Classic Cocktails in San Francisco

San Francisco is a hotbed of cocktail innovation, but sometimes it's nice to keep it simple. These seven San Francisco bars and restaurants are capable of producing mind-bending concoctions, but they're just as happy to serve up something old-fashioned (like an old fashioned), made with attention and care. Many of the bartenders at these spots are amateur cocktail historians, to boot; ask them to give you the story behind your drink, and they'll almost always have an interesting tidbit or two. (Photo: Mixing a drink at Bar Agricole, by Melissa Barnes)

Updated: September 13, 2011

Classic Cocktails in San Francisco


688 Geary St, San Francisco, CA 94102

The classic gimlet, with gin, lime juice and sugar, gets an update of basil at this cocktail spot outside Union Square. With agave nectar offering the sweet component and the vegetal pop of the basil, the classic feels new again.

Slow Club

2501 Mariposa St, San Francisco, CA 94110

James Bond might like his martinis dry and shaken, but a true martini fan knows that the best versions of the drink are stirred and have plenty of vermouth--otherwise, you're just drinking cold, watered-down gin. Slow Club does a perfect version, with locally made Anchor Junipero gin, Noilly Prat vermouth and an olive (or three).

The Alembic

1725 Haight St, San Francisco, CA 94117

The menu at this Upper Haight speakeasy is thick with classic cocktails, from a superlative bourbon old fashioned to a cherry- and orange-tinged Blood and Sand.

Bar Agricole

355 11th St, San Francisco, CA 94103

Pre-Prohibition cocktails are the specialty at this SOMA bar and restaurant, which makes its own bitters and has many of its liquors custom-distilled. Try the tequila cocktail (with sweet vermouth, stonefruit bitters, and orange) or the Presidente (with Demerara rum, farmhouse curacao, grenadine and orange bitters).


246 Kearny St, San Francisco, CA 94108

If the last punch you drank was from a spiked bowl at the junior prom, you're missing out on a truly historic drink that's been around for centuries (and comes pre-spiked, to boot). Grab some friends and order a bowl of the Honey Spiced Punch, with cachaca, honey, rum, sparkling water and falernum (a sweet, gingery syrup often used in tropical drinks).

15 Romolo

15 Romolo Pl, San Francisco, CA 94133

The menu at this hidden North Beach bar makes it easy to order a classic drink: one side is all old-school concoctions, while the other features drinks developed by the bartenders. The classic side features delights like a milk punch made with rum, a Pimm's cup crowned with fresh fruit, and the Hemingway daiquiri, made with white rum, lime, grapefruit and maraschino liqueur.

Heaven's Dog

1148 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94103

All the cocktails on the menu at this SOMA Chinese spot come from Charles B. Baker's "The Gentleman's Companion," a 1920s travel-guide-cum-cocktail-cookbook. We like the Shanghai Buck, with aged rum, fresh ginger and ginger ale, and the Hotel Nacional, which incorporates rum, pineapple gum syrup, apricot brandy and lime juice.