In San Francisco, the Revival of the Hotel Bar

San Francisco has long had an excellent bar scene, but, until a few years ago, many of the city’s hotel bars left something to be desired. Overpriced and outdated, they also had a noticeable lack of locals.

Lately, though, San Francisco hotel bars are having a revival, with a wave of cocktail-centric spots featuring creative, accessible drinks and the city’s top bar talent. These high-profile destination cocktail bars have become places that locals and visitors alike are seeking out.

The growing presence of hotel bars with buzz has the attention of industry insiders. “Often, the arrangement is a good financial one for potential bar owners,” said Maggie Hoffman, drinks writer for The San Francisco Chronicle and author of the cocktail book, Batch Cocktails. “These spots are convenient for visitors and give tourists an opportunity to see what San Francisco is capable of, cocktail-wise. But locals definitely go to these places, too.”

One of the first signs of this turnaround was Benjamin Cooper, a speakeasy-style spot that opened at Union Square’s Hotel G in March 2015.

“I have a hard time calling that a hotel bar, and that’s a huge compliment to them,” said Morgan Schick, creative director of BVHospitality, a company that has opened a number of local bars and designed their bar programs. Best known for the award-winning cocktail bar, Trick Dog (still one of the city’s hippest spots), Mr. Schick and his partner, Josh Harris, are behind the bar programs for Charmaine’s and Villon at Proper Hotel, a trendy boutique property that opened on Market Street in the summer of 2017.

“You think, ‘I’m in a classy-looking place so I’m going to drink a Negroni. But I’m also on vacation with this tremendous view, so I want to drink a Piña Colada, too,’” he said.

“We’re a neighborhood bar,” said Sam McGinnis, Laureate’s bar supervisor. “We want you to feel like you’re walking into your best friend’s living room.”

Mr. McGinnis cited the bar’s relatively affordable prices — all cocktails are $12 — and their use of at least one local ingredient in every drink, as part of this effort. Their menu is made of a seasonally rotating selection of drinks (the rainbow-hued Pride Month menu includes “What’s Up, Doc?,” a carrot, ginger and tequila number), but guests can expect surefire hits on their permanent selection of classic cocktails. A pitch-perfect rye Old Fashioned, made with local bitters and served on a large ice cube, would be at home at any top bar in the city.

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