The latest craze taking San Francisco’s nightlife scene by storm is a fun one. While you may be scratching your head at the thought of a bar — complete with a different name, unique décor and its own independent menu — inside another bar, we understand why this new breed of watering hole works.
Thanks to Prohibition, secret clubs, hidden libraries and private back rooms became a large part of the restaurant and spirits industries. If you wanted a good drink, you had to know someone. Although alcohol became widely available after the repeal, the allure of a lesser-known, more-exclusive undercover bar never really faded.
Today’s entrepreneurs realize that what people want, especially savvy San Franciscans who drink and dine out every night, is an unparalleled experience they can’t have anywhere else. Locals are thirsty for sexy hot spots that they can share with their Instagram followers. If said destination also happens to be semi-concealed inside another bar, even better.
The trend got its start in the Bay Area back in late 2009, when The Hideout at Dalva opened. Dalva is an old Mission District dive bar with a standard menu and somewhat seedy crowd. However, when you walk through the bar toward the back, you’ll come to an intimate and moody room where some of the city’s most sought-after mixologists sling handcrafted cocktails.
At its most basic, the bar-within-a-bar concept is simply a marketing scheme. But as always-packed The Hideout proves, it’s a genius one.
Much like The Hideout, the following five places welcome you to consume brilliant drinks in sophisticated-but-unassuming spaces you could easily walk right past if you weren’t paying attention.
Marianne’s at The Cavalier opened in 2014 as a members-only club and event space. However, in summer 2016, the Big Night Restaurant Group transformed the back room into a bar within a restaurant. Marianne’s is named for Marianne Faithfull, a 1960s British rock star and one-time girlfriend to Mick Jagger.
With large booths, cozy couches and plenty of ’60s- and ’70s-inspired paraphernalia, the space feels more like a lounge than anything else. It’s a sensational place for a tipple and an even better one for a drink and a snack. Chef Jennifer Puccio whips up delicious pork sausage rolls, ham and cheese finger sandwiches with citrus hollandaise sauce and one of the best $12 burgers you’ll ever eat.
Louie’s Gen-Gen Room
Louie’s Gen-Gen Room is the popular downstairs bar at Liholiho Yacht Club. Like most of the other hidden bars, this one opened a while after its host restaurant was well established. The ceiling and bar are painted ocean blue and the long bar is white marble.
Liholiho’s team refers to the reservation-only space as “a cocktail party at a friend’s house.” This shindig is powered by culinary selections that are different from the items served upstairs. The satisfying snacks — we’re talking pigs in a blanket with housemade spam, hamachi poke with octo puff and Brussels sprouts seaweed salad — reflect chef Ravi Kapur’s Hawaiian heritage.
Order either with a coconut-milk-powered drink and imagine yourself on an island.
Over Proof is another spot where food plays an important role in the experience. It’s located on the small second floor of the ABV bar in the Mission. Over Proof is a seasonally changing pop-up bar with four different concepts that highlight one type of spirit and the food that best pairs with it.
Its current, and first, incarnation is Flip-Flop, a rum bar with a tasting menu of spectacular concoctions that are naturally paired with island-inspired bites. The menu is not for the faint of heart, as it involves five regular-sized cocktails.
The Pink Flamingo is a refreshing, well-balanced drink made with rum, lime, pineapple gum and absinthe. (All of the ingredients are made in house by the Over Proof team.) Although each pour is paired with a substantial dish — in the case of Pink Flamingo, it’s a delicious coconut shrimp ceviche — we don’t recommend signing up for any early morning workouts for the next day.
Nightbird is an elegant tasting-menu restaurant from chef Kim Alter. Adjacent to the 36-seat eatery is the Linden Room, a jewel box of a bar with cocktails created by Ron Boyd and Andrew Majoulet. The space is minimal but pops with art deco accents.
There are two sides to its menu: seasonal drinks and spirit-forward concoctions. With only six seats in the entire bar, getting a spot is almost purely based on luck. (You can leave your name with the bartender, too, and he’ll call you when a spot opens up.) The wait factor only adds to the cozy address’ mystique.
Bask in a skylight view of the famed Transamerica Pyramid while sipping on signature libations. The design, by Ken Fulk, is reminiscent of an old gentlemen’s club, so expect to see dark wood walks, brown tufted leather couches and leopard-print carpet.
And since it comes from chef Florence, there is a short menu of pub fare, including shrimp cocktail, deviled eggs, beef tartare, burgers and, of course, Wayfare’s famous fried chicken.