Five Best Classic Cocktails

Mai tai at Zaré at Fly Trap — Zaré's top-shelf rendition of Trader Vic's most famous creation involves freshly squeezed lime juice, spicy-smoky Appleton Estate Jamaican rum, a shot of Cointreau, and Small Hand's artisanal almond-apricot orgeat, stirred with ice and served on the rocks with a halved lime and a sprig of mint. It's a sweet, floral, citrusy triumph.

Irish coffee at the Gold Dust Lounge — Despite its red-plush gilded-bordello tourist-trap trappings, the Gold Dust is one of San Francisco's more affable neighborhood saloons. Drop in and you're likely to find a squadron of regulars downing the house specialty: $3.50 Irish coffees. Simply crafted of strong black java and Tullamore Dew with a thick layer of cream on top, it's exactly what an Irish should be: warm, fortifying, and downright hallucinogenic.

Pisco sour at the Slanted Door — The Slanted Door's pisco sour is a damnably tasty work of art. After the Marian Farms organic California pisco, the Beck Grove Biodynamic lime juice, the raw organic egg white, and the squirt of simple syrup are shaken like hell and strained (twice!) into a chilled champagne glass, Angostura bitters are eye-dropped on top and arrayed into a lovely maple-on-snowscape leaf pattern. Most importantly, though, this is one smooth, frothy, refreshing libation.

Sidecar at Cantina — You don't want to mess around with the sidecar. The classic combo of brandy, orange liqueur, and lemon juice can be improved upon only with top-shelf ingredients, which is exactly what Cantina has done. What could be simpler than single-barrel late-harvest Riesling brandy, Combier triple sec, and the juice of a freshly squeezed Meyer lemon, shaken with ice and served with a splash of Carmes de Rieussec Sauternes and a twist of orange?

Negroni at Gitane — Campari tends to dominate any cocktail it comes in contact with, but in Gitane's spectacular version of the negroni, the bracing Italian aperitif is just one aspect of a wonderfully complex sipping experience. Miller's gin is combined with Campari, per usual, but splashes of crème de cacao and Ramos pinto port round off the briskness of the Campari, and you have a whole new rich, earthy cocktail with a bittersweet finish.

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