Whether their focus is beer, wine, or a particular spirit, bars here have always enjoyed specializing. But despite our town's reputation as ground zero for drinking trends, we've never had a bar exclusively focused on cider– until now. Upcider is the brainchild of Ozzie Gundogdu and Omer Cengiz, Turkish natives who both moved to SF in 2004 and met while working at Les Joulins Jazz Bistro. When they noticed that SF was without a cider destination, the former roommates decided to strike out on their own and create one. "It was a missing concept in the market," says Gundogdu. "In the entire United States, there are just a couple of cider bars, and the Bay Area had none."
Located in a breezy second-floor enclave with views of Polk Street, Upcider has all the hallmarks of a hip modern bar, including reclaimed-wood walls, black tables, and accents of riveted iron. The extensive cider list (bottle only, no drafts) includes over 40 varieties from around the globe, with a particular emphasis on offerings from the U.S. and the U.K.
Drinkers who dismiss cider as an uncomplicated "girly drink" will be surprised at the diversity of flavors in Upcider's lineup. While American ciders tend to be crisp and sweet, their British counterparts can be much drier and more sour, while varieties from Spain and France often have funky, lactic, or barnyard-like qualities. Though all the ciders on Upcider's list are either apple- or pear-based, many have other types of fruit juice added in the fermentation process to create extra layers of flavor. "The great thing is that they differ so much from each other," says Gundogdu. "There's a bunch of different varieties of apples, so naturally, the juice that comes from those apples is different. The flavor, the sugar levels…it makes all the difference."
Gundogdu's favorites from the list include the blood orange and huckleberry ciders from Sacramento's Two Rivers ($6 for a 12-ounce bottle); the apple and cherry ciders from Julian, a historic gold-mining town outside of San Diego ($10 for 22 ounces); and Astarbe cider from Spain's Basque region ($8 for 12 ounces), which is aged in whiskey barrels and has a flavor reminiscent of a Belgian lambic or gueuze. For non-cider drinkers, there's also an extensive selection of bottled beer (nearly 25 varieties), as well as a small list of wines by the glass and even a few meads. Happy hour, which runs daily from 4-7 pm, offers $1 off any cider or beer or $2 off any glass of wine on the menu.
The space also has a full kitchen, helmed by chef Tony Carracci (Cha Cha Cha, Cat Club) and featuring bar bites like spicy lamb sliders with arugula and tomato marmalade ($6), zucchini cakes with a cucumber-yogurt sauce ($8), and a stuffed potato souffle with ground sausage ($6). Carracci makes his own pickles and ketchup (including a blueberry variety) in-house, and sources all the meat on the menu from Marin Sun Farms. The kitchen is open until closing time (midnight on weekdays and 1 am on weekends), making Upcider a good destination for hungry Polk Street bar crawlers.
Though Gundogdu and Cengiz initially had difficulty sourcing a wide variety of cider, they're now receiving plenty of calls from new producers interested in getting their brews added to Upcider's list. "More ciders will definitely be coming in," says Gundogdu. "Right now, we carry two Basque ciders, but we may be able to add a third or fourth, as well as some English ciders. Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Brazil, even Chile–they're making their own ciders. I think more cider is on the way for the U.S. market. If the trend keeps going like it has, we will definitely see more products."
Upcider, 1160 Polk St., 2nd Floor (at Sutter St.), (415) 931-1797. Monday-Thursday, 4 pm-12 am; Friday-Saturday, 4 pm-1 am.