Enjoying an icy-cold, frothy beer is an age-old pastime. In San Francisco, the locals flock to saloons, breweries and restaurants that specialize in everything from signature seasonal IPAs to uniquely curated lists of hard-to-find European and Japanese bottles. If you’re looking for a fabulous place to throw back a few pints, here are our five suggestions in San Francisco.
A few blocks from downtown’s Union Square epicenter is Mikkeller Bar, the first U.S. outpost of the Copenhagen brewing company of the same name. Although the space is large, it’s always full, even on weeknights, with a crowd of young tech professionals and plaid-clad beer lovers. The Victorian building, which dates back to 1907, has exposed brick, humorous artwork and a four-sided bar in the middle of the space. The list is extensive: Sip on Belgian-style strong ales, trippelbocks and imperial stouts, or choose from one of the Mikkeller Tenderloin beers, four brews that were created specifically to be poured at this location. The most up-to-date beer technology guarantees that each pour is served at its optimal temperature, which allows you to really experience the flavors of the brew.
A bustling neighborhood restaurant located on Hyde Street, Stones Throw is the ideal spot for those who are looking to pair their beer with an exquisite meal. There’s a perpetually packed small bar and tables that form an L shape around the compact open kitchen. The floral arrangements are stunningly big and the staff is kind, especially manager Tai Ricci, a bubbly brunette with a riot of brown curls. The food menu changes seasonally and the complex beer options (which highlight unusual lesser-known bottlings) even more frequently. There’s German hefeweizens, funky hoppy triples from Alaska and Massachusetts, a Norwegian sour, hard bitters from Japan and New Zealand and a malt from Maryland. We could go on and on, but you get the idea. There are also a few interesting smoky beers that pair well with chef Jason Halverson’s inventive, mind-blowing cuisine. His signature dish is the puffed potato and eggs — the must-order croquette is reinvented with an oozing yolk center and crispy chicken skin garnish. Also not to be missed is the housemade squid ink pasta with clams, shrimp and spicy capers — it’s easily one of the best squid ink pastas in town.
Smokestack at Magnolia Brewing Company
This spot is arguably the city’s best-known local brewery. Fifteen years ago, home brewer Dave McLean opened the small Haight Street brewery and gastropub hoping to imitate the British pub experience that combines delicious food with session beers. Magnolia’s popularity grew and grew and, a little more than a year ago, McLean opened a massive brewing facility in the Dogpatch. Smokestack is the adjoining restaurant and bar that not only offers an unprecedented selection of whiskey, but also a stacked assortment of beers on tap and a hearty menu of classic barbecue dishes (the moist barbecue chicken is to die for) from Dennis Lee. With high ceilings, long communal tables, concrete walls, hand-written chalkboards and a window-paned wall (behind which are the steel brewing tanks), Smokestack feels like it could be a Prohibition-era bar. It’s unpretentious beer drinking at its best.
In the Mission district is Monk’s Kettle, a tavern that serves up 28 drafts and more than 180 bottles. The cozy beer house, which brings to mind a classic London-style pub, has been around since late 2007, but last fall underwent a quick remodel to debut a lovely new patio. The 25 outdoor seats ensure that Monk’s Kettle is a hot spot on sunny afternoons. The food is expertly prepared classic pub fare with a twist — think mussels steamed in Allagash white ale; corned beef hash croquettes with whipped bone marrow aioli; and a daily sandwich that’s served with hop salt fries.
No brew round-up is complete without a beer garden, and San Francisco’s most beloved one is the über-urban Biergarten. Located on a busy corner in Hayes Valley, Biergarten is a German-style beer garden with rows and rows of yellow picnic tables surrounded by a pretty tree that anchors the center of the space. The crowd is an eclectic mix and, more often than not on warm weekend afternoons, there’s a line that stretches around the block to get in. Check out the curated beer selection and you begin to understand why: The offerings are strictly German, from Stiegl Pils to Schneider Weisse. As for the food, it’s Bavarian, too, with solid dishes like traditional pretzels, pickled deviled eggs, burgers and hot dogs.