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Where to Toast the New Year in San Francisco

San Francisco Travel Insider Guides
by Andrea K. Francis Dec 29, 2011
Andrea K. Francis is on a quest for the city’s New Year’s Eve drinks.

DON’T FRET, don’t drown in regret. With 2012 nearly upon us, its time to cut the cord with the past and drink like fish. The list of San Francisco cocktails / spots below will help pave the way to toasts, boasts, admonitions, passive-aggressive rumor spreading, pleas for forgiveness, serenades; hysterical crying, maniacal laughter — and vice versa.

Each of these masterful acts of mixology hits like a 2-ton sleigh, especially if downed in a few hours span, pub-crawl style. That’s the kind of happy we’re going for this New Year’s Eve. Slap yourself out of the post-Christmas coma and get your public transportation pass ready.

The Cinch

As long as the San Francisco 49ers’ season lasts, The Cinch bar on Polk Street at Washington hosts games on two large flat screens, giving away free shots of Southern Comfort after every home team touchdown. As an added bonus, its drag queen patrons are always good for free fashion advice.

1723 Polk St. (415) 776-4162


For a more intellectual vibe, hop off of a wreathed cable car at Vesuvio, on Columbus Street at Jack Kerouac Alley.

Long known as San Francisco’s “welcome wagon” bar for travelers, Vesuvio’s checkerboard floors, gilded mirrors, stained-glass lamps, and colorful artwork – one featuring a diagram of the inside of a gun barrel – exude the bohemian spirit of the beat poets.

Janet Clyde, co-owner and bartender since 1978, will wake you up with her $7 Rumpled Irishman, a layered, peppermint Irish coffee served in a tall glass.

Don’t worry about coffee breath—the cool effect of the Rumple Minze liquor lends just enough kissable freshness to get by at midnight.

Sit upstairs with brooding artists at a painted, glass-top table near the wall of windows for prime North Beach people-watching.

255 Columbus Ave. (415) 362-3370


Buy a gold plastic cat for good luck on your way to Rickhouse on Kearny Street at Sutter on the outskirts of Chinatown.

If you start early, expect a huddle of red-nosed businessmen knocking down the large wooden doors the moment the clock strikes this new hotspot’s 3 p.m. opening time.

Clap the cold from your hands by the fireplace. Hang your coat on the spare nail next to the staff’s stockings along the brick wall. Order the $10 Red Ryder.

You will recognize a sprig of rosemary, but that’s all ye’ will recognize about the best seasonal cocktail in San Francisco. Rickhouse bartenders have somehow managed to balance the robust flavor of a freshly-baked lemon bar (including the crust) with the cut of spice. Making one was no small task for bartender Claire Sprouse who had to scale the 20-foot barrel wood wall for ingredients.

Those longing for the tropics this winter should go with Rickhouse’s Drummer Boy — a genever spin on a classic daiquiri. The Drummer Boy comes in a limey, non-traditional second on the Rickhouse seasonal menu, followed by the bar’s $42 honey-spiced punch bowl.

On Mondays, catch free live music from the twangy Emily Anne Reed, a 2011 American Idol contestant; and her quirky, ventriloquist bassist.

246 Kearny St. (415) 398-2827

Dear Mom

Brave the purse-snatching and fresh-produce selling bustle of 16th and Mission Streets when you hop off the number 14 bus. Grab a couple of churros from the street vendor on the way to the fledgling, now month-old, Dear Mom bar on 16th, between Folsom and Harrison. Their $6 Hot Toddy comes with hints of nutmeg, cinnamon and honey and a fat orange slice spiked with cloves.

Sit with the curly-mustached co-owner Oliver Piazza at the gigantic angular bar and mull over your resolutions while sipping this classic (be careful—they make it true to the name. You will burn your tongue if you’re too eager).

Look for patrons’ letters to their moms tucked into booth crevices. Ladies, check out the retro-mom-photo-collage surrounding the bathroom mirror and the fresh-cut gardenias.

2700 16th St. (415) 625-3262

Cafe Mystique

From 16th and Mission, take the 22 bus to the corner of 16th and Church. Walk to Castro Street, where you will find that the cinnamon sticks in Café Mystique’s dark sangria add just enough holiday spice to make this fab fruit-decorated bevy a top choice for wine lovers ringing in the new year. The $15 pitchers are one of the best deals on alcohol in the city.

For rum lovers, there’s no better way to toast to midnight than with a flaming shot of Bacardi 151 – also available at Mystique. Be sure to blow the fire out before imbibing. The constantly evaporating alcohol could engulf your entire face.

464 Castro St. (415) 865-9963

Mini Bar

Take the 24 Divisidero bus up to Alamo Square and stretch out on the grass. Play Buddy Guy’s Hello San Francisco on your iPhone and head to the cozy Mini Bar on Divisadero near McAllister.

San Francisco’s buildings are deep and narrow. This place is no exception. Try to grab a seat at the bar or in one of the two booths. Order the $12 St. Nix cocktail and sip slowly.

The whiskey in it, Old Potrero, is made by San Francisco’s own Anchor Steam distillery and somehow, the dim lights of the place and the Billie Holiday songs embolden the drink.

Or maybe I was just feeling it.

837 Divisidero St. (415) 525-3565 <imgsrc=””/>

Feature image: Shoshanah

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