The Best Wine Bars In SF

 March 29, 2017
Posted by jenn

The best wine bars are the ones where either you get to taste things you might not otherwise find anywhere, curated for you by a professional with good taste, or where the atmosphere, prices, and selection are so inviting and unpretentious that you can’t help but want to come back again and again. If all of the above exist in a single venue, even better. Below we bring you our picks for the city’s finest places to taste and sip, some of which provide live entertainment or at least a cool soundtrack to boot. And if you’re a person who still feel intimidated by wine, you shouldn’t be. This may a city of connoisseurs, but most of them are more than happy to teach you everything they know. — Jay Barmann

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Photo courtesy of 20 Spot

20 Spot
Paying tribute to the record shop, Force of Habit, that lived in the space for decades prior, owner Bodhi Freedom keeps a couple shelves of vinyl that gets spun in this warm and welcoming Mission wine bar, day and night. It’s a place where you might drop by with a date after dinner, or just stop through on a summer Sunday for a glass of Riesling and a couple deviled eggs. They typically have about 17 wines by the glass, with a special emphasis on German varietals and California blends, but the selections vary, and the small food menu has enough hearty stuff on it that you can make a full dinner out of it, or just nibble on a few snacks. — Jay Barmann
3565 20th Street between Mission and Valencia

The Barrel Room
With locations in SF’s Financial District and Rockridge (and another nascent one in the Marina), the Barrel Room isn’t quite a chain… think of it more as a reliable standby in more than one place. Originally working out of a tiny Tenderloin spot, owners Sarah Trubnick, Carolyn Johnson, and Manny Hewitt make their passion for locally focused, small-production wines clear with a quarterly changing list of over 50 wines. And the food is great, too, with full lunch, dinner, and dessert menus planned to bring the best out of your bottle, glass, or flight. — Eve Batey
415 Sansome Street in SF, 5330 College Avenue in Oakland

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Photo: Molly DeCoudreaux

Birba
Tiny, spare Birba is a gem just off the beaten paths of Hayes Valley, opened two years ago by longtime Slanted Door somm Angela Valgiusti. The wine selection is impressively diverse and unusual given the tininess, but Valgiusti was inspired by the intimate wine bars she used to love living in Florence, and the place bears her Italian nickname, which means “little troublemaker.” The tapas-y menu from chef Nicole Lou is exactly what you’d want in a neighborhood place like this, with excellent boquerones and top-notch lunch specials. And where else are you going to find a half dozen sherries by the glass alongside unusual whites like a Falanghina/Biancolella blend from Amalfi, and a Cortese from Piemonte? — Jay Barmann
458 Grove Street near Gough

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Photo: Facebook

Blush!
Forgiving for a second that it has an exclamation point in its name, Blush! has been filling a niche in the Castro for eight years now, providing a cozy wine bar experience in a neighborhood full of less classy, boozier options. They regularly have live jazz quartets and other musicians performing, and they offer a happy hour from 4 to 6 every day with half-price glasses. They offer about 30 reasonably priced selections by the glass, including organic and biodynamic bottles, typically concentrated in California and France, with a little Italy and Spain thrown in, and a couple dozen more options by the bottle hovering in the $50-$60 range. There are always house selections for $9 a glass, and food options include charcuterie and cheese boards, bruschetta, and sandwiches. — Jay Barmann
476 Castro Street between 18th and Market

Fat Angel
The original bar and low-key restaurant from the Hi Neighbor hospitality group (Stones Throw, Trestle, Corridor) invites first-daters, neighborhood regulars, and pre-Fillmore concert tipplers alike. Low-proof cocktails and a good draft beer list are there, but in case the wine-swilling cherub didn’t give it away, Fat Angel’s emphasis is on wines by the glass, half bottle, or bottle — of which there are 99 on the wall behind the bar, along with more eclectic decor. For bar bites, don’t sleep on the spicy mac and cheese. — Caleb Pershan
1740 O’Farrell Street between Fillmore and Steiner Streets

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Photo courtesy of Fig & Thistle

Fig & Thistle
Already well known and well loved as a spot to grab a weeknight drink with a friend, or a quick sip before the symphony, this very cozy wine bar tucked away on Ivy Street in Hayes Valley may not have much room for you, depending on the hour at which you catch it. The selection is ever changing and glass options are few, typically with four whites, a half dozen reds, and a rosé, primarily from California with a couple from Oregon. They’ve also got a few vermouths to try, some sparkling mead, and a half dozen beers too, and the place hosts occasional tasting events with local winemakers. — Jay Barmann
313 Ivy Street near Gough

Gratta Wines
Gratta Wines, a fully-licensed Bayview garage winery operating sans vineyard and offering a tasting room at the Butchertown Gourmet Marketplace, is a neighborhood gem recently praised by the Chronicle. Get the “heady, blue-fruited Zinfandel,” they say. Named for owner Barbara Gratta, the tasting room is a neighborhood meeting spot that gathers to it lively drinkers and food pop-ups. —Caleb Pershan
5273 3rd Street between Van Dyke and Underwood Avenues

Hôtel Biron
It’s not a hotel in the sense that you can stay here, so drink accordingly. Nevertheless, Hotel Biron is a wonderfully hospitable environment for some cheese and wines, and their sparkling list is nothing to sneeze at. With small tables and exposed brick walls, Hotel Biron is tucked away on tiny Rose Street off Market — or as the street sign is often lightly vandalized to read, with an accent added to an ‘e’) “Rosé” Street. — Caleb Pershan

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Photo: Joe Bob J

InnerFog
Severe water damage following a burst pipe nearly spelled the end of Irving Street’s InnerFog, but owner John Nettesheim turned tragedy into opportunity, renovating the cozy, unpretentious space to accommodate not just their global wine list but to install a draft system to serve craft beers as well. Food-wise, you’re relying on small plate offerings like various flat breads, cheeses, and charcuterie, but the happy hour (Monday-Friday from 4-6) is where it all really happens, with three reds and three whites from around the world at deep discount (and $3.50 beer, too). — Eve Batey
545 Irving Street at 7th Avenue

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Photo: Facebook

L’Emigrante
The second SF business for Turkish immigrant Irfan Yalcin, after his Potrero Hill restaurant Pera, this three-year-old, casual wine bar at 18th and Mission is as easy-going as they come. There are typically about 20 selections by the glass, including a couple of Turkish wines and some unusual Italian bottles, and in addition to a full menu of snacks, sandwiches, and salads, you have the option of trying multiple things as half glasses (2.5 oz. pours) for $5 to $7. Also good to know: They open at noon every day. — Jay Barmann
2199 Mission Street at 18th

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Photo: Facebook

Nectar Wine Lounge
This decade-plus-old Marina spot got an injection of new life a couple years back at the hands of certified sommelier Chris Potter and wife Leah Lidsky, a former partner at Russian Hill restaurant Luella. The place is casual and well loved especially among the ladies in the neighborhood, with a couple dozen wines by the glass categorized under headings like “Rich and Extroverted Whites” and “Playful Yet Thought-Provoking Reds.” And they offer some nice flights for $18-$20 if you aren’t sure what you want. — Jay Barmann
3330 Steiner Street between Lombard and Chestnut

Nook
Cafe by day, wine bar by night, Nook’s best attributes are, to be perfectly honest, not food or service, but a postcard-worthy perch. Watching the cable car rattle by as you sip some on some Pinot is a very San Francisco version of heaven. The work-from-home crowd will love the place for its free wi-fi and access to power outlets, and decent coffee will get you through until five. At that point, the wi-fi goes off, you close the laptop, and switch from drinking nervous system stimulants to nervous system depressants. — Caleb Pershan
1500 Hyde Street at Jackson Street

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Told you Press Club was swanky! Photo: Yelp

Press Club
Press Club prides itself on its “hard to find” wines, but don’t worry — you’ll still find plenty of old favorites on their extensive list.The first SF venture of co-owners Jan Wiginton and Andy Chun, the duo have since built an empire with the purchases of Pacific Cocktail Haven, Schroeder’s, and Elite Cafe. The swanky subterranean space of Market can be a bit of a scene, especially during certain conferences at nearby Moscone Center, so reservations (they can be made up to a week in advance) are recommended if you have your heart set on a particular glass, beer, or bite of lounge food. — Eve Batey
20 Yerba Buena Lane

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Photo: Facebook

Resolute
One of the newest entries into the wine bar scene, Resolute debuted in mid-2015 at the hands of owners Justin Beem and Daniel Brooker, formerly of Vin Debut in West Portal, which closed following a fire in 2012. They tend to have about 20 uncommon wines by the glass ranging from $10 for a Portuguese red blend to $29 for a big Napa Cab, and they offer cheese and charcuterie boards featuring bread from Jane bakery. (They’ve also got bottles you can purchase to go at retail prices.) And unlike a lot of wine bars, this one features eight beers on tap, and there’s typically a well curated selection from California. It’s a romantic little date spot, as well as a perfect fallback/waiting room if the line for Mensho Tokyo ramen is too insane next door. — Jay Barmann
678 Geary Street at Leavenworth

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Photo: Facebook

Tank 18
Working off the philosophy “wine should be fun,” Tank 18 stands apart from every other wine bar on this list for a couple of reasons. First of all, it doubles as an event space and especially toward the end of the week and during the afternoon on Saturdays, it’s just a massive party in there. Secondly, unlike all these other wine bars, this is more of a winery tasting room where all they serve comes under their own house label — but they don’t actually make wine, they’re in the business of buying and reselling surplus wine, often from well known California wineries, but they’re sworn to secrecy about where each one is from except for the general region. The result is some often very inexpensive, totally delicious wine — come for one of the Bring Your Own Bottle bottling events once a month, and they’ll refill your used wine bottles for just $7.99, and there’s usually a food truck sitting outside to boot. — Jay Barmann
1345 Howard Street at Dore

Terroir
Organic, biodynamic, minimal intervention wine — call this collection of styles and philosophies what you will, this Folsom Street shop’s got them, and they’re classifying the bunch as simply “natural” wine. The product of purveyors Dagan Ministero, Guilhaume Gerard, and Luc Ertoran, this airy two-level Folsom Street warehouse space has done steady since business since its 2008 vintage. Shop by day, by night it’s a romantic wine date den. But if you’re treating, keep in mind that Terroir’s natural emphasis can lead them to eschew Californian winemakers for international ones, many of very, ahem, high-end. —Caleb Pershan
1116 Folsom Street between 7th and Langton Streets

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Waystone’s Market Street facade: Jos M/Yelp

Waystone
Opened in November by one of the partners behind the Marina’s Causwells (which shares an owner with Popsons next door), Waystone is a Mid-Market lunch and dinner bar aimed at the after-work or pre-Warfield/Golden Gate Theater crowd. With 40 wines by the glass, there’s something for everyone, and sandwiches, salads and desserts from chef-partner Billy Riordon will get you through the workday or the show. — Caleb Pershan
992 Market Street at Golden Gate / 6th Streets

Honorable Mentions:

Arlequin Wine Merchant (384 Hayes Street): We’ve sung their praises a bunch, and they’re more of a wine shop that happens to have a great patio.

Noir Lounge (581 Hayes Street): This place has a great interior and old movies projected in back, but it’s more of a restaurant/brewpub

The Riddler (528 Laguna): This brand new Champagne bar is jam packed a lot of the time, and fairly female-centric — but don’t let that put you off if you’re a dude who loves bubbles.

Swirl (572 Castro Street): In a neighborhood that loves its booze, this unassuming little wine shop can turn into quite a little scene some evenings at their small wine bar in the back of the store.

Vinyl (359 Divisadero): Cafe by day, wine bar at night, this place definitely wins on the unpretentious front.

Yield / Pause (2490 3rd Street and 1666 Market Street): This pair of wine spots with the same owners have loyal followings in their respective ‘hoods.

(Taken from Sfist)

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