Four Best Bars With a View - 2002
Bank of America, 555 California (between Montgomery and Kearny), 433-7500, www.carnelianroom.com
If you're going to sip a cocktail at a sky-view bar you might as well pick the one on top of the tallest building in the city and get your money's worth. The Carnelian Room rests 52 floors and 781 feet above downtown San Francisco, atop what used to be Bank of America World Headquarters, and when you're sitting by the window you feel like you're floating high above the city even before you've ordered your first martini. The room (named for the carnelian marble that gives the BofA building its malevolent countenance) not only offers stunning, above-it-all vistas of the western United States, it is richly decorated in antiques and objets d'art and is more elegant in appearance and ambience than the other, stumpier sky views you see around town. Jacket required.
Ghirardelli Square, 891 Beach (at Polk), 771-6800
The setting is sumptuous, the décor is fantastic, and the colonial-Vietnamese cuisine is often remarkable, but the best thing about Ana Mandara is the bar at the top of the sweeping staircase. There you can sit by the window and look out at the sailboats dotting the bay while the bartender shakes up an Ana Mandara cocktail: lemongrass-infused vodka shaken with ice, fresh mint, and lemongrass, served with a lemongrass spear wrapped in a twist of orange peel -- yum. Live jazz on weekends.
1090 Point Lobos (at Great Highway), 386-3330, www.cliffhouse.com
Since 1863, tourist and San Franciscan alike have made the trek out to the edge of the continent to enjoy the infinite expanse of Pacific Ocean glimpsed through the Cliff House's broad windows. Settle in with your Irish coffee and sweep your eyes from the Marin Headlands across Seal Rocks and down the coast past the Golden Gate Park windmills toward Half Moon Bay. On one memorable occasion this panoramic vista was broken by a parade of departing container ships swallowed up by the fog; on another the mammals on the rocks below were barking so loudly we thought they were trying to tell us something. The Cliff House will be closed for renovations beginning in September, so get your drinking in early.
504 Broadway (at Kearny), 982-6223, www.enricossidewalkcafe.com
Sometimes the best views aren't of ocean or bay or distant skyscraper but of the ebb and flow of daily humanity, especially when the humanity's of the North Beach genre. Sitting on Enrico's enclosed sidewalk patio, Negroni at hand, offers unparalleled opportunities for people-watching. On this particularly yeasty stretch of Broadway you might see musicians, drunks, wild-eyed tourists, kids from the hostel up the street, strippers on break, auslanders in search of pizza, live music, or a little action, old hippies and older Beats, couples on their first, third, or 27th date, and an occasional outbreak of street theater. Regularly scheduled live jazz only contributes to the whole convivial atmosphere.