10 Secret Bars to Check Out…If You Can Find Them
It might finally be time to let go of that pipe dream of getting into the super-private back room at Tosca, unless you and your companions are ready to throw down $1,800 for the tab. Lucky for you, there is no shortage of secret bars in this city that are much more, shall we say, accessible. Whether they are down a dark alley, lack any kind of signage or require a password to get in, we’ve got the scoop on ten hard-to-find bars that you’ll have so much fun discovering.
Look for a street-level door right next to Wayfare Tavern to get up to this men’s-club-style fourth-floor bar with a skylight view of the Transamerica building. The bar specializes in drinks from popular NYC bars, like Employees Only, but we suggest ordering a Sequoia original, like the lavender Moscow Mule. Just don’t show up unannounced—this secret new spot is reservations-only.
558½ Sacramento St.; 415-772-9060 or thesequoia.com
LINDEN ROOM AT NIGHTBIRD
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to be eating at the pricey Nightbird to grab a drink at this restaurant bar. There’s even a separate entrance. Look for the door on Linden Street just after you turn onto the alley from Gough Street. Sidle up to one of the eight seats and order yourself a craft cocktail, like the Burrricane—with bourbon, passion fruit, Campari, citrus and bitters.
330 Gough St.; 415-829-7565 or nightbirdrestaurant.com
The closet-sized punch bar right next door to WesBurger is so small that if you blink you might miss it. There’s no sign, so let the adjacent burger joint, dim red lighting and jungle-like interior be your clues. Order the cheeky Long Thailand Iced Tea. And don’t worry, it’s low ABV.
2240A Mission St.; wesburgernmore.com
SRO AT ODDJOB
Enter through the door on Washburn Alley and then go to the left through the curtains. Located within Oddjob, SRO (Standing Room Only) guarantees a special one-of-a-kind concoction. Give the quirky bartender a spirit preference, a flavor profile or even a mood, and he’ll whip up something truly original.
1337 Mission St.; oddjobsf.com
The notoriously exclusive lounge inside The Cavalier has relaxed its rules in recent years so that more than just celebrities and well-heeled friends of the owners can get in. It’s reservations-only for a spot at the 20-seat bar. You’ll have to walk down the alley next to Hotel Zetta and enter through a pink door. Once you’re in, enjoy a game of cards while you sip your Purple Rain.
360 Jessie St.; mariannessf.com
Look for the Royal Cuckoo Market sign and baskets of citrus on the sidewalk. To the right of the entrance are a handful of stools and a narrow bar, where you’ll be greeted with a cocktail menu featuring obscure ingredients you’ve never heard of. Play it safe with a refreshing and not-too-weird Sergeant Sadlers Rebujito—sherry, cava, mint, lime, agave and Angostura bitters.
3368 19th St.; royalcuckoomarket.com
Walk straight to the back of Hawker Fare and take the staircase on the left to this tucked-away second-floor bar. There you’ll find a menu of cocktails inspired by movies (think James Bond) and old-school cocktail books. Don’t order too many—these drinks come strong.
680 Valencia St.; holymountainsf.com
REMEDIE ROOM AT THE DEVIL’S ACRE
The secret downstairs bar within The Devil’s Acre promises to mix up an elixir to cure all your troubles. The apothecary-style space is usually reserved for private parties, but if there’s no event, you can head down by following the wall to the right of the entrance all the way to the end.
256 Columbus Ave.; thedevilsacre.com
BOURBON & BRANCH BARS
How many secret bars can you cram into one space? In this case, the answer would be five. Chances are you’ve been to the reservations-only main bar, Bourbon & Branch. But there’s also the Library (enter on O’Farrell; no reservation necessary and the password is “books”). Larger parties will likely be in Russell’s Room, and then there’s the detective-agency-themed Wilson & Wilson, where the drinks are served in teapots in a nod to Prohibition (walk back to the secret door by the bathroom to get to this reservations-only spot). And if you ask really nicely, they might let you into Ipswich, a tiny two-seat bar through a trap door in the floor.
501-505 Jones St.; bourbonandbranch.com
HOGSHEAD RESERVE AT THE BARREL ROOM
Head straight to the back of this FiDi wine bar and store, and look for the staircase leading to a secluded basement cocktail bar in a former bank vault. Brown spirits are the specialty here, so give it a shot the next time you fancy a Sazerac.
415 Sansome St.; thebarrelroomsf.com