San Francisco has always been a serious drinking town. So nothing could be a more appropriate task than for us to hunt down the best bars in the Bay Area — from temples of cocktail culture to dive bars that honor their neighborhoods. Welcome to the The San Francisco Chronicle’s Top 100 Bars.
Drinking in San Francisco stretches back to the Barbary Coast days, commemorated in the Saloon on Grant Avenue, which has been serving patrons since 1861. It includes the 19th -century heyday of “Professor” Jerry Thomas, the most legendary of bartenders, who developed the fiery Blue Blazer cocktail here.
The Chronicle has played a very active role in that drinking history. Columnist Stanton Delaplane introduced Irish coffee here in 1952, a tradition that lives on at the Buena Vista. In Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Herb Caen, the martini — made, naturally, with what he called vitamin V — had a tireless champion.
Nothing, then, could be a more appropriate task than for The Chronicle’s Food & Wine staff to hunt down the best bars in the Bay Area. We do this every year with the Top 100 Restaurants and the Top 100 Wines, honoring some of what Northern California does best. Now … the Top 100 Bars.
Because everyone wants something different in their favorite watering hole, we looked far and wide. Top-notch cocktails are a snooze if your drink preferences stop with a shot and a beer. Wine bars and beer bars speak to different partisans, bars that curate collections of rum or whiskey don’t necessarily have to run a fancy kitchen, and sometimes all you really want is a good seat to watch the game.
It was crucial to honor all these things, so we sought out best of each category. Dive bars (we use that term with the greatest love and respect) that honor their neighborhoods. Cocktail temples that value quality over flash. Fantastic bar snacks and wine lists that were compiled with care. And, of course, the classic spots that have bookmarked Bay Area history through the decades.
Join us in a toast to the Top 100 Bars — places where you’ll always be glad to get a drink.