Market Street has been the main artery through which much of San Francisco’s life has flown for the past 150 years, designed to run from the waterfront in a three mile stretch directly to Twin Peaks. While it hasn’t always been so, recent openings of bars off the main drag are destination worthy stops.
Continuing from last month’s nightcap in the Financial District I start my night with some food and powerfully potent drinks at the quick service, local ingredient focused Mexican restaurant Uno Dos Tacos. Happy hour specials of $4 beers and $5 bites make this popular for the post-work crowds, but don’t overlook the creative agave-focused cocktails. A drink like the El Vampiro blends beet infused tequila with mezcal, honey, and chartreuse is inventive but refreshing. I start my night with a few orders of beef tongue and braised pork tacos and a dangerously potent Las Cazuelas. Named after the Mexican glazed clay vessel it arrives in, the drink contains a full four ounces of tequila, citrus juices, and Mexican soda. Stop at one or share if you are planning on continuing your evening. Or order a second and call a cab.
I head up a block and over to Sutter Street to experience a French style bar at Gaspar Brasserie. Skip the small downstairs bar, and instead head up to the cozy and slightly larger space with a spotlight on French brandies and spirits. On a warm evening, the Absinthe Frappe soothes the heat like a Montmartre version of a Mint Julep; the classic recipe is given a twist by consulting bar man Kevin Diedrich with a splash of a local aloe vera liqueur and a bit of lime. On a cool night like tonight, the Banane, which uses a French single malt whiskey and banana liqueur is both playful and fortifies against the cold fog enough to make the next stop.
I walk aback down to Market Street inching closer to the Union Square area to the Dirty Habit, a restaurant and bar on the fifth floor of the Palomar Hotel with a focus on cocktails and food meant to be enjoyed together. Bar manager Brian Means and chef David Bazirgan work to create synergy between the two worlds with brilliant effect. The Drop and Give Me Twenty combines blanco tequila, Warren pear & Fresno chile shrub, lemon, hellfire bitters in a tall drink that gives enough spicy glow, but not so much that it overwhelms everything else. Throw caution to the wind and pair it up with an order of the sweet and spicy chicken wings.
Closer to the hotels near Union Square is the more laid back Bartlett Hall with pub food and drinks to go with the big screen TVs. The draw here is the beer with 16 taps pouring some combination of craft and housemade beers. The selection on draft is fun, with some tasty oddballs like a yerba matte tea or hibiscus tea infused brews made locally. There is also a small cocktail menu that includes a few noteworthy originals like the 49er Gold Rush with bourbon, lemon, honey syrup, and fernet branca.
Around the corner I end the night with some of the most interesting beer halls around—Mikkeller Bar. A collaboration between vagabond Danish brewer Mikkel Borg Bjergsø and Chuck Stilphen of Oakland’s Trappist, it’s a beer and sausage Valhalla. 42 taps pour beers at precise coldness and pressure, meaning that the beers are always served at their ideal state. This includes a series of custom brews designed for the bar by Borg Bjergsø that pay homage to the Tenderloin—the gritty neighborhood that the bar sits on the edge at. The Tenderloin IPA, Wit, Pils, and Pale are what get the beer-nerds in the door, but it’s the housemade sausages and crunchy fries that keep them here. As I finish my last sip of the cold and fresh Mikkeller Tenderloin Pils, I walk back out to Market Street, with my sights set firmly at Twin Peaks and a plan a journey for another night.