The Big Drink: 50 Most Iconic Cocktails in San Francisco 2023
Bar Nonnina's Slushy di Modena. (Kelly Puleio)

The Big Drink: 50 Most Iconic Cocktails in San Francisco 2023


At the start of 2022, many bars remained shell-shocked by the pandemic and were largely playing it safe; cocktail menus were limited to core essentials that bartenders could execute well in the age of "the new normal."

As 2023 gets going, we're rounding a new corner with fancy cocktail lounges, hotel lobby bars, and rooftop venues opening all over the place, and some longstanding spots have jettisoned tried-and-true tipples for complete rewrites of their drink menus.

While there are no doubt several new drinks awaiting their "iconic" status, this year list holds true to many of San Francisco's most recognizable, signature, "I'll have another" drinks.

There are, of course, several newcomers to the list that have aged into fame, including La Mar's pisco sour, Hog Island's mezcal-tinged michelada, and the pint glass-sized martini at Blondie’s. We're also toasting the post-Covid return of P.C.H.

Things are in flux right now, so get out there and make your way through this year’s list; we predict a shakeup come 2024.

Red Window Cobbler at Red Window.

(Marc Fiorito)

Open Sesame at Causwells.

(Stephanie Amberg)

Space Adventure Cobra at Kaiyo.

(Courtesy of Kaiyo Rooftop)

1. 1934 Zombie at The Tonga Room. It may leave your head swimming, but just don't jump in the pool; rum, lime, grapefruit, cinnamon, falernum, absinthe, bitters. // Fairmont Hotel, 950 Mason St. (Nob Hill),

2. 20th Century at Stookey's Club Moderne. Throw back this throwback; gin, quinine wine, creme de cacao, and lemon. // 895 Bush St. (TenderNob),

3. After the Gold Rush at Holy Water. It's still the holy quaternity; bourbon, pineapple gum syrup, apricot, and lime. // 309 Cortland Ave. (Bernal Heights),

4. Bacchus Old Fashioned at Schroeder’s. Pair with a pretzel; German grape brandy, rye, bitters, sugar, absinthe. // 240 Front St. (FiDi),

5. Bloodhound at Bloodhound. Send in the hounds; gin or vodka, grapefruit, lime, Campari, prosecco. // 1145 Folsom St. (SoMa),

6. Blood in the Water at Hog Island Oyster Co. Tomatoes in your throat; mezcal, jalapeño cordial, bloody mary mix, mignonette tonic, lime, beer. // #11 Ferry Building (Embarcadero),

7. Bloody Mary at Zeitgeist. May make you see pink elephants; vodka, tomato juice, spices, and pickly garnishes. // 199 Valencia St. (Mission),

8. California Cooler at Horsefeather. Finer wine; gin, celery, lime, thyme, sauvignon blanc, horseradish, and sparkling wine. // 528 Divisadero (NoPa),

9. Cherry Bounce at Comstock Saloon. Get some pep in your step: bourbon, cherry brandy, lemon, bitters, and Champagne. // 155 Columbus Ave. (North Beach),

10. Chinese Mai Tai at Li Po Cocktail Lounge. It was locally famous, then it got Bourdained; rum, Chinese liqueur, and pineapple. // 916 Grant Ave. (Chinatown),

11. Czechs and Balances at The Sea Star. Czech it out: Bourbon, amaro, lemon, honey, allspice. // 2289 3rd St. (Dogpatch),

12. Destroyer of Bad Vibes at Ocean Beach Café. Kill icky juju, spare your liver; nonalcoholic botanical spirit, hemp and root spirit, honey, lemon, orange bitters, cinnamon. // 734 La Playa St. (Outer Richmond),

13. Dublin Honey at The Ice Cream Bar. You’ve earned this; Guinness, caramelized honey ice cream, Valrhona chocolate syrup, and port. // 815 Cole St. (Cole Valley),

14. Greyhound’s Tooth at Spruce. Classing up the classic; vodka, Benedictine, grapefruit, lemon, grapefruit bitters. // 3640 Sacramento St. (Presidio Heights),

15. Hat in the Ring at Junior. Throw your, you know; gin, bitter aperitif, grapefruit, and bitters. // 2545 24th St. (Mission),

16. Holy Basil at Wildseed. Plant-based party over here; green chili vodka, lime, cucumber basil shrub. // 2000 Union Street (Cow Hollow),

17. House Campari Soda at Buddy. Open you palate, open your mind; bitter vermouth, cherry quinine liqueur, aperitivo wine, orange bitters, soda. // 3115 22nd Street (Mission),

18. Irish Coffee at Buena Vista Cafe. The OG; Irish whiskey, coffee, sugar, and cream. // 2765 Hyde St. (Fisherman's Wharf),

19. I’ve Grown to Love Life Too Much at The Interval at Long Now. Choose life; Cognac, spiced pear liqueur, and creme de cacao; shot of sparkling wine on the side. // 2 Marina Blvd. (Fort Mason),

20. Jamaican Zombie at Zombie Village. Wake the dead; rum, grapefruit, lime, mango, Doc's Spice #2, and Scotch bonnet chilis. // 441 Jones St. (Tenderloin),

21. Kentucky Buck at Rickhouse. Invented here, and world famous; strawberry-infused bourbon, lemon, and ginger beer. // 246 Kearny St. (FiDi),

22. Last Rites at Last Rites. Your first pick; rum, passionfruit, molasses, and spice mix. // 718 14th St. (Duboce Triangle),

23. Leeward Negroni at P.C.H. Cuckoo for coconut: gin, coconut-washed Campari, pandan cordial, bitters. // 550 Sutter St. (Union Square),

24. Lost Resort at Lost Resort. The Last Word on the matter; gin, Chartreuse, hibiscus, and lemon. // 2736 20th St. (Mission),

The Passenger, at Bottle Club Pub.(Alex Garret)

25. Mai O Mai at True Laurel. Clarified and elevated; rum, lime, pistachio orgeat, curaçao, and coffee-rum float. // 753 Alabama St. (Mission),

26. Makrut Lime Fizz at Ernest. A carbonated key lime pie: gin, cachaça, sour cream, egg white, and soda. // 1890 Bryant St Suite 100 (Mission),

27. Manhattan at The Progress. You butter believe it; black butter bourbon, sweet vermouth, and bitters. // 1525 Fillmore St. (Lower Haight),

28. Martini at Blondies Bar. Sixteen ounces makes it iconic; vodka or gin and your choice of stuffed olive. // 540 Valencia St. (Mission),

29. Open Sesame at Causwells. Savory sensation; tequila, bianco vermouth, cold pressed poblano, lime, agave, and toasted sesame. // 2346 Chestnut St (Cow Hollow),

30. Paloma Slushy at The Lark Bar. Frozen and fizzy; tequila, lime, grapefruit, guava syrup, and Sprite. // 29 Third St. (SoMa),

31. The Passenger at Bottle Club Pub. The Boulevardier visits Bermuda; bourbon, navy strength rum, Campari, sweet vermouth, passionfruit, and cinnamon. // 555 Geary St (Tenderloin),

32. Peas for Bees at Casements. Easy peasy; mezcal, pea and strawberry citric acid shrub, lime. // 2351 Mission St. (Mission),

33. Pineapple Sherry at ABV. The best worst kept secret (off-menu). // 3174 16th St. (Mission),

34. Pisco Sour at La Mar Cebichería Peruana. The first spirit of San Francisco; pisco, lime, egg white, and bitters. // Pier 1 ½ The Embarcadero (Embarcadero),

35. Prickly Pear at The Snug. Safe to the touch; mezcal, nopales, prickly pear, amaro, lime, and habanero. // 2301 Fillmore St. (Pacific Heights),

36. Quarantine Order at Pagan Idol. Keep it to yourself; bitters, rum, cinnamon, passionfruit, grapefruit, and lime. // 375 Bush St. (FiDi),

37. Red + Blue at Kona’s Street Market. Whip it good; rum, sherry, ube coconut cream, citrus, and salted jackfruit whip. // 32 Third St. (SoMa),

38. Red Window Cobbler at Red Window. Oh sherry!; sherry, tangelo, peach, fig, and two kids of bitters. // 500 Columbus Ave. (North Beach),

39. Screen Test at The Madrigal. Tom kha gai in a glass; dark rum, kumquat liquor, basil, coconut milk, Thai chili, and lime. // 100 Van Ness Ave (Civic Center),

40. Seafoam Spritz at Anina. Bouquet all day; elderflower, aperitif wine, lime, prosecco, and lemongrass. // 482 Hayes St. (Hayes Valley),

41. SF Yacht Club at 25 Lusk. A boat drink for landlubbers; vodka, grapefruit, cucumber, lemon, lime, and mint. // 25 Lusk St. (SoMa),

42. Sidecar at Bix. Stay classy with a classic; Cognac, curacao, and lime. // 56 Gold St. (Jackson Square),

43. Sometimes Old Fashioned at Cold Drinks. Duck would have it; Peking duck fat–washed Scotch, rye, lemon, pepper, mushroom, and bitters. // China Live, 644 Broadway (North Beach),

44. Slushy di Modena at Bar Nonnina. Shaved to order; gin, Italian amaro, Lambrusco, seasonal berries, and citrus over shaved ice. // Inside Fiorella, 240 Ninth Ave. (Inner Sunset),

45. Smuggler's Rum Barrel at Smuggler's Cove. A secret mix with rum, juice, and spice, served in a barrel. // 650 Gough St. (Hayes Valley),

46. Space Adventure Cobra at Kaiyo Rooftop. Let it snake up on ya; gin, falernum, passionfruit, matcha coconut cream, lemon, and two kinds of bitters. // 701 3rd St (South Beach),

47. The Spritzzz at The Detour. Let's get spritzfaced; Aperol, sparkling rose, lemon, and soda. // 2200A Market St. (Castro),

48. Ten Forward at Mothership. Turn loose the juice; amaro, passionfruit, lemon, pea flower-infused vodka, and fennel. // 3152 Mission St. (Outer Mission),

49. Tommy's Margarita at Tommy's Mexican Restaurant. Zen and the art of agave; tequila, lime, and agave syrup on the rocks, no salt. // 5929 Geary Blvd. (Outer Richmond),

50. White Cap Martini at White Cap. Brine it on; gin and seaweed-infused dry vermouth. // 3608 Taraval St. (Outer Sunset),

(Courtesy of Old Potrero)

This fall, San Francisco has an extra special reason to raise a glass: the launch of the Old Potrero Old Rye Trail. Featuring more than 30 bars and restaurants across the greater Bay Area, the Rye Trail celebrates the SF-based company’s three decades of 100-percent pot-distilled rye whiskey at the historic distillery in Potrero Hill.

The Rye Trail beckons cocktail enthusiasts to explore, sample, and savor Old Potrero straight rye whiskey neat or in speciality craft cocktails that celebrate SF neighborhoods. From the charm of old dives to the upscale ambiance of more modern establishments, the Bay's drinking scene has arguably never been richer. And with rye making a resurgence, the drinks on the Rye Trail offer a delightful mix of tradition and innovation, paying homage to the past while looking ahead. Here are a few to try now:

Yerba Buena Sling at Elixir. A tantalizing blend of Old Potrero Rye meets the sweet embrace of cherry heering and dry orange curaçao, swirled with pineapple and lemon juices and kissed by a whisper of mint. // 3200 16th St. (Upper Market),

Manhattan at Waterfront Restaurant. An urban symphony of flavors where Old Potrero Rye Whiskey and Carpano Antica sway in a timeless dance. Hints of orange bitters enhance the melody, all culminating in the sweet crescendo of a brandied cherry garnish. A cocktail that embodies elegance in every sip. // 7 The Embarcadero, (Embarcadero),

Queen Sun at Third Rail. A concoction celebrating the city’s warmest neighborhood where Old Potrero Rye whiskey mingles with the brightness of lemon juice and the nuance of Manzanilla. Hints of Amaro Montenegro dance with sweet pineapple gum syrup, all crowned by a dot of angostura bitters. // 628 20th St. (Dogpatch),

Thank you to our partners at Old Potrero.

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