The bar scene in San Francisco is booming, and it seems like a new speakeasy, mixologist haven or lounge is opening its doors every week. While some of them, like the Mission District’s Trick Dog and Elixir, have menus that change with the season, most bars have a tried-and-true list of drinks that regulars have come to love.
Area residents would be in an uproar if they went to the Tipsy Pig, a Marina hot spot, and couldn’t order their signature drink — a delightful fizzy concoction with muddled strawberries known as Strawberry Fields.
Although the formula is successful in a lot of these places, there comes a time for even old faithfuls to reinvent themselves. Here we highlight three such establishments that have recently been reinvigorated.
A decade ago, Dave McLean opened a little bar in the Upper Haight called The Alembic. With a two-page cocktail list that includes superb versions of classics like the Sazerac and new-school libations such as the Heir Apparent (genever, vermouth, pear brandy and sage), it quickly became a pioneer of the craft cocktail movement.
On any given night, the bar was packed with a mixture of seasoned cocktail geeks, first dates and tourists. Just past the bar were eight small tables and a small kitchen churning out excellent small bites.
After some time, though, McLean closed the space for a sizable expansion. The results speak for themselves. A new room with larger, old-school booths was added. Now, there’s more space for all comers who want to find a mixed drink made with the best quality ingredients and a complementing meal of hearty fare — think housemade ricotta with broccoli and onion jam, pork fritters with braised kale and a purée of white beans and dried apricot. There’s even a delightful dish of quail with king trumpet mushrooms. We’ll toast to the Alembic’s expansion any day.
Laszlo is a Mission District standby right next door to Foreign Cinema restaurant. In fact, bar-goers can come to Lazlo and order anything off of Foreign Cinema’s menu daily from 5:30 to 10 p.m.
However, that’s not what’s new about this gem of a bar. The 15-year-old space recently underwent an interior refresh, added a menu of globally inspired bar bites and revitalized its nightly DJ lineup.
The bar is now a glossy black, the wooden walls are smooth and golden, and the two-story bar feels more intimate. The new cocktail list has highballs, boilermakers and our personal favorite, the Pink Flamingo, a cognac cocktail with sweet vermouth, egg white, lemon juice and orange-blossom water.
As for the worldly snacks, you can’t go wrong with the five-spice duck cracklings, savory vegetable samosas with two different kinds of chutney or the fried pickled mushrooms with housemade ranch dip.
District is a wine bar that opened in South Beach 10 years ago. While the food menu has remained consistent — the fontina-filled arancini are a must-order — there is one significant addition to the décor: a massive display of whiskey. The wine bar is no longer just serving beer and wine. For its 10th birthday, District gifted its patrons with a liquor license.
The full-service bar focuses on the caramel-colored spirit. “As with wine, whiskey changes with age and picks up the flavors of the barrel. And like wine, the complex flavors in whiskey enhance the food on your plate,” says Caterina Mirabelli, District’s wine and spirits director, about the spot’s new obsession. “We have created our selection of bourbon, scotch and rye in the same way we created our wine list — with a great deal of care, focusing on quality and diversity so that we can satisfy every palate in the house.”
The wine flights at District have always been a hit, and now spirits fans can sample more than 60 small-batch bourbons, scotches and ryes in a series of options. There’s a lovely old-fashioned and several signature whiskey cocktails. The Bluegrass, a drink that features blueberry- and rosemary-infused Four Roses, maple syrup and lemon, is one of our favorites.