The Vibe: A Foray into San Francisco’s Cocktail Culture

Welcome to San Francisco, a city where the only things steeper than the hills are the rent and cocktail prices.

People love to love this city, and also hate to hate it. I’ve met the most proud San Francisconians. When you mention the city’s name, it’s like a light switches on, people are enchanted by the blue waters, colourful victorians and golden–well, actually red–bridge. So, maybe this is a hot take, but I’m lukewarm about SF. 🤷🏽‍♂️

I got love for the Bay area culture, and also my dear friends who live there; I like so many different neighbourhoods and find the history and landscape spellbinding, but for a city that has so much money circulating, where does it end up?

In someone’s pocket, unfortunately.

That being said, the food and drink scene is one of the world’s priciest and best, ranging around $13-16 a glass…before tax and tip.

I rounded up some of the must-see’s as well as some touristy cocktail bars to give you a global picture of one of the world’s most picturesque cities.


Trick Dog

Trick Dog is a powerhouse in creative cocktails. Each month they freshen up their menu, hiring a new artist to create the concept, and then go to work.

When I visited Trick Dog, the menu was fashioned after a space manual from the 60’s. On the cover there was a large black and white photo of the earth from space. Graphics showing gravitational pull, contact with extraterrestrials, images of rockets and beyond spread across the pages, with cocktails and their ingredients somehow wedged in between.

Each drink is accompanied by a quote of some sort; and in reading them it becomes apparent how much detail and how much personality Trick Dog has and how self-aware Trick Dog is, to the point that they invert snobbiness, and instead poke fun at that side of ‘craft cocktail’ culture.

For example; I took a whiskey drink with pumpkin and Fernet listed as ingredients. The first quote says something along the lines of, counterculture needs to be less reactive and more proactive if it wants to make a real impact, (snobby, but true) but then in response, a second quote says, so what if it makes an impact, as long as the drink tastes good, its a good drink, right?

True, and it was a good drink.

I loved that commentary, and I love Trick Dog. It lived up to everything I thought it would be.


ABV

ABV is a Japanese-inspired cocktail bar in the Mission, which was one of my friends favorites’ in the city. It’s also currently sitting at #81 on the world’s top cocktail bars. Whereas Trick dog is the Yang, ABV is the Ying of SF, in that they make high quality classic cocktails without much fuss surrounding menu and decor.

We went on a busy Friday. They stuffed us in, which seemed a bit ridiculous for a bar where you spend $15 a drink. We fought for two seats. And when we won the seats, the bartender had little patience for our indecisiveness. The saving grace of the experience was a cocktail called Gin & Celery.

Gin & Celery sounds simple, and maybe it doesn’t sound interesting, but believe me, it was the best cocktail I’ve had over the past few years. (Since BlackTail’s Rum & Cola)

The Recipe is below:

Gin & Celery

1.5 ozOld Tom Gin
.75 ozLemon Juice
.5 ozSmall Hand Foods Gum Syrup
7 dashCelery Bitters
1 ozTonic Water
1 pinchSalt

A light fizz popping over Gin, Celery Bitters and Lemon creates a deep and textural flavour, like an alcoholic Bouillion on ice.


Tommy’s

I didn’t make it to Tommy’s. But this legendary Tequila bar / Mexican Restaurant is the birthplace of ‘Tommy’s Margarita,’ the supreme version of the drink.


Anina

A small beer garden in Hayes Valley where everyone refuses to use the more appropriate term ‘cocktail patio.’ Because in truth, it’s a high quality cocktail bar with a patio that gets crowded and rowdy to a background of the Minneapolis rapper Atmosphere, and is perfect for after-works, fun date nights, and everything in between.

I had a good negroni. And I had another cask-whiskey drink with banana that upset my stomach. Bad selection, maybe. I’d just read an article that banana was this season’s ingredient.


Peacekeeper

This bar is a convertible. As in, its roof comes off. Wild concept, I know, and once you wrap your head around that, the vibe is great too. Soul and Funk music plays as the bartender’s put fun ingredients like Chili Oil in the drinks. It’s a step down from ABV and Trick Dog in terms of Masterclass cocktails, but Peacekeeper was a cool joint that I’d gladly bring someone.


Vesuvio & Tonga Room

These relics are kept around reminding us how long San Francisco has been important in the cocktail world. The funny thing is that they’re both very much alive. Vesuvio café is a 40’s bar that was frequented by the Beatnic generation, and the Tonga room served a different side, Bourgeoisie San Francisco.


San Francisco takes fine drinking as seriously as fine dining. Ingredients are specified in such detail I couldn’t tell if it was recognition of its importance or a marketing technique.

One thing that surprised me about this city is how much hipster culture has infiltrated the mainstream. No one wants to go to a stuffy cocktail bar anymore. Experimental ingredients, niche music and ‘not the cleanest’ vibe are la mode. I have a hunch that it’s a product of the ‘rating age’ we live in.

You look around at a sea of Patagonia vests and dress shirts and you wonder if the minute details of the bar are appreciated by the clientele. You wonder if any of the other clients at Anina listened to Atmosphere in High School, or care that the ingredients change seasonally like the art on the wall. But then again, if the drinks taste good, it’s a good drink, and that’s all that matters, doesn’t it?

Bises,

Alexander


  • @Trickdogbar – 3010 20th Street, San Francisco
  • @abvsf – 3174 16th Street, San Francisco
  • Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant – 5929 Geary Boulevard, San Francisco
  • @aninabarsf – 482 Hayes Street, San Francisco
  • @peacekeepersf – 925 Bush Street, San Francisco
  • @vesuviobarsf – 255 Columbus Avenue, San Francisco
  • @tongaroom – 950 Mason Street, San Francisco

Published by AlexanderGittleman

Alexander Gittleman aka Mr. Cohiba is the writer, editor, and creator of the cocktail blog African Bowtie. He has lived in Seattle, New York, and currently lives in Paris where he covers the burgeoning cocktail scene.

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