San Francisco upscale bars range from quiet piano bars to elegant, late-night dance clubs. If you're in the mood to don designer threads and step out for a cocktail in an establishment that doesn't have neon-colored beer signs behind the bar, then check out our discriminating guide to San Francisco upscale bars.
Absinthe Brasserie and Bar
398 Hayes Street (at Gough Street) (415) 551-1590 Official Website: Absinthe
Located in the shi-shi neighborhood of Hayes Valley, Absinthe has quickly gained a reputation as one of the best places in the city to kick back with a perfectly blended drink. It has the luxurious atmosphere of a French wine bar, and Martinis and Cosmopolitans that many of the establishment's fans swear by. This is the perfect place to stop in for a drink at when out shopping in one of the neighborhood's many boutiques, or right before a performance at Davies Symphony Hall. If you're feeling a bit puckish, be sure to ask for the bar menu, which has such items as oysters, caviar, and the Absinthe Niman Ranch hamburger.
San Francisco Upscale Bars: The Bigfoot Lodge
1750 Polk Street (at Clay Street) (415) 440-2355 Official Website: Bigfoot Lodge
Welcome to Sasquatch Country! This timber-heavy Polk establishment is definitely one of the more original themed bars to come down the pike in a while-you keep expecting Smoky the Bear to pop out from behind one of the faux trees at any minute. This is a comfy, warmly lit bar with a terrific menu of original mixed drinks. Go for the famous Girl Scout Cookie, which actually tastes like a liquefied Thin Mint cookie.
2389 Mission Street (at 20th Street) (415) 643-5200 Official Website: Bruno's
The swingenest spot on all of Mission Street, hands down. It's easy to conjure up visions of Frank, Sammy, and Dean knocking a few back at Bruno's-just about every picture you've seen of the Rat Pack features them drinking at a bar just like this one. It's a lush, heavily '50s retro affair that's been consistently popular with the upper echelon of SF hipsters for quite some time now (you can expect to see everything from British mod fashions to zoot suits to dapper greaser duds here). There's live jazz on many nights, but an admission fee is required to see the band play. Don't worry, though-the bands perform in a separate room, so if you're just in to down a five-star Sidecar or Manhattan, pay no mind to the cover charge.
2247 Market Street (between Noe and Sanchez Streets) (415) 621-5256 Official Website: Lime
This new, ultra-modern Castro hotspot stands out like nothing else on its block, and how could it not? The enormous, floor-to-ceiling window in the front is purple, and the interior suggests both the minimalist Milk Bar from "A Clockwork Orange" and the insanely colorful main floor candy field of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." The fashionista set comes here for potent Cosmos, Mojitos, and Bellinis, as well as signature original drinks like the Honey Dew Me. Small plates are offered in addition to drinks, making Lime the perfect place for the hungry and thirsty to hit for a bit of pre-dinner or late-night indulgence.
The Redwood Room at the Clift Hotel
495 Geary Street (at Taylor Street) (415) 929-2372 Official Website: Redwood Room
Right now, in 2005, there's not hotter place to be in San Francisco than the Redwood Room (that is if you're a rich urban professional). On any given night this astoundingly beautiful, enormous, Phillippe Starcke-designed bar looks the set of a cattle call for contestants for Donald Trump's "The Apprentice." The place gets hopping (and stays hopping) right when the work whistle sounds at 5, and the expensive cocktails (my gin and tonic cost $10) flow till closing time at 2am. The famed redesign-which took place just a few years back-left the original redwood paneling and massive bar in place while adding highly modern flourishes like digital artwork projected on to plasma television screens. Conversation among the throngs of people who flock here operates at high volume levels, so be prepared to pipe up if you're with someone. And be prepared to spend some money.
The Tonga Room
950 Mason Street (between Sacramento and California Streets) (415) 772-5278 Official Website: The Tonga Room
The Tonga Room is without a doubt one of the coolest and most original spaces to unwind in in all of San Francisco. You almost enter another dimension upon walking in-there are hut-like structures covered in palm tree fronds to drink under, there's an enormous pond containing a float that a Hawaiian band and hula dancers perform on, and a hulking bamboo bar that looks like it's straight out of "Gilligan's Island." There are tons of fruity, potent tropical drinks to be had, and if you're there long enough, you'll get to see a rainstorm fall over the pond! Be absolutely sure you check out the happy hour-it goes from 5pm to 7pm Monday through Friday, and features (with the purchase of one $7 dollar cocktail) a sumptuous buffet of Pacific Rim nibblers like spare ribs, pot stickers, pork buns, and much more.