There comes a moment in every night great night out when we’re faced with the question: Care for a nightcap? If you’ve ever finished dinner or left the theater and wanted just one more drink (without the rowdy bar vibe), this is list is for you.
Traditionally, nightcaps are served warm with brandy or bourbon, and are meant to be sipped before bed. Luckily San Francisco bartenders seem to love keeping tradition alive, and many serve their own twists on the classic late-night drink. Here’s where to sip a warm cocktail in a cozy bar the next time you’re just not ready to head home.
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On a date you never want to end? What could be more appropos than an after-dinner stop at chef Kim Alter’s new Nightbird, where just seven seats and leather-upholstered walls inside Linden Room, the restaurant’s snug Art Deco–style bar, promise an intimate atmosphere for a first kiss over cocktails. When it comes time to order the nightcap, you can’t go wrong with the moody I’m Really Into Amaro Right Now (rye, Montenegro, Averna and Nonino), but the seasonal Crimson Hayes (brandy, beet, and lemon verbena) is just the right shade for love. // 330 Gough St. (Hayes Valley), nightbirdrestaurant.com
Jack Kerouac would have loved this place. Step inside this classic Barbary Coast bar with an intricately carved mahogany counter and furnishings, an upstairs balcony, and a toasty wood-burning stove. Then, find inspiration for your own novel in classic nightcaps such as the Sazerac (rye, sugar, Peychaud’s, and absinthe) and the Bamboo Cocktail (Oloroso sherry, dry vermouth, and bitters). For those who like a warm version there is Keoke, with brandy, coffee liqueur garnished with lightly whipped cream. // 155 Columbus Ave. (North Beach), comstocksaloon.com
With its refined interior, gorgeous views of the Bay, and a heady selection of belly-warming whiskeys, Hard Water is a perfect close to a night on the town. Straight shooters can choose from among the bar’s 180 American whiskeys, including more than a few rare birds, while cocktail lovers should opt for the Dixie (bourbon, gum syrup, bitters, curaçao, and creme de menthe). “The Dixie was served at the Saint Louis Country Club in the 1910s,” says bar director Erik Adkins. Who doesn’t love a nip of history before bed? //Pier 3 (Embarcadero), hardwaterbar.com
For a shot of mystery at the end of the night, head to Hotel G just off Union Square. Swish past reception like you know where you’re going, and ascend the stairs into one of the sexiest little cocktail spots away from the city lights. From co-owners Brian Felley and Mo Hodges (the guys behind the beloved Big bar, RIP), Benjamin Cooper lies behind a black door marked with a black-and-white photo of two very enthusiastic ladies. Order a Bear Down (bourbon with pear and banana liquors), or trust Brian and Mo to handcraft something special: Tell them your spirit of choice, and they’ll make seasonal one-of-a-kind magic. // 398 Geary St. (Union Square), benjamincoopersf.com
Lazlo’s days as a dive bar are done thanks to a recent remodel that shed light on its formerly tres dark interior. Along with the fresh coat of paint and polished new counter and tables also comes a revamped menu of classic cocktails and bar bites—just the ticket for rounding out a night with friends. Settle down with the All About Eve (Mitcher’s rye, Cocchi di Torino, and orange bitters) while the DJ spins. Your last drink of the night will likely be the best. // 2526 Mission St. (Mission), laszlobarsf.com
Bear vs Bull
Old Hollywood glamour can be found in surprising places—in this case, it’s on the ground floor of the Mission’s new Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. Bear vs Bull (named for the Gold Rush–era sport of pitting grizzlies against Spanish bulls) offers soft red leather seats at the bar and a handful of small highboys in a space that feels like midnight in the middle of the day (note to early birds: you can have nightcaps all day long!). Try the boozy Boulevardier (Wild Turkey 101, Campari, Vermouth del Professore, lemon and orange peel) or the Dry Sherry Punch (Oloroso sherry, Cognac, orgeat, lime, cucumber, and mint). // 2550 Mission St. (Mission), bearvsbullbar.com
Spice up the night with a splash of kink at the porn-chic Armory Club, adjacent to the historic Armory—better known today as the headquarters for Kink.com. Victorian paper climbs the walls in this clubby spot where a fireplace keeps things warm and artful depictions of scantily clad and rather naughty ladies increase the heat. Armory Club has a good selection of whiskeys, but if you’re looking for something more elegant, go for the Bawd-Rye (James E. Pepper rye, strawberry-pepper vermouth, Benedictine, Angostura and Peychaud’s bitters) or the Route 66 (bourbon, Grand Poppy Liqueur, apple bitters, lemon, and ginger beer). // 1799 Mission St. (Mission), armoryclub.com