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By Anna Roth
By Anna Roth
By Anna Roth
Pisco Latin Lounge: In mid-19th-century San Francisco, a new drink called Pisco Punch took the town by storm. This Peruvian brandy-infused cocktail inspired the Pisco Latin Lounge in Hayes Valley. It offers an updated take on the recipe (Peruvian vinas de oro, macerated pineapple, and pineapple gomme) as well as a delicious variety of pisco sours and mojitos. Sit at the long walnut bar or at a table, enjoy the colorfully lit, modern decor, and sample some small Latin American-influenced plates like empanadas, plantain chips, and sliders. 1817 Market, 874-9951, piscosf.com.
Rickhouse: With its tall, swinging front porch doors, and an upstairs balcony that resembles an urban hayloft, the Rickhouse is downtown San Francisco's version of southern comfort. There are roughly 200 different kinds of whiskey available, but the bar's gin and vodka concoctions are just as inviting. Bartenders sporting paperboy hats and string suspenders mix 'em all up with fresh organic juices, bottled soda and berry and fruit infusions. The drink of choice is the Kentucky Buck (bourbon infused with strawberries, lemon, ginger beer and bitters); the novelty treat is the punch bowl, presented in vintage white-frosted glass. Waiting for a drink? Press your way to the second bar in the back. 246 Kearny, 398-2827, rickhousebar.com.
The Royal Cuckoo: This former Mission dive (Belinda's, we hardly knew ye) has taken a sudden turn for the hip. New owners transformed the tiny space into a den of droll anachronistic culture, where vintage lamps cast a subtle glow over a collection of thrift-shop paintings, taxidermy animal heads, and half-quaint/half-quirky retro tchotchkes. You might find a local musician warming the keys of the electric organ in the corner, or perhaps a solo bluesman blowing on his harp, but otherwise the soundtrack comes via a dusty old record player: Simply flip through the repurposed library card catalog to find the title of your favorite LP of folksy Americana, classic jazz, trad Latin, tropical exotica, or "Novelty and Beyond," then tell the bartender to slap that platter on the turntable. The most modern thing in the Royal Cuckoo is its signature drink menu, so despite the hipster clientele, don't come here looking for the latest high-tech fad. The Royal Cuckoo is the rotary telephone of San Francisco bars. 3202 Mission, 550-8667, royalcuckoo.com.
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Rye: The trend for rye cocktails was a short-lived affair, but this upmarket bar on Geary Street still packs 'em in on weekends. The "cocktail cage" smoking area is also unique in that it makes the drinkers seem like the ones on display, rather than the eye-candy passersby. 688 Geary, 474-4448, ryesf.com.
The Saloon: Revered for its daily live blues performances, the Saloon also has the rugged distinction of having survived the 1906 earthquake and standing as the oldest bar in San Francisco (opened in 1861). With its rough aged-wood interior and hardy clientele, the Saloon definitely stands apart from its shiny new neighbors along this nightlife-rich stretch of North Beach. 1232 Grant, 989-7666, sfblues.net.
Smuggler's Cove: You don't need a treasure map to get to Smuggler's Cove, but you might feel like you're in The Goonies or Pirates of the Caribbean once you arrive: This Hayes Valley rum emporium is decorated with enough insta-kitsch pirate style to make you wonder if Captain Jack Sparrow were the interior designer. The the bar boasts a selection of over 200 rums, so it would take many return voyages to try them all; with specialty drink prices starting around $10, however, you'll need to bring a few extra gold doubloons as well. And even with its upper mezzanine level and a basement cave, Smuggler's Cove fills up fast, so be prepared to cut through crowds — a cutlass might come in handy on those cramped, steamy weekend nights, but allow a frosty, sweet tropical drink to calm your overheated buccaneer spirit instead. 650 Gough, 869-1900, smugglerscovesf.com.
Top of the Mark: This famed martini bar offers high-class wallpaper music on the weekends, including lounge piano, easy listening, classical, and some jazz combos. The best stuff comes late on Friday and Saturday nights, when the drinks pour with a heavy hand and the jazz bands blow with a little more gusto. One Nob Hill, 999 California, 616-6916, intercontinentalmarkhopkins.com.
Tosca Cafe: Dusky lighting, crimson leather seats, and a 45 RPM jukebox straight outta Frank Sinatra's dreams make Tosca a classic North Beach experience in every way. This bar treats traditional cocktails with deep respect, so if you want to experience fine drinking in a truly vintage environment, this is the place. 242 Columbus, 391-1244, toscacafesf.com.
Trick Dog: It may sound like the parody of a mixology bar on paper — cocktails are themed around the Pantone color guide and have long ingredient lists with inscrutable items like "West Indies tincture" and "Gold Rush bitters." — but this colorful Mission cocktail lounge pulls off the conceit with intriguing drinks and innovative food. It's from Josh Harris and Scott Baird, otherwise known as The Bon Vivants, and they and their skilled staff manage to maintain their veneer of cool while staying friendly and on-task. 3010 20th St., 471-2999, trickdogbar.com.
Vesuvio Cafe: You won't find too many poets holding forth at this legendary Beat Generation hangout — it's mostly just tourists nowadays — but Vesuvio still has artsy charm, history, and charisma in spades. The walls are packed with old paintings and pictures, there are plenty of angular nooks in which to sit, and there's nary a whiff of modern slickness anywhere. Head upstairs to the balcony if you prefer conversation or want to read that paperback you just bought at City Lights bookstore next door. The ghosts of Kerouac, Ginsberg, Micheline, and the rest of the Beats will smile down from on high while you sip and socialize. Even if no one delivers poetic orations here anymore, the Beats' indomitable artistic spirit still lives within Vesuvio's walls. 255 Columbus, 362-3370, vesuvio.com.