Single-Spirit Specialty Bars

The go-to bar for a certain type of spirit must have more than just enough shelf space for every brand on the market of whisky, rum or whatever its specialty spirit. The bartenders must know enough about the given liquor to make recommendations, if not teach you a little something, and, of course, be able to shake up a mean cocktail with it, as well. The following bars carry absurdly wide selections of their liquor of choice (one stocks more than 200 types of sipping rums), making them great places to learn about the subtleties of your spiritual obsession--or just to get mashed on some top-notch cocktails.

Updated: February 10, 2010

One-Track Liver


Nihon

1779 Folsom St, San Francisco, CA 94103

Nihon offers up more than 400 whiskeys and creative Japanese small plates (izakaya-style) in a two-level lounge setting that feels clubby most of the time due to dance music and a Euro-chic crowd dressed for a night on the town. Regulars here can purchase whiskey by the bottle, store it on-site and gain access to a private lounge in which to drink it.


Cantina Gallery 580

580 Sutter St, San Francisco, CA 94102

Cantina specializes in Latin cocktails and spirits generally, but its selection of cachaca (sugar cane rum from Brazil) is the best in San Francisco. It is available in many of the juicy and fresh cocktails served by fast-working and friendly bartenders, but don't overlook the rare selection of aged sipping cachacas. Your fellow imbibers include Union Square tourists, bar and restaurant industry workers and an energetic young crowd on weekend nights when DJs fire up the turntables for hip-hop and other funky fare.


Bar 888

888 Howard St, San Francisco, CA 94103

Bar 888 serves as both the hotel lobby bar for the InterContinental and the service bar for the enclosed Italian restaurant Luce, rendering it more functional than fashionable. But what this small lounge lacks in atmosphere it compensates for in its selection of more than 120 artisanal grappas (plus grappa cocktails) that should go a long way to soften the spirit's firewater reputation.


Tommy's Mexican Restaurant

5929 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94121

Outer Richmond Mexican restaurant Tommy's has a tiny bar area that's consistently packed full of post-work tequila obsessives, friendly neighborhood regulars and partying college-aged kids. They come not just for the huge selection of tequila served neat or in the internationally famous Tommy's Margarita but also to learn from one of the world's most respected tequila experts, Tommy's son Julio Bermejo, who often works the bar.


Pisco Latin Lounge

1817 Market St, San Francisco, CA 94103

Pisco is a (usually) unaged grape brandy from Peru or Chile that can be delicious on its own, but it makes a heck of a tasty cocktail. The cocktails at Pisco Latin Lounge, a stylish bar adjoining the ever-popular Destino restaurant, range from the classic Pisco Punch to the spinoff Pisco Negroni to the huge and refreshing Sideways Sour.


Smuggler's Cove

650 Gough St, San Francisco, CA 94102

This brand-new three-story tiki bar near Civic Center takes a humorous approach to design with over-the-top South Seas and sailing ship flotsam and jetsam crammed into every nook of the space, yet is very serious about the drinks. There are more than 80 mostly-rum cocktails from different drink eras, 200-plus sipping rums, and a tasting club encouraging you to try them all, one ounce at a time.


Tsunami

1306 Fulton St, San Francisco, CA 94117

Not only does this small sushi bar contain one of the largest selections of sake in the area, it is undoubtedly one of the most fun venues in which to drink it. The high-energy well-heeled crowd that comes for the creative sushi rolls served beneath a soundtrack of house music also has the option of a huge range of sake served hot or cold, in cocktails, or discounted by the bottle from the Tsunami-owned Corkage store next door.