1. Black Sands’ Quinine & Pine
Brand new Black Sands is a brewery and restaurant (with a killer cheeseburger and bites) but thanks to a cocktail menu created by Nicolas Torres (also bar manager at Lazy Bear), the cocktails are just as much a draw. On recent warm days, a Quinine N Pine goes down all too easy ($12), a well balanced mix of Genepy herbal alpine liqueur, La Gitana Manzanilla Sherry, lime, a house cherry pine shrub and tonic is oh-so subtly tart, pine-y and invigorating.
2. NINEBARK’s Deli Counter
Taking downtown Napa by storm since opening in October with Michelin-starred chef Matthew Lightner from NY’s Atera (by way of two of the world’s greatest restaurants, Mugaritz in Spain and Noma in Copenhagen), NINEBARK is in the enchanting, three-floored, former The Thomas/Fagiani’s space. At a preview in August, I tasted through the entire initial cocktail menu created by NY cocktail pioneer Eben Freeman and found the savory notes of the Deli Counter ($16), despite being a vodka-based drink, to be a favorite. Absolut Elyx vodka is bracing and briny with dry vermouth and house pastrami and pickle juice.
3. Chino’s Golden Eye
Bar manager Danny Louie continues to turn out Asian-influenced cocktail stunners at Chino, now paired better-than-ever, playful yet refined Chinese food from new chef Ron Pei. Louie’s Golden Eye ($12) is a new cocktail combining the earthy juiciness of red and golden beets with the herbal notes of SF’s own 209 Gin, aquavit (an herbal Scandinavian liquor), balanced by ginger and lemon. It’s lovely with dumplings or dishes like steamed gulf flounder.
4. Aaxte’s Rooster’s Song
Seamless, dry and even sweet the perfect after-dinner drink Roosters Song ($10) fits beautifully in with the inspired menu at Aaxte, upstairs from Cafe Du Nord. Rounds of tapas, Spanish wines, ciders and beers already transport to Spain. But then you sip this mix of Lustau Gran Reserva brandy, Cappelletti Aperitivo, Byrrh Aperitif and a subtle tomato tincture and you could be in another coastal town (think San Sebastian).
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5. Sessions’ Beer Meets Spirit Ch. 1
Open this summer in the beautiful Presidio, Sessions is a dining and beer destination with over 100 bottles and 24 beers on tap from a list created by master cicerone Nicole Erny. But bar managers Jordan Spaulding (on the beer side) and Peter Ziegler (on the cocktail side) will steer you right on cocktails, namely Ziegler’s beer cocktail (no surprise) called Beer Meets Spirit Ch. 1 ($11). Japanese Belgian-style white beer, Suiyoubi no Neko (Wednesdays Cat) from YO-HO Brewing Co., plays with the malty botanicals of Bols Genever from Holland, combined with dry curacao, lime, orange and celery bitters, served in a beer glass for a wheat and orange-dominant imbibement.
6. Devils Acre’s Con El Humo
Devil’s Acre, a spacious, romantic North Beach bar, pulls from old school pharmacies and apothecaries with 1800’s-style tinctures and remedies on its delightful menu. Go off-menu for this mezcal treasure from bartender Eric Giardina (who also imports beautiful barware, bitters and syrups from Mexico at Puro Burro) serves Con El Humo (With Smoke), a tall refresher of Nuestra Mezcal given a bright-bitter tinge from Aperol, floral-citrus-sweet notes from house orange syrup and California Grand Poppy Liqueur, tied together with a whisper of effervescence from citric phosphate.
7. Nostra Spaghetteria & Bar Mia’s Cold & Foggy
Just opened on September 1st, Nostra Spaghetteria (formerly Plin) serves heartwarming pastas, Italian dishes and a ridiculously good burger topped with chef Alexander Alioto’s famed egg raviolo. In Bar Mia within the restaurant, bar manager Adam Madigras uses Italian amaro and other spirits to fine effect to pair with the food. Cold & Foggy ($11) is an easy ginger beer sipper that is not dominated by the ginger beer. Instead, Madigras’ ensures herbal-ginger balance with Humboldt Brewing’s Nectar IPA beer, lemon and Averna Amaro.
8. Belga’s Devil’s Advokaat
Open in May 2015, Belga is dominating Cow Hollow with its destination-worthy beer library and hearty-gourmet Belgian/French/Germanic food. But the cocktails are no slouch, thanks to a talented bar team. Currently, France meets Scandinavia in their Devils Advokaat ($11), a French brandy cocktail laced with the wintery spice of glogg, a Nordic mulled wine, lightened with egg white and lemon, with fresh-shaved nutmeg bringing the aromatics.