San Francisco has always been a gin-drinking town, going back to pre-Prohibition days. Today, it’s gin’s time to shine with more gin bars than ever. The heritage continues both in the quantity and quality of local distilleries producing gin and the increase in gin cocktails seen on restaurant and bar menus. Here are six of the best places to enjoy gin in San Francisco.
Whitechapel is easily the most gin-focused bar in San Francisco. The bar carries more than 400 different gins, with new ones being added all the time. There are 105 new and classic gin cocktails on the menu, including a draught gin and tonic. The list includes vintage gins going back to the 1920s. The bar’s interior is reminiscent of a British Victorian gin palace mixed with a vintage London tube station. There’s even a gin club “The Polk Street Irregulars” to help guests on their gin journey with invitations to special events, educational programs, and a way to record their gin drinks to earn perks. The bar offers food, including a 36-ounce dry-aged Tomahawk steak for two, a lavish cheese plate, hand pies, and various pub snacks.
Cockscomb is a restaurant from Chris Cosentino, a chef well known for his love of less common cuts of meat and offal. There are currently 92 gins of varying styles on the menu as well as cocktails that can certainly get you in the mood for delving into bold dishes like beef heart tartare; braised lamb shoulder Parisian, with anchovies, red onion, and mint; or pig skin carbonara. Gin balances the flavor from of all the herbs, and the soothing botanicals make cocktails sing with the food. When in doubt, a gin and tonic pairs nicely with oysters.
Spain has gone crazy for the gin and tonic, or “gintonic” as the Spaniards call it, so it’s no wonder that Aatxe, a bar and restaurant that focuses on regional Spanish cuisine with Basque influence would have a gin and tonic menu. They also have other gin cocktails with Spanish ingredients or that tie in to Spanish flavors such as the Artza Wakes Up—with Tanqueray, Averna, almond, cara cara orange, and absinthe. The bar has 85 gins, including Spanish and local brands as well as the classics. To help guests navigate the choices, a chart divides the gins into categories like floral, fruity, big guys, and herbal and offers suggestions for which tonic to pair with them. After your gin and tonic, you can delve into pintxos and tapas like duck and leek toast, croqueta de jamon, gambas al ajillo, and patatas bravas.
Coqueta is a Spanish restaurant with a menu that embodies the spirit of “gintonic.” The bar currently has more than 80 gins, and five tonics from a small town near Cadiz in Andalusia called Indi & Co., along with other housemade flavored tonics to showcase the variety and possibility of the popular Spanish drink. The drinks complement a menu of hot and cold tapas, wood-grilled dishes, and paellas, as well as open-face sandwiches and bite-sized skewers.
Dosa is a modern South Indian–inspired restaurant with a California sensibility. Since gin is closely identified with Britain and India, there is a deep connection of the botanicals in gin and the flavors of Indian cuisine. Gin also serves as an excellent precursor to an Indian meal. Dosa has 42 gins on the menu; one of their most popular pairings is the Taco Frankie (spicy South Indian–style vindaloo duck tacos) paired with their house gin and tonic.
Although The Interval isn’t necessarily considered a gin bar, it is focused on cocktail history and offers some interesting options for gin lovers and cocktail explorers. The bar carries about 15 different gins and works with a local distiller to create their own custom gin, flavored with juniper berries along with coriander, cedar tips, lemon, and orange. The gin is a membership reward, and members keep it in flasks mounted on the ceiling in a checkerboard-like design. The custom gin is also available in a tasting flight for nonmembers. The bar uses tonic syrup made from Small Hand Foods in the draught gin and tonic. A recommended cocktail and a bartender’s favorite is the Navy Gimlet, made from high-proof gin and lime cordial, served ice cold.