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San Francisco

The insider’s cocktail guide to San Francisco

From a Martini to a Mai Tai, the San Francisco is the birthplace of some of the world’s classic cocktails: here’s where to sip yours.

By Rachael Rowe 

Famous for its Golden Gate Bridge, cable cars, steep streets and Alcatraz, there’s no escaping that most visitors leave their heart in San Francisco – and there’s another reason to love it: the food and drink scene there. 

There’s no doubting that the City by the Bay has one of the world’s best food scenes. From high-end restaurants to bars and street vendors, there’s plenty to work up an appetite about. But it’s also the American city where several famous cocktails were created. With several legendary bars and classic venues with a view, there’s never been a better place to sip a cocktail…

The martini was created in San Francisco

Classic cocktailsThe Martini

Most people associate the Martini with James Bond, but this famous drink was created in San Francisco in 1849. Miners gathered in Martinez after prospecting for gold in the Sierra Nevada. A bartender was short on supplies, so he concocted a drink from gin, vermouth, bitters, maraschino, and a lemon. The Martini was born and has been one of the world’s classic cocktails since. 

Looking for a classic bar to try a Martini? Try Aub Zam Zam on Haight Street. 

Tropical tikiThe Mai Tai

The Mai Tai cocktail dates from 1944 and was created by Vic Bergeron in the Bay area around Oakland. He kept his recipe secret, so there were many imitations, but nothing quite matched Bergeron’s creation.

Most people know a Mai Tai is made with Jamaican rum, orange curacao, orgeat, fresh lime and rosewater. However, the one thing that makes a Mai Tai stand out is the tropical tiki atmosphere you need to drink it. For an authentic Mai Tai, head to Smugglers Cove on Gough Street.

Tequila Sunrise was made popular in San Francisco

The Tequila Sunrise 

A 1970’s drink, the Tequila Sunrise was initially created in Phoenix, Arizona but was relatively unknown until The Rolling Stones came to town. Keith Richards was handed a Tequila Sunrise at the Trident in Sausalito, and continued to request the cocktail on tour, making it popular the world over. Can’t Get No Satisfaction elsewhere? Head to the Trident, for a delicious Tequila Sunrise approved by a Stone. 

The Pisco Punch

The famous Pisco Punch also has connections to the Gold Rush and the mining communities. It was created in a saloon bar in 1853 in what is now the financial district. The Bank Exchange Saloon is where Mark Twain met a firefighter named Tom Sawyer, who became the inspiration for his classic novel. Did they drink a Pisco Punch? Well as Mark Twain famously said: “It’s better to keep your mouth shut,” so we don’t know for sure but as it was made in the same exact bar, we’re guessing he did. If you are looking for a bar to sip your Pisco Punch, head over to the Comstock Saloon where the American World Heavyweight Champion from 1919- 1926, boxer Jack Dempsey, once worked as a bouncer.

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Published 03.02.22