If there's one thing San Francisco can never be faulted for, it's not having enough places to drink. We may not have the most bars per capita, but we may very well have the most craft cocktail menus per capita at this point — not to mention plenty of fine old-man bars, hotel bars, view bars, and good old dive bars. But these days, while you'll find many a boozy slushie, savory cocktail, and seasonal highball with farmers' market fruit, sometimes you just want a goddamn Manhattan, stirred, up, ice cold, and made in perfect proportion. (Bartenders, if you are still shaking Manhattans, you should know better, and there's an army of well trained mixology geeks in these parts who will tell you so.) Below, here's a list of our favorite places in town to get just such a Manhattan. They are, by far, not the only ones, but these are perhaps the spots where classics are a specialty, or where you can sit at a pleasant bar unmolested and sip that Manhattan, and get your $10 to $14 worth. — Jay Barmann

Aub Zam Zam
Bruno Mooshei's family emigrated from what's now Iran and founded the Persian Aub Zam Zam on Haight Street in 1941. His father ran the business, but soon the cantankerous, pedantic barkeep took over duties. The Zam Zam, which eventually dropped the "Persian," never gave up on the Moorish (by way of a Hollywood lot) architectural details, and Mooshei had achieved legendary status by the time of his death in 2000. That's in part because he considered just one order to be appropriate: A dry martini with gin ("Gin Martini's a martini, Vodka's for children," as he would say) in a ratio of 1000 parts gin to 1 part vermouth. Zam Zam habitué and Chronicle scribe Herb Caen called Zam Zam "the Holy Shrine of the Dry Martini," so I suspect you'll know what to order. These days barkeep Tei Gundolfi has you covered. — Caleb Pershan
633 Haight Street between Belvedere and Clayton Streets


Don't worry, though the place is called "Absinthe," other than a few craft drinks it's free of the Anne Rice bullshit you might expect from a place with that name. Instead, expect quality cocktails prepared and served with care. Just steps from the symphony and opera, it's a perfect place for a post-show nightcap; and it's just quiet enough for a solid post-show conversation, but still bustling enough to be fun. -- Eve Batey
398 Hayes Street at Gough

One of The Alembic's classic drinks. Photo: icka b./Yelp

The Alembic
After years as a cozy — maybe a little too cozy — Haight Street cocktail bar, The Alembic's expansion into a neighboring space is nearly complete, giving guests a little more room to bend their elbows. Many swear that their Corpse Reviver is the best in town, but a look at their cocktail menu reveals a number of classic, modern, and modern classic drinks, all without the needless quirk that's infected some of the city's newer watering holes. -- Eve Batey
1725 Haight Street between Schrader and Cole Streets

Bar Agricole
Beverage aficionado Thad Vogler's Bar Agricole is named for rhum agricole, made from fermented sugar cane juice as opposed to the common U.S. practice of rum making with fermented molasses. Might we recommend, in that case, his classic takes on the spirit like a Ti Punch or a Planters Punch? Perhaps on the (divine) patio? — Caleb Pershan
355 11th Street between Folsom and Harrison Streets

Behold, Bix's bar. Photo: From Bix's website.

Let's begin by noting that if you can't stand jazz, Bix will not be your bag: They pride themselves on their nightly jazz shows, and the music is damn near unavoidable. That said, to walk into Bix is to take a time machine back to the 1980s — not the neon, Miami Vice 80s, the Wall Street, Working Girl 80s. Sitting at their bar as you sip the best Martini you've ever had, you'll fully expect to see a young hot Harrison Ford or a huge-haired Meg Ryan. Am I making this place sound kitchy? Well it's not (not completely, at least), it's good in its own right, it's just an example of a very particular era. Don your best Armani, go check it out, and you'll see what I mean. -- Eve Batey
56 Gold Street between Montgomery and Sansome

Bourbon & Branch
A classic cocktail starts with classic booze, and in that category Bourbon & Branch excels with a top-notch bourbon selection. The speakeasy-themed bar works hard to create an environment in which you can focus on your drink, taking reservations and posting house rules that include banning the use of cell phones. (They also take the time to warn you to not "even think of asking for a Cosmo," but that's another story.) Spend time in the "Library" bar, or reserve a spot in the smaller, even more civilized Wilson Bar. — Jack Morse
501 Jones Street at O'Farrell Street

Photo courtesy of The Cavalier

The Cavalier
At this British-inspired tavern in the Big Night Restaurant Group (Marlowe, Park Tavern), you'll find that English comfort cocktails like the Pimm's Cup and Royal Gin and Tonic are specialties, and both very good. But this is a fine bar at which to enjoy a well mixed White Lady or a simple, dry gin Martini alongside some deviled eggs, especially if you find yourself downtown just before happy hour, when it gets jammed. — Jay Barmann
360 Jessie Street at 5th

Photo: Facebook

Comstock Saloon
Nestled as it is at one edge of the Financial District, Comstock gets its share of FiDi bros, especially after the markets close around 3 or 4 p.m. It is, nonetheless, a more civilized place than nearby Rickhouse — with vintage Barbary Coast details like the tiled trough around the foot of the bar where guys used to just relieve themselves, right there, while sipping their beers — and its barkeeps all know how to mix a proper anything — whether it's a classic Sazerac or Cherry Bounce from their classics-focused menu, or it's something else you fancy from the canon, like an Aviation or a Vesper. Also, if you're new to all this and open to anything, this is definitely one of those places where it's recommended to just let the barman make something for you. You'll probably find you have a new favorite. — Jay Barmann
155 Columbus Avenue

Photo courtesy of Burritt Room/Facebook

Burritt Room
Still one of the best places to get a drink close to Union Square, this tucked away bar inside the Mystic Hotel has an attached restaurant, Burritt Tavern, overseen by the Charlie Palmer Group. But the bar was here first, restored five years back on a formerly unused floor of this hotel, and the bartenders are usually pretty capable, especially when it comes to the classics. The place does fill up on weeknights, though, so off-hours are best if you're looking for calm and quiet. — Jay Barmann
417 Stockton Street

Just off a busy strip of Valencia Street, Elixir on 16th at Guerrero is frequently packed — and with good reason. The bartenders take their time to make sure each drink is done right, but don't make a production out of it. Elixir owner H. Joseph Ehrmann keeps 330 bottles of whiskey on his bar's shelves, a fact which perhaps contributed to GQ naming the bar one of the best 25 bars in the country. It's always better to go during off hours, but the staff is well trained and can handle the crush. — Jack Morse
3200 16th Street at Guerrero Street

Hard Water via Facebook

Hard Water
At a terribly scenic waterfront location, Charles Phan (The Slanted Door group) and bar program right-hand man Erik Adkins have created a whiskey haven with a wall of more than 180 bottles. Enjoy the stuff by the flight or in takes on New Orleans classic like the Sazerac spinoff Cocktail a la Louisiane (rye, vermouth, absinthe, bitters). And if you fancy a mint julep as it's meant to be served — in those signature metal drinking vessels that shouldn't be reserved for Derby Day alone — you've docked at the right port. —Caleb Pershan
Pier 3, Ste 102 near the Ferry terminal

Martuni's Bruce B. via Yelp

Lounge lizards take solace at Skip Ziobron's 1996-founded piano bar on the corner of Market and Valencia. It's a darkened two-room affair where karaoke (and Broadway belting) is best performed after more than a few sips, and on some nights you'll be shunned if you're not a proven talent and a regular. In addition to being affordable ($8 is a great deal, you guys) their dirty Martinis are the dirtiest in town, and though James Bond author Ian Fleming may have invented the Vesper, Martuni's perfected it. Just, whatever you do, avoid that fruity "Martini" menu like it's toxic, because it is. — Caleb Pershan
4 Valencia Street at Market Street

Presidio Social Club
It's fun, and sort of easy, to pretend you're an officer on leave — and very much at ease — at this 2006-founded Presidio hit. Some years later, they're still mixing wonderful old-school cocktails: A barrel-aged Negroni stands out, but you'll keep coming back for "the Manhattan Project," an ongoing "search for the ultimate Manhattan" with whiskey, bitters, and vermouth that change weekly, "or on our bartender’s whim." Yes, it's in the Presidio, but it's super close to the Marina. It just feels miles away from everything. —Caleb Pershan
563 Ruger Street

The Royal Cuckoo
When the mood strikes for a classic cocktail (you know, one that doesn't contain cream sherry) Royal Cuckoo (officially known as "The Royal Cuckoo Organ Lounge") has you covered. The hip spot does drinks right, and it has the atmosphere to match. Sip a Manhattan (up, natch), while the organist in the back keeps the bar entertained. If you're on a date, step out onto the tiny back patio — it's one of the most intimate in the city. — Jack Morse
3202 Mission Street between Valencia and 29th Street

Vesuvio Cafe. Adam S. via Yelp

Vesuvio Cafe
It's been a hot second since Neal Cassady or Allen Ginsberg swung by, but the lush spirit lives on in North Beach at Vesuvio. Across an alley from City Lights Books, the 1948 establishment still serves drinks for single digit prices. Bring your own food, good friends, or maybe just a book. — Caleb Pershan
255 Columbus Avenue between Broadway and Jack Kerouac Alley

The Spruce Goose cocktail at Spruce. Photo: Facebook

Over in the wilds of Laurel Heights you'll find this upscale oasis where the bar is really where it's at. In addition to oysters and a good burger, you'll want to at least try the barrel-aged Negroni, or their spot-on Corpse Reviver #2. Also, on Wednesdays, they often highlight special whiskeys, for #WhiskeyWednesdays. And hey, if it's good enough for the President, you probably won't be disappointed. — Jay Barmann
3640 Sacramento Street

Behind the bar at Tosca. Photo: From Tosca's website

Tosca Cafe
When April Bloomfield and Ken Friedman took over the always wonderful, often empty, and rarely profitable Tosca Cafe back in 2013, a city looked on with worried hopefulness. Would these people screw up one of SF's greatest cultural alcoholic institutions? In a happy ending that feels all to rare in These Troubled Times, the duo actually polished the gem to a greater luster. They deftly refurbished all the best stuff (the red booths, the cappuccino machine, the jukebox) and added a full food menu that isn't what we're here to talk about today but is remarkable. All the drinks you remember from your first time there are still being served, but now, for example, their famous House Cappuccino is made with Dandelion Chocolate, local milk, armagnac, and Buffalo Trace bourbon. The whole place has always been a master class in cool, and now it's clean, cozy, and comfortable, too. -- Eve Batey
242 Columbus Avenue between Broadway and Pacific

Photo: Facebook

Trou Normand
Much like sister operation Bar Agricole, this downtown spot with excellent charcuterie and a big array of Calvados and brandy can be counted on for a selection of uncommon, vintage classics like the Boothby (bourbon, vermouth, bitters, prosecco) and the Plaza Cocktail (gin, Italian vermouth, lime, pineapple gum). — Jay Barmann
140 New Montgomery

Honorable Mentions:

Blackbird, even though they skew to newer concoctions, they're still more than able to make a good Manhattan or Aviation

Cantina, at least when not dealing with prime-time crowds, is the go-to for a perfect Pisco Sour

Clock Bar, at the St. Francis, though we've already highlighted it among the best hotel bars.

Epic Steak, where the view, the bar, and the meats go exceedingly well with a Martini

Fog City, for their solid milk punch

Trick Dog, which also skews to the new, but where the staff is very well versed in the classics

Whitechapel, which will surely be the go-to place for all gin lovers, but which doesn't open until after next week.

Zuni Cafe, where you will never get a bad Manhattan, and where the bar staff always knows their shit.

Cocktails at Absinthe. Photo: Coraly S./Yelp