San Francisco Speakeasies
Credit: China Live

11 San Francisco Speakeasies You Need to Know About—You’re Welcome!

Step Inside These City Haunts Where the Libations Are Strong and the Vibes Are Immaculate

San Francisco may have a saintly name, but is known more for its role as a sinner. It’s a city that plays by its own rules and celebrates being different, if not deviant. Since the pandemic, San Francisco nightlife has grown even more alluring, with an element of danger that sets the scene for the secret bars and underground lounges that are springing up in the urban core. Speakeasies have long thrived in Baghdad by the Bay, where the city’s stanceeven during prohibitionwas hands off. Here are 11 San Francisco speakeasies you need to know about for your next trip to The Golden City.

 

Wilson and Wilson

Wilson & Wilson
Credit: Shawn Chitnis

Like the mysterious Russian nesting dolls, Wilson and Wilson is a hidden bar inside a hidden bar. You may be completely clueless about this second speakeasy, until you hear the whisperings about it while sipping your drink at Bourbon & Branch. A noir detective’s dream, you’ll need to make separate arrangements for Wilson and Wilson, where the main attraction is prix fixe cocktail courses alongside potent punches served in innocuous teapots.

 

Cold Drinks Bar

San Francisco Speakeasies
Credit: China Live

This sleek, Asian-influenced bar is a juxtaposition to the uber-busy China Live Culinary Complex downstairs. Marked by the famed image of two bats (trompe l’oei bats), the stairs lead to a lounge deemed one of the six best cocktail bars in San Francisco. Little wonder, with its selection of over 350 fine and rare scotches and other whiskeys from around the world. For private parties, there’s a hidden room around the corner called Gold Mountain Lounge, framed by a wall cabinet from an old Chinese pharmacy. 

 

Marianne’s

Credit: Marianne’s

Marianne’s is a salon within a restaurant (The Cavalier) within a hotel (Hotel Zetta). The secret space is eye candy to rock music fans, with lots of vintage photos and memorabilia, including a photo of the bar’s namesakeEnglish rock singer and Mick Jagger’s loverMarianne Faithfull. Sexy lighting, purple walls and posh leather with zebra accents make this a sexy space to slip back in time. Currently, it’s only available for private parties, but the owners hope to open this 6-year old saloon to the general public soon.

 

Bourbon & Branch

Bourbon & Branch is the headliner for good reasonit was an actual Prohibition-era speakeasy with five hidden bars inside. Located in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District, a cop may be a welcome site as you make your way past several unmarked doors and a sign that says “Anti-Saloon League.” Once in Bourbon & Branch, you can enter The Library through a secret bookshelf door with the password “books.” (There is also an unmarked entrance for The Library outside). Russells Room can be booked for large groups and has some history of its own. Its namesake, J.J. Russells Cigar Shop, operated as a front for the notorious speakeasy during Prohibition.

 

The Pawn Shop

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Things are not always as they seem, and the Pawn Shop is proof. With a façade of flea market treasures, the Pawn Shop opens to a hidden tapas bar. You might call it dinner and a show. To gain access, you’ll need to ring the restaurant from the gold phone outside, then interact with a sometimes cranky pawn master, who may ask to see something you’ve brought to pawn or trade. It gets weirder. There’s a disguised one-way mirror in the speakeasy that lets you see other customers try to talk their way into the place too.

 

Barrel Room’s C.1905

Prohibition-era cocktails are just part of the authentic experience at this underground speakeasy, accessed by a hidden stairway that descends to four unique rooms. C.1905 is in the basement of what was originally the Yokohama Specie Bank, one of the few buildings in San Francisco that survived the 1906 earthquake and fire. Fissures in the walls and an old bank vault prove its age. The speakeasy is steeped in Victorian-era decor, and the crown jewel is an old growth redwood-top bar. “Six people can fit into the vault room,” says General Manager Martin McCullough, who says the repurposed hardwood-lined vault is “a little like you’d imagine a sauna to look like from the inside.” There’s also a library room, and the bar area has a working upright piano.

 

Bar Nonnina 

San Francisco Speakeasies
Credit: Kelly Puleio

Bar Nonnina needs no password, but it oozes exclusivity and style with its green marble bar where patrons sip cocktails in the glow of the fireplace. Tucked in a corridor off the beaten path, this tiny five-seat bar is upstairs, inside Fiorella’s Inner Sunset rooftop restaurant. To find it, you walk down a narrow hallway and slide open a pocket door. Drinks can be ordered individually or with a three-course cocktail and food pairing.

 

The Hideout at Dalva

San Francisco Speakeasies
Credit: Nicola Parisi

The name suits this small bar-within-a-bar in back of popular Mission District watering hole Dalva. Dark and moody with Hollywood hotties like Farrah Fawcett gracing the walls, The Hideout has dive-bar energy but high-end booze. Classic cocktails range from gin martinis to the Queen’s Park Swizzledark rum, lime, mint, cane syrup, bitters and crushed ice. You may need the crushed ice to cool down as this bi-level space can heat up during busy times. Oh, and in true dive-bar tradition, you’ll need to order your drinks at the bar and bring them back to your table.

 

The Felix

San Francisco Speakeasies
Credit: Erin Ng

A neon, grinning Felix the Cat marks this subterranean speakeasy under Bodega SF in the Tenderloin. Find the framed photo of the bar’s actual namesake, a former server named Felix, and once pushed, a door opens to a glowing staircase that leads to a seductive lounge bar. Between the mood lighting and the plush yellow booths, the cocktails take on an irresistible allure with Asian influences like chrysanthemum and lychee. A side of soft-shell crab sliders and you’re purring.

 

The Linden Room

If you like small, intimate spaces, the Linden Room will be your spot. Tucked inside the trendy Nightbird restaurant, Chef/owner Kim Alter actually designed the unmarked, eight-seat Linden Room to be tiny because of the big costs of staffing in San Francisco. The garden-to-glass cocktails are crafted with the same seasonal produce that drives the six-course, six-bite menu at Nightbird. A social media favorite is the Ralphie Boy bourbon and persimmon cocktail with a smoky “meringue” topping.

 

The Dawn Club

On a little-known side street near San Francisco’s celebrated Palace Hotel, The Dawn Club stands out with its neon sign touting “Dancing, Cocktails, Entertainment.” The club was once a Prohibition-era speakeasy and later, bandleader Lu Watters’ Dawn Club in the 1930s and ‘40s. Live jazz is still a main attraction today. To enter, check in with the host at the outdoor podiuma working 1904 phonograph. Once inside, you’ll be ensconced in a sensual film noir vibe with unique lighting touches by Los Angeles metal glass designer Ivan Iler. “We wanted it to be simple but sexy, but also elevated,” says General Manager Engracio Clemena. Cocktails are elevated too, and in true speakeasy style, some may not be listed on the menu.

Author | + posts
Ginny Prior is a longtime travel writer and broadcaster based in the San Francisco Bay Area. A former major-market radio newscaster, Ginny's radio travel vignettes can be heard on Sports Byline USA. When Ginny isn't hiking, skiing or open-water swimming, she's running one of the largest and oldest regional travel writers groups in the country - the Bay Area Travel Writers.

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