Wine bars are somewhat ubiquitous in major cities like San Francisco. But great spots serving spectacular vino can be few and far between — we’re talking about the kinds of places you’ll frequent that have a knowledgeable staff, a pretension-free air and a list of exciting varietals on the menu. A small roster of deliciously shareable snacks to soak up all of that wine never hurts, and bonus points go to lounges where you can purchase a bottle to bring home and enjoy later.
These six wine bars manage to check these criteria with relative ease.
While the name may remind you of a DC Comics villain, this female-led wine bar takes its inspiration from the industry term for the person who turns champagne bottles, which rest at a 45-degree angle to the ground, back and forth every day. This process helps to dislodge particles and sediment from settling in the bottle as the wine ages.
Specializing in sparkling wine, this Hayes Valley hot spot from PR maven Jen Pelka is tiny and consistently packed. Although it lacks a full kitchen, the bar offers a small selection of fun snacks, from popcorn and tater tots to an assortment of waffles with luxe accoutrements like caviar. The Riddler is an excellent place to start — or end — a celebratory evening.
Amelie Wine Bar
Serving the vino needs of Russian and Nob Hill residents for more than 10 years, Amelie’s handsome French waiters and flavorful food (see: sensational onion soup and stellar cheese plate) transport you to Paris.
Order a glass of Sancerre and enjoy it while listening to live music — the vintage-inspired bar often has performers (a jazz band or flamenco guitarist) serenading guests on weekend evenings. There are plenty of tables, both big and small, so that you can come with a group of friends or a date.
The Barrel Room
There’s always something new on tap at this downtown watering hole. With an entirely refreshed menu debuting every season, The Barrel Room draws from different wine regions around the world — think Spain, coastal Italy, Washington state or its current list iteration, the South of France.
Owner Sarah Trubnick is laid back, personable and knows everything about wine, from why the color orange is trending to what makes an exceptional California chardonnay. So, sit at the bar or wander downstairs — The Barrel Room has an underground speakeasy that transports you back to Prohibition-era San Francisco.
Both a wine bar and a bottle shop, Tofino is a large, airy space where you’ll find something unique. The Geary Boulevard venue specializes in natural varietals from family-run estates all over the world, serving more than 30 by the glass in a 32-seat bar.
If you’re a fan of sherry, you’ve come to the right place — owners Mark Nevin and April Sack love the fortified wine and have an interesting stock of dry fino, dark oloroso and perfectly balanced amontillado. Try one of the sips on tap or buy a bottle from the 800-plus labels on offer in the store.
Pair your selection with the kitchen’s Mediterranean-inspired treats, including burrata, sardine crostini and an amazing grilled cheese sandwich with Serrano ham.
California Wine Merchant
In the Marina district, you’ll find this beloved destination that has been holding court on Chestnut Street for the past 44 years. A wine bar that’s packed from noon until night, it specializes in small-production wine from the Golden State.
Stay for a tasting or drop by to buy a bottle from the store — either way, this is an excellent place for people-watching and can be quite the energetic scene on weekends. Note that California Wine Merchant does not have any food, but there are plenty of nearby restaurants.
Arlequin Wine Merchant
If you want to sip a glass of rosé in a secret garden, make a beeline for this Hayes Valley establishment. The wine bar/boutique is a part of The Absinthe Group, so if you happen to dine at one of its restaurants and become obsessed with the dry Spanish white served by the glass, you can pick up a bottle at Arlequin — the shop stocks almost all of the wines offered at the group’s seven area venues.
Arlequin Wine Merchant also hosts frequent tastings and educational events, so if you want to up your wine knowledge, this is the place to do it.
And just next door is the charming Arlequin Café and Food To Go, whose gorgeous back patio is arguably one of the city’s most stunning alfresco spaces to imbibe.