Best Old-School Bar - 2011
House of Shields
Although the spittoons are gone and you can sit at the bar instead of standing at the rail, the House of Shields is still one of the best places in town to get that ambience that Jack Kerouac called "ole Frisco's ... end of the land sadness, end of the world gladness." It's mahogany-dark inside, with ornate Victorian light fixtures giving off an amber glow, like the view through a tumbler of whiskey. The bar itself is a beauty in carved redwood and is as old as the saloon (103 years). The floors are mosaic tile; the booths are burnished, enclosing, and cozy; the TV is nonexistent; and the house cocktails run to martinis and manhattans rather than, say, elderflower gimlets. The wine cellar even used to be a speakeasy. This comfy, classy rendezvous is even more welcoming since last year's careful, loving six-month restoration.