15 Romolo: Owners Jon Gasparini and Greg Lindgren (of Rye and Rosewood), and Aaron Gregory Smith's rejiggered 15 Romolo has developed magnetic powers, attracting even those who'd rather avoid the North Beach crowds. The dim bar hits the perfect balance of Barbary Coast and design boutique, flavored with a few drops of rockabilly dive. The bartenders switch up their featured drinks frequently, so it's hard to know if a concoction that's there one week will be there the next. The mixologists have been known to get inspired by a root or berry from the morning farmers' market, so prepare yourself for something fresh and creative. The Spaghetti Western, for instance, combines American rye and Campari with organic tomatoes and a splash of pilsner. If you're hungry, try the Dirty South Burger, which features ground beef in a bun, topped with barbecued pulled pork. It's served slider-size to help you exercise portion control. Believe us, you'll be glad. 15 Romolo Place, 398-1359, 15romolo.com.
83 Proof: This is a bar that takes its cocktails very seriously. The bartenders are alchemist savants, thumbing through their comprehensive knowledge of spirits and herbs, veggies, and fruits to design your perfect drink. You tell them what flavors you like and they'll build a cocktail to match. Throwing some muscle into it, they'll work the pestle to mash up fresh ingredients such as strawberries for a jalapeño vodka mix. Each bartender has his or her specialty: some favor rum, some whiskey or scotch, but all are friendly, unpretentious, and incredibly attentive. They love what they do, spending time to explain the flavors as well as the bar's history. The building has a bit of S.F. folklore and notoriety tied to it: it was a Chinese triad bar that got closed down for over 10 years following a violent shootout, and prior to that it was a longshoreman's bar. The original 1936 flooring remains. 83 First St., 296-8383, 83proof.com.
The Alembic It's not to everyone's tastes: too loud/too hipster/too much of a bar/too fancy/ew, bone marrow? But in addition to stellar cocktails (one favorite, the Southern Exposure, contains gin, mint, and celery juice), the kitchen puts out some of the most unabashedly creative food in this city: jerk-spiced grilled duck hearts, seared albacore sliders with veal bacon, pickled quail eggs. Its American bistro menu is seasonal as well as science-friendly, and wildly affordable to boot. Cocktails extra, of course. 1725 Haight, 666-0822, alembicbar.com.
The Armory Club: No, it's not a strip club. Owned and operated by the people behind Kink.com — headquartered directly across the street — the Armory Club prefers its pants fancy, serving high-end cocktails in an environment that's one part 19th-century bordello and two parts 21st-century tech money. 1799 Mission, 431-5300, armoryclub.com.
Aub Zam Zam: Upper Haight cocktail oasis with a Persian decor theme and famously delicious drinks. Anthony Bourdain likes it, so why shouldn't you? 1633 Haight, 861-2545.
Bar Agricole: There are two grand gestures at work at Bar Agricole: ingredients of pristine integrity (house-made bitters, locally distilled spirits, biodynamic vegetables custom-grown for the chef) and a space so epically designed it resembles an opera set. While Thad Vogler's drinks are deft and artfully presented, the modest ambitions behind the food do not match the setting so well. The high points are charcuterie-oriented plates such as rabbit sausages with carrots and wheatberries and black-cod sausage with sea urchin poached in dashi. 355 11th St., 355-9400, baragricole.com.
Beretta: This popular, noisy place, decorated in spare grays and browns with filigree painted in the corners, feels as much like a bar as a restaurant. The front of the room, with a tall communal table set at the same height as the long bar, often feels like a crowded cocktail party. True to its looks, there's a long list of specialty cocktails, while the menu features an assortment of antipasti, salumi, a few risottos and entrées, and a dozen thin-crust Roman-style pizzas (whatever that means) — the margherita with house-made burrata has become a citywide favorite; less classic is a spicy coppa and salami pie with a chile-spiked tomato sauce. 1199 Valencia, 695-1199, berettasf.com.
Bloodhound: Deep in SOMA, Bloodhound mixes up specialty cocktails that are to die for. The hunter's lodge-themed bar is not safe for PETA members: decor includes mounted animal skulls and an antler chandelier. Try the bar's namesake cocktail, which combines Campari, grapefruit juice, and Hangar 1 vodka, or order the house specialty, bacon-infused bourbon. Head to the back for a game of pool, pour your money into the jukebox, or take a shot at the Buck Hunter arcade game. Disclaimer: Aim can sometimes be impaired from alcohol consumption. 1145 Folsom, 863-2840, bloodhoundsf.com.
Bourbon & Branch: Bourbon & Branch conjures the feel of a Prohibition-era speakeasy. It's in an inconspicuous, windowless building beneath a decoy sign reading "Anti-Saloon League." A reservation and a "secret" password assigned at the time of your reservation will lead you to a bi-level space overlooking the bar when it gets crowded. It's easy to get overwhelmed by its 40-page menu, which features champagne cocktails, absinthe elixirs (Death in the Afternoon, for example), and Oaxacan Old Fashions. In the background, saloon fiddle, sleepy jazz, or dolorous blues play from softly from the sound system. There are a few house rules one must follow: be patient, don't lurk, no cell phones, no cameras, and exit quietly. 501 Jones, 673-1921, bourbonandbranch.com.
Burritt Room: First things first: The name of the bar/lounge/venue is the Burritt Room, which is inside the Crescent Hotel. This boutique hotel "chain" (the other location being in Beverly Hills) is sleek and polished, but with enough antique design elements to bring it down to earth. The same aesthetic applies to the bar, which is located on the second floor. Chandeliers and candles give warmth to the deep wood floor, modern couches, and stark white piano. The bar is front and center with a jaw-dropping selection of spirits. Beer and wine are here, too, but very much an afterthought. You're here for a cocktail, and each libation comes with paragraph-long menu description that somehow neglects to reveal the price (the cocktails are all $10). Another notable feature: The Burritt Room is open daily at 5 p.m., so if you need a drink on Christmas, yep, it's open. 417 Stockton, 400-0500, crescentsf.com.