera on the jukebox, there’s something classic and old-school about this place that just feels right. You can have your thumpa-thumpa clubs around the corner. I’ll have a 7&7, sit at the bar, and watch the people behind me in the mirror.

4. Alembic

Then there are new bars that feel like they’ve been around for a long time. The Upper Haight has historically never been a good bar area. Sure, you’ve got your Gold Canes and your Kezar Pubs and your Martin Macks, but you wouldn’t take a cab across town to go to any of those places (well, unless you were meeting your dealer at Gold Cane). So Alembic really was a breath of fresh air when it opened a few years ago. With a bar constructed of wood scavengened from the old Kezar Stadium, a menu of really interesting drinks along with 70 or 80 different whiskeys and beers from Magnolia Brewing, this place was more or less instantly crowded from the day it opened. Nevertheless, it’s worth a special trip. The only complaint I have is that the service an be distractingly slow when it’s busy, but they’re individually muddling St. John’s Wort or whatever, so just cool your jets, because they’re doing a bit more than uncapping a Coors Light.

5. Elixir

There’s nothing really remarkable about Elixir. They do have an extensive cocktail menu, and the owner (or operator or something), H. Joseph Ehrmann, is known for being at the forefront of the recent cocktail resurgence, but I rarely see anyone in this place ordering a specialty cocktail. Rather, it’s just a good, comfortable, neighborhoody bar. I’m not sure why I like it so much, but every time I come here I enjoy myself, so I guess that counts for something.


Stephen said...

A fine list, and a subjective one to be sure, but it hurts me to see such a list without the Latin American Club on it. A San Francisco aging hipster tradition for so many years. I've been going there since the mid-90's, and think of it as the paradigmatic Mission bar. The sort of place where *of course* you would often find a member of American Music Club. Quirky and homey all at once.

Rocco said...

zeitgeist was over like 5 years ago. but it's ok if you like it!