EPIC Roasthouse (credit: Randy Yagi)
The holidays are a time when many friends and loved ones gather together to attend parties, exchange gifts, enjoy traditional meals and celebrate the joyous season. One of the best ways to celebrate is to enjoy a holiday cocktail or two or even participate in the annual SantaCon Pub Crawl. But with an incredibly vast collection of outstanding local drinking establishments, it’s difficult to visit all of them. While scores of San Francisco bars are well deserving of mention, here are just five of the best bars for holiday cocktails in the City by the Bay.
EPIC Roasthouse – Quiver Bar
369 The Embarcadero
San Francisco, CA 94105
With spectacular views of the San Francisco Bay, Treasure Island and the glimmering lights of the Bay Bridge, Quiver Bar will be a lively waterfront hotspot during the holidays. Located upstairs in the award-winning restaurant EPIC Roasthouse, holiday guests can enjoy expertly crafted classic cocktails, in additional to traditional favorites offered during the festive season. Notable selections from the cocktail menu include the EPIC Vodka Martini, Sazerac, El Chicano and Pisco Punch, in addition to seasonal specialties such as Bay Lights, Cucumber Fresh and Melon Baby. Guests can also enjoy exceptional food from the full restaurant menu or the bar menu, in addition an extraordinary beer and wine list. If one bar isn’t enough, holiday guests can also visit EPIC Roasthouse’s sister restaurant, the equally superb Waterbar, known as the Bay Area’s finest sustainable seafood restaurant, right next door.
Bourbon and Branch
501 Jones St.
San Francisco, CA 94102
Mentioned among the best cocktail bars in America by Esquire, Tails of the Cocktail and others, Bourbon and Branch is an upscale take on an historic speakeasy from the Prohibition Era. In order to make reservations, a password (much like a speakeasy) is required to enter the main premises after ringing the doorbell to what seems like a completely unremarkable building. However, upon entering, guests will be greeted to an elegant, darkly lit room featuring classic styling and a bar with a staggering selection of bourbon, rum and tequila and signature cocktails such as Cucumber Gimlet, Citizen Cane, the Pink Lady and Scoff Law on the menu. Guests must observe house rules, which includes the request from the talented staff to “speak easy,” even when ordering a holiday cocktail. Bourbon and Branch also features a speakeasy within a speakeasy through a secret passageway – Wilson and Wilson – which requires yet another password to enter, in addition other secret rooms in the spirit of the Prohibition Era.
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650 Gough St.
San Francisco, CA 94102
Featuring more than 400 rare rums and an extensive list of exotic and traditional cocktails, Smuggler’s Cove just might be the top destination for holiday cocktails in San Francisco. Just minutes from Civic Center, the pirate-themed, multi-level tiki bar is frequently listed among the best bars in the U.S. and more notably, cited as one of the world’s best bars. Recommended selections from the cocktail menu include “Puka Punch,” “Tradewinds,” “Kona Cocktail” and “Hibiscus Rum Punch,” in addition to holiday favorites such as hot buttered rum, rum eggnog and for some revelers, the obligatory Mai Tai. Smuggler’s Cove is available for holiday events on the mezzanine level with a capacity of 12 to 20 people or the larger downstairs bar, capable of accommodating up to 45 people.
3010 20th St.
San Francisco, CA 94110
The Mission District is a phenomenal San Francisco neighborhood for great bars and the spot receiving the most national attention is Trick Dog. This past summer, Trick Dog and its bar team collectively known as Bon Vivants was voted the 2014 Best Bar Team in America by Tails of the Cocktail, in addition to nominations for Best Cocktail Bar, Best High Volume Bar and World’s Best Drink Selection. Many of the bar’s signature cocktails are named after iconic San Francisco landmarks, such as “City Lights” with Ford’s gin and Dolin blanc vermouth, Kezar Stadium with Beefeater 24 gin and Batavia Arrack and Painted Ladies with Absolut vodka and melon soda. Located a block from the celebrated Italian bistro Flour + Water, Trick Dog is expected to serve a variety of holiday drinks from holiday eggnog to hot toddy.
Vesuvio (credit: Randy Yagi)
255 Columbus Ave.
San Francisco, CA 94133
Visitors to San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood can expect to enjoy delightful holiday cocktails at Vesuvio, one of the city’s most celebrated saloons. The former hangout of renowned writers of the Beat Generation movement of the 1950s, the historic bar doesn’t have a large collection of signature cocktails like its neighboring and equally hip Comstock Saloon. But Vesuvio is worth a visit not just for its popular house drinks including the Jack Kerouac, Bohemian Coffee and the absinthe, but also for its unique décor, classic vibe and its avant-garde paintings and poetry immortalized outside on Jack Kerouac Alley, separating the saloon from the iconic City Lights Bookstore. For a holiday pub crawl, Comstock Saloon, the Saloon and Tony Nik’s Café are all great places to cap the evening.
Randy Yagi is a freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he was awarded a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on Examiner.com Examiner.com.