The Irish Coffee: Good first thing in the morning, after a day spent outside in the cold, or even cuddled up in bed. I’ve lived in Ireland and been to countless pubs, but I can tell you that no one is more enthusiastic or well-versed in Irish Coffee than San Franciscans.
And it’s no wonder. In 1952, San Francisco Chronicle travel columnist Stanton Delaplane was served his first hot coffee with Irish whiskey and cream in an airport bar in Shannon, Ireland. Upon returning to our fair city, Delaplane told Buena Vista Café's owner about the drink, and it quickly became a San Francisco staple.
While ordering an Irish Coffee in an Irish pub may be met with some skepticism, I’ve noticed that San Franciscans clamor for Irish Coffees on crisp mornings like they’re going out of style. Think about it: Our cold, rainy weather reminiscent of Dublin makes the Irish Coffee perfect for San Francisco drinkers. Before winter reaches its finale (not that we’ll be seeing the end of cold nights), we rounded up a list of the city’s best Irish Coffees.
THE BUENA VISTA CAFÉ, 2765 Hyde Street, 415-474-5044
This is the home of the Irish Coffee, which owner Jack Koeppler began making in 1952 after hearing its praises from Delaplane–its legacy of perfection is still carried on to this day. Walking into the Buena Vista is like travelling back in time: Bartenders wear white coats and black ties, and greet patrons with a nod of the head and a glint of respect. Coffee glasses line the bar, where bartenders pour drink after drink (over 2,000 on a good day), so enthusiastic customers don’t have to wait long. Many have named this Irish Coffee the best in the world, beating out the entire country of Ireland itself.
TOSCA, 242 Columbus Avenue, 415-986-9651
One of San Francisco’s most famous bars, Tosca was opened in 1919, just a year before Prohibition. After a short stint as an Italian restaurant while Prohibition passed, it became an infamous gathering place for rebellious luminaries such as Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsberg, Joan Baez, and William Burroughs. Tosca is known for their hot, boozy beverages, namely the “house cappuccino” (served with Ghirardelli chocolate, steamed milk, and a shot of brandy). Although their signature is the hot chocolate drink, the Irish Coffee comes in a close second on their list of specialty drinks. Strong and hot, their rendition may rival that of the Buena Vista.
THE IRISH BANK, 10 Mark Lane, 415-788-7152
I’ve been to my share of Irish pubs, and this one ranks up there as the most authentic. The interior of this bar always takes me back to my Guinness drinking days; it’s covered in old photographs, newspaper clippings, and drinking memorabilia. The outdoor patio runs the length of Mark Lane, a small alleyway that feels like the quaint streets of Dublin. For their Irish Coffee, the Irish Bank uses Trieste coffee (so you know it’s good), a healthy pour of Irish whiskey, some brown sugar, and a topping of heavy cream. Bundle up outside and warm up over your coffee, or take a seat in the dimly lit bar area.
O’REILLY’S, 622 Green Street, 415-989-6222
Around St. Patrick’s Day, O’Reilly’s is a pandemonium of drunken partygoers, green beer, and four leaf clover paraphernalia. But head in on a regular day and enjoy the sprawling bar, mellow attendees, and reasonably priced drinks. Their Irish Coffee keeps the crowds happy: It’s strong and sweet with a delicious homemade whipped cream. Whether you’re there in the morning for breakfast, or later in the day for a pick-me-up, the Irish Coffee and friendly bartenders will brighten your day.
15 ROMOLO, 15 Romolo Place, 415-398-1359
Though it's youngest, most hip bar on the list, 15 Romolo can still make a great Irish Coffee. This modern speakeasy makes delicious, artisanal cocktails, but also proves that you don’t have to be an Irish bar to make a dependable Irish Coffee. Thick, sweet cream combines with strong coffee and a kick of whiskey to satisfy an Irish Coffee craving in a modern setting.
FIDDLER’S GREEN, 1333 Columbus Avenue, 415-441-9758
Fiddler’s Green is the best pub for those hankering for a morning Irish Coffee and a stellar breakfast to match. By 10 am, locals are claiming their seats at the bar and ordering plates of eggs, beans, grilled tomatoes, black and white pudding, and brown bread—a traditional Irish breakfast. And what better accompaniment to this feast than a nice hot cup of Irish Coffee? In the evening, enjoy it upstairs with other bar-goers or take it downstairs and enjoy live music every night.
Where is your favorite Irish Coffee in SF?