Elixir is one of the bars we were surprised not to see on there.
We’ve made it a tradition here at Grub Street SF to supplement Michael Bauer’s annual update of his Top 100 Bay Area Restaurants with five that we feel were either unjustly snubbed, or unjustly cut from the list. Now that the Chron is doing a Top 100 Bars list, we feel compelled to do the same — and we have to say there are a couple of pretty great bars which typically make critics’ and bloggers best lists, not to mention venerable dives, that were snubbed on this lengthy list.
Perhaps it just goes to show how hard it is to build these lists, especially when you try to include all nine counties of the Bay Area — the picks in San Anselmo, Palo Alto, and Walnut Creek are beyond our typical scope, and we would tend to be biased toward including the better bars of the inner Bay Area first. A couple of surprising newcomers made it onto the Chron’s radar (Two Sisters Bar & Books, Churchill, and Goose & Gander all caught our eye) to the exclusion of some more established destinations like The Alembic. And we couldn’t help but notice that only one sole (predominantly) gay bar made the cut (Martuni’s), while a couple of Castro favorites got snubbed, one very old (Twin Peaks) and one newer but respected citywide for their cocktails (Blackbird).
So, without further ado, we bring you the ten bars across most of the Chron’s categories that we were pretty shocked not to see on the list.
The 500 Club may not be always be open at 6 a.m. anymore as the sign over the door promises, but it is nevertheless one of our city’s finer and more popular dives. One could probably have put together a list of 50 dive bars in the city that deserved canonization, and the Chron only made room for fourteen. But with Zeitgeist being the only pick in the Mission, we felt we had to call out at least one more. (17th and Guerrero)
This beloved Upper Haight bar is one of our favorite spots in the city, albeit one that is sometimes too busy for its own good — luckily they’ll be doubling in size when they expand into the former Red Vic lobby later this year. The Alembic should most notably have been included in the Spirits Curators category for their deep selection of American, Japanese, Irish, and Scottish whiskies, but with their well regarded food menu, they could have easily made the food-centric list too. And don’t even get us started on their always well mixed and perennially interesting house cocktail list, with complex drinks like the Gilded Lily (pictured) that impress even the most jaded cocktail snobs. (1725 Haight Street)
Blackbird brought good, artisanal cocktails to the Castro for the first time, at long last, in 2009, and they’ve continued to impress both the neighborhood’s gay and straight clientele with their seasonally changing menu. The drinks feature the latest in mixology trends, like tinctures, barrel-aging, and essential oils, and the bar is leaps and bounds more consistent, and interesting, than nearby Churchill, which did make it on the Chron’s list. (2124 Market Street near Church)
Photo: Georg Lester/Georg Lester Photography
Sure, maybe the bar’s attached bar-within-the-bar, Wilson & Wilson, with its more austere and cocktail-nerdier atmosphere, has gotten a bit more buzz, but we’re surprised that the bar that really got the ball rolling with S.F.’s cocktail renaissance in 2005 got excluded by the time the Chron got around to making a Top 100 Bars list. The bar remains an always reliable source of great drinks in a dark and cozy speakeasy atmosphere. (Jones & O’Farrell)
Michael Bauer admitted in his recent review of Burritt Tavern that he loves the bar and lounge space that formerly stood alone as the Burritt Room. It remains a great and secluded hideaway off Union Square, with interesting cocktails and an inviting ambiance. (417 Stockton Street)
Photo: Brian Smeets/Copyright Brian Smeets 2010 DO NOT REPRODUCE WITHOUT WRITTEN PERMISSION
No other bar in the city has quite as good a selection of South American spirits like piscos, obscure rums, and mezcal as Cantina, and cocktails like their five-spice margarita and the Carmen Amaya (rye, Cointreau, basil, lemon) remain among our favorites. It’s a lively and sometimes touristy scene on weekends especially, but local industry folk know this place as a reliable spot for an interesting drink. (580 Sutter Street)
Barman H. Joseph Ehrmann has presided over this Mission spot for almost a decade, following a restoration in 2003 that took what has been a saloon since 1858 and spiffed it up for a modern audience. Elixir could qualify as a sports bar, in the Chron’s eyes, and there’s usually some sort of match or game on the TVs, but it’s also a beloved neighborhood bar, and a solid spot for a cocktail, classic or otherwise. (16th and Guerrero)
This beloved Upper Haight institution, which has been there since 1926, made the Chron’s list of the city’s best dive bars which they wrote just seven months ago. Alas, the Gold Cane didn’t make the cut on the new list, while places like the Wild West Side in Bernal Heights and Molloy’s in Antonio’s Nut House in Palo Alto got included instead.
The always inventive menu at Range, now under the helm of bar manager Jeff Lyon, epitomizes San Francisco’s farm-to-table, seasonal cocktail culture — like this amazing tarragon-mint cooler from a roundup we did last year. While the trend of complicated herb and fruit mixtures may be waning and giving way to more classic concoctions, Range’s drinks remain some of the best in town, and certainly deserving of a spot in the Chron’s food-centric category. (842 Valencia)
Photo: Brian Smeets/Brian Smeets 2010
Twin Peaks has the distinction of being the first gay bar in San Francisco, and possibly the first west of the Mississippi, to have big windows onto the street, letting all who passed by see the loud and proud patrons inside. The bar has aged along with the clientele, and this place is known as the neighborhood’s old-man bar these days. But they still do a good hot buttered rum, and the tables along the window facing Castro Street are still the best seats for people watching on the block. (Castro and 17th)