It’s the most wonderful time of year! Time for eating, drinking, and celebrating with the ones you love or even the ones you don’t. It’s the perfect excuse to go out with people who exist in your life, but who you rarely whoop it up with. Your barber, your coworkers, the lady at Whole Foods, there is no better time to step out of your comfort zone and hang out with these people.
This holiday season, I want to really get into the spirit and celebrate my favorite classic cocktail, the martini. There’s something about drinking a tall, clear, boozy drink in December that makes me want to stay up late and catch a glimpse of Santa. It’s classy, it’s festive, and it pairs beautifully with a sharp suit or dress. Luckily for us, San Francisco has some fantastic choices, and here are just a few places to find them:
Originally opened in 1941, Persian Aub Zam Zam has to be one of my favorite places on the planet to drink a martini. The upper Haight bar is an unreasonably dark cavern, the kind of place that looks the same in the morning as it does in the middle of the night. The deco-Middle Eastern decor looks like something from an old movie set. The space’s focal point is the semi-circular bar with an oil painting of the love story of Princess Shirin and King Khosrow. Everything about this place oozes San Francisco; it’s weird and kind of sad, while clinging to the past with a passion. Zam Zam’s is the perfect haunt to stumble into with a date before a fancy Christmas dinner, and their martinis are classic, clean, and come in tiny cocktail glasses like they did in the old days. Bring someone special here, it’s a special place.
On the corner of Valencia and Market streets is one of San Francisco’s last piano bars. Martuni’s is a party. It’s for groups of friends who want a good drink and an even better show. The long wooden bar is in the front, but behind a curtain divider is a backroom with some tables and a stage. Amateurs and professionals alike line up to accompany the house pianist and sing their little hearts out. This is not a karaoke bar, it’s a martini bar. Martuni’s is for the afterwork crowd, it’s for singers, and it’s for drinkers. Between sets of Broadway tunes and jazz numbers, enjoy good company, chatter among friends, and toss back some liquid courage. Nothing says holidays like some good tunes, a stiff drink, and peace on earth.
It wasn’t until my first visit to Blondie’s that I understood the true power of the three martini lunch. On Valencia and 17th streets, Blondie’s has about 35 martinis on their menu, classics and originals. All their cocktails come in 16 oz. pint glasses, so if you have any plans for the afternoon, cancel them. The drink is served in a sturdy glass with an even sturdier sidecar, chilling your extra hooch in the meantime. Slowly sip your beverage and when you’re ready, fill it right back up. Blondie’s serves about 3 ½ martinis for the price of one, so that’s usually all you’ll need. Only the bravest of drinkers dare order a second. This is the martini for those of you out there who are really trying to let loose, so bring a fun group. Blondie’s also plays live music and can turn into a bit of a club, so if you’re looking for a quiet place to sip your drink, go early.
There you have it folks, my favorite three martini joints in San Francisco. Get out there and start celebrating! Cheers!
Zam Zam, 1633 Haight St.
Martuni’s, 4 Valencia St.
Blondie’s Bar, 540 Valencia St.