"The Diplomat" at The Third Rail

7 of San Francisco’s best under-the-radar bars

By Trevor Felch

As much hype as the popular restaurants of San Francisco consistently see, many outstanding watering holes tend be forgotten quickly after their initial opening run. These seven notable drinking destinations might not be on the hip radar anymore but strike that wonderful balance of approachable and downright talented. Grab a glass and let’s cheers to the city’s under-the-radar bars that deserve the spotlight once again.

The Interval

The Interval
Location, location, location—it’s a blessing and the curse. Nobody really lives or works particularly close to The Interval (located in Fort Mason Center) but it’s also in its own little waterfront world, making it an ideal destination for a fun night near the Marina, without the Marina bar craziness. Part of the Long Now Foundation, the space has a scholarly-meets-futuristic design and the menu by beverage director Jennifer Colliau (she’s also responsible for those Small Hand Foods syrups you see at every good bar in SF) is both extensive and educational. Guests can “drink around the world” and learn about global spirits (ever had Czech fernet or shochu infused with ume plums?) or choose from a half-dozen daisies, a type of cocktail made of spirit, citrus, and flavored syrup or liqueur.
Neighborhood: Marina MAP

Tofino Wines
Amid the chaos of the bizarre Masonic-Geary intersection, Tofino is an oasis of calm. It’s also a little island of wine bar bliss in a city that, despite being right by several world-class wine regions, is desperately lacking quality wine bars. Husband-and-wife team Mark Nevin and April Sack bring plenty of wine industry experience to this bar/retail store, offering around 30 or so high-quality, small-producer pours from all over the world, plus a strong sherry, beer, and cider list and simple but appealing small bites. The spacious atrium-like venue with tile floors, palm plants, and giant windows gives off a grandiose vibe, yet seems so intimate when it’s just you, your wine drinking mates, and a glass of wine at the antique wood tables.
Neighborhood: Laurel Heights MAP

It’s not easy being a cocktail bar in the Mission, especially when the city’s most acclaimed bar (Trick Dog) is just a few steps away. So you and your friends may not know this eclectic cocktail and tapas bar—but you should. Occupying that middle ground between a dive bar and a more sophisticated bar, it’s an ideal neighborhood spot for getting a little rowdy while enjoying higher quality drinks. The “specialty cocktails” tend to be riffs on classics or pleasant three-to-five ingredient compositions, like The Good Idea with house made ginger purée, lemon, gin, cilantro and two bitters. There are also DJs on some nights that give the bar a happening vibe without ever turning clubby.
Neighborhood: Mission MAP

The Third Rail
The Third Rail opened roughly five years ago, right at the changing point when the entire city realized this sleepy, mostly industrial neighborhood can have legit nightlife. The bar’s a collaboration between Phil West and Jeff Lyon, the former co-owner and chef of the much-missed Range, and the latter being responsible for Range’s acclaimed bar program. Unlike at Range, the only food you can enjoy at The Third Rail is the outstanding house-smoked jerky, but the drinks here are really where it’s at. You can’t go wrong with any of the cocktails, but we always seem to be ordering the rich, tangy Diplomat with rum, Madeira, and some walnut tincture served on a big cube.
Neighborhood: Dogpatch MAP

It’s hard to really define Waystone. You can visit here for an avocado toast lunch and use the Wi-Fi for work or just grab a glass of very good Rioja with friends at happy hour. At its heart, Waystone is a bright, welcoming bar that also happens to have a particularly strong wine and beer program. Chef Billy Riordan, the resident beer maestro, knocks it out of the park with sandwiches (get the braised beef with chimichurri) and his selections of mostly local brews on draft that are split into different flavor profiles. Wine guru Tom Patella (the owner of Causwells in the Marina) offers a list similarly divided but with a wild streak that rewards the adventurous.
Neighborhood: Mid-Market MAP

Stookey’s Club Moderne
From the precise martinis to bartenders with white smoking jackets to the art deco design, the city’s ever-charming 1930’s-themed cocktail bar is as impeccably coiffed as Bogart’s haircut. Stookey’s is quirky with a capital “Q” and you can’t help but adore the vintage glassware and streamline moderne design. It has its regulars and prime nightlife location, yet manages to still be relatively unknown since it’s neither trendy nor actually a historic bar. Sunday nights are the best evening to visit, when the Victrola is turned on and diehard vinyl collectors run the soundtrack.
Neighborhood: Lower Nob Hill MAP

Tequila Mockingbird
Yes, this agave spirits–themed bar just might have the wittiest name in the SF restaurant and bar world, but don’t just walk by and chuckle. Owner Dennis Leary wisely opened this spot in 2017, right as SF was having its “peak agave” moment. Sure, it can be packed at happy hour and vacant after 7 p.m. and on weekends, but Tequila Mockingbird is a charming, happy-to-see-you spot that manages to balance that tricky duo of being fine for Negro Modelo and tequila shots or for impressing the cocktail nerds with a fascinating mezcal-based “Telenovela” with dry sherry, prickly pear brandy, and pineapple gum. The $12 price tag for drinks is a plus, too, in this area where $15 usually gets you a decent cocktail.
Neighborhood: SoMa MAP

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