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In a city that’s truly a collection of neighborhoods, it’s fun to dip your toe into another ‘hood every once in a while. Pick up the hyper-local vibes when you visit these watering holes. Each of them is a neighborhood bar that’s also a destination worthy of a detour. They’re indie, trendy, creative and urban with bartenders who push the envelope every night. They may be located in the Mission, as with these 2012 picks, but we’re looking farther afield from Dogpatch to Outer Richmond.
628 20th St.
San Francisco, CA 94107
What’s new in Dogpatch, has sofas inside, free parking outside and sets up its cocktail menu as aperitif, seasonal, citrus and spirituous? The signature Third Rail concoction is found under citrus as a heading: Kentucky’s own Buffalo Trace Bourbon, smooth Lillet Blanc, honey, lemon and orange bitters. Valencia Street wanderers may recognize Jeff Lyon and Phil West from Range who opened here in December 2013. It’s all about the cocktails, as there’s no kitchen, but the kitchen at Range helps out with the gotta-try selection of nine beef, pork and veggie jerky nibbles.
2124 Market St.
San Francisco, CA 94114
Blackbird, it seems, is a comment magnet from its intriguing cocktails to its border-Castro crowd and from its photo booth to its pool table in the back. Bring cash and a bit of patience, appreciating that your handcrafted cocktail of choice requires time in its preparation. Meanwhile, twist the top on a mini Mason jar filled with your choice of smoked trout, marinated olives, fava bean hummus and more from the kitchen at 15 Romolo. The Bird’s happy hour comes to life from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on weeknights. If you’ve not been in lately, come again, as bar manager Matt Grippo’s cocktail menu is seasonal. Like its neighborhood, the Bird says, “there’s something here for everyone.”
115 Columbus Ave.
San Francisco, CA 94133
Since we’re talking neighborhoods, we mustn’t overlook North Beach and Jackson Square. Saloonkeepers with Absinthe Brasserie & Bar credentials recreated an old school feel in a spot where a speakeasy has stood since 1907. If you don’t already know all about His (self-proclaimed) Majesty Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico, this is the place to find out. If you do know about the lovable loony legend, you’ll really appreciate the statue presiding over the historic bar. Those requesting a cocktail to complement the history may likely be sipping a pisco punch in this corner of North Beach/Jackson Square/Chinatown.
505 Jones St.
San Francisco, CA 94102
What goes into a fresh handcrafted cocktail? Days begin at the farmers market to produce fresh-squeezed fruit juices and all of the required trimmings for the evening’s libations. The corner of Jones and O’Farrell has been the site of a bar since 1867, more than half-a-century before 14 years of Prohibition when the joint disguised itself as a cigar merchant. At the time, five exit tunnels and warning bells connected to the underground speakeasy explain why the front door is unmarked. To play along, ring the doorbell and use your password (see the website). Check out the Library, Russell Room and Wilson Bar, a detective agency-themed bar hidden within a bar.
5929 Geary Blvd.
San Francisco, CA 94121
Since 1965, Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant has been worth a detour to the sticks of Outer Richmond (between 24th and 25th Streets). Good, quality tequila is the spirit of choice in the USA these days. Leading the charge, Tommy’s is the temple of tequila. If you’re a tequila newbie, ask proprietor Julio Bermejo for the tutorial. If you’re a tequila aficionado, welcome to the best 100 percent blue agave in town. If you’re considering return visits, the $10 Blue Agave Club has 7,000 members and counting.
Laurie JM Farr is a freelance writer covering all things in her adopted San Francisco. A dedicated urbanite, she’s a transplanted New Yorker by way of a couple of decades in London as a hotel sales and marketing manager. Follow her work on @ReferencePlease, USA Today, Yahoo! and on Examiner.com.