Drinking Made Easy

Drinking Made Easy: San Francisco

February 22, 2011 2

Episode Guide for the San Francisco episode of “Drinking Made Easy” • Recipes • Locations • Fun Facts •

Iconic San Francisco, or “The City by the Bay”, as its affectionately known, is the fourth most populous city in California. Located on a 46.7 square mile patch of land on the shores of the Pacific Ocean, with a population of just under a million, it’s the second most densely settled city in the United States. Spanish missionaries founded the area in 1776 and named it Yerba Buena. American settlers renamed it San Francisco in 1847 and it was the California Gold Rush in 1848, which propelled the city into a period of rapid growth. Waves of immigrants came to the city seeking fortunes, including a large number of Chinese immigrants, forming one of the largest Chinese populations outside of Asia. After the majority of the city was destroyed by a fire following the 1906 earthquake, it was quickly rebuilt. After World War II, the city sustained more growth and in the 1960s, it was the center of counterculture and the hippy movement, making it one of the most liberal cities in the world. Today, San Francisco is a popular tourist destination with internationally recognized landmarks and icons like the Golden Gate Bridge, Chinatown, Coit Tower, Pier 39, Fisherman’s Wharf, Alcatraz, Lombard Street and Cable Cars. This major metropolitan city is at the forefront of the food and beverage industry, leading the charge with annual weekly events that celebrate beer and cocktails. It’s the home of the craft beer movement, and the place where many popular cocktails were created. Drinking in San Francisco has never been easier.


Tiki-drinkSan Francisco has very recently developed a strong cocktail culture. Many famous drinks were created here, made famous here and are consumed here. Between Prohibition and the 1990’s, Tiki drinks and Tiki bars were synonymous with the local cocktail scene.  In the mid-90s when the aesthetics of classic cocktails and lounges came into vogue, an awareness began to develop that Tiki drinks were nothing but awful cocktails in fancy glasses. San Francisco’s modern cocktail culture, featuring “farm fresh” ingredients that change with the seasons, began to develop in the late 90s and today, it’s safe to say that cocktails in SF are different than those in other cities across the nation. The newly introduced “San Francisco Cocktail Week”, now takes place every September. It’s a weeklong celebration of the community’s beverage culture filled with cocktail parties, demonstrations, classes and explorations of the city’s boozy history.

Papa ghiradelliPapa Ghirardelli (The Official cocktail of San Francisco Cocktail Week)
1.5 oz Encanto Pisco
.5 oz Campari
.5 oz Martini & Rossi Rosato Vermouth
.25 oz Benedictine
.5 oz Lemon Juice
Seltzer Water, to fill
Orange Slice, for garnish

Combine Encanto Pisco, Campari, Rosato, Benedictine and lemon juice in an ice-filled
shaker and shake for 10 to 15 seconds, or until chilled. Strain over fresh ice into a Collins glass, and top with seltzer. Garnish with a slice of orange.

Buena_vista_bartenderOne of San Francisco’s early contributions to the beverage scene wasBuena Vista Café, which opened in 1952. Famously known for their Irish Coffee, the drink which is a recreation of the same cocktail from the Shannon Airport in Ireland, they were the first in the US to make Irish Coffee and its nationwide popularity is attributed to the Buena Vista Café. Today, they sell more thanBuena-vista-sign2000 Irish Coffees and go through 55 bottles of whiskey every day. In 2008, they set a Guinness World Record by pouring the world’s largest Irish Coffee. The gigantic drink featured 10 liters of Irish whiskey, 4 pounds of sugar, almost 10 gallons of coffee and 2 gallons of whipped cream. It’s only fitting that a place that’s sold more than 38 million Irish coffees in its 58-year history, should hold this record.

Buena VistaBuena Vista Irish Coffee
Fill glass with hot water to get it hot
Add 2 sugar cubes (or a teaspoon and a half of sugar)
3.5 oz of Coffee
Stir coffee and sugar
Add Tullamore Dew Irish Whiskey
Float fresh cream on top

Buena Vista Café | 2765 Hyde St, San Francisco, CA 94109 | (415) 474-5044

IMG_3769The best place to find a martini, featuring a list of over 100 martini’s is Top of the Mark, located on the top floor of one of San Francisco’s landmark hotels: The International Mark Hopkins Hotel. Opened in 1939, after owner George D. Smith decided to turn his 19th floor penthouse apartment into a cocktail lounge, it became an immediate success. With 360-degree views of the San Francisco bay, it was originally a place that WWII servicemen, entering or leaving from the Port of San Francisco, would frequent, and where after they left, their wives would convene to tearfully gaze out of the windows. With over 100 martinis to choose from, you won’t go thirsty here. While there are differing stories on the invention of the Martini, one of the most widely accepted is that it was invented in San Francisco in 1862.

Top of the Mark 1Top of the Mark Martini
Fill martini glass with ice, add a small amount of Martini & Rossi Dry Vermouth
Swirl in glass and dump out ice and Vermouth
In a shaker add ice and a four count of 209 Gin
Strain gin into martini glass
Garnish with three olives

Top of the Mark 2The Negroni
4 count of Bourbon
1 count of Campari
2 count of Sweet Vermouth
Stir in shaker with ice
Strain into martini glass
Garnish with a maraschino cherry

Top of the Mark | 999 California St, San Francisco, California 94108 | (415) 616-6940

BullittLocated in the Russian Hill neighborhood, you’ll find Bullitt, the first bar in the world to serve Fernet Branca on tap. A type of amaro, or Italian herbal liqueur, commonly drunk as an after dinner digestif, Fernet Branca contains 27 different herbs and spices taken from four continents. Its flavor is best described as being a cross between medicine, crushed plants and bitter mud. Among the known ingredients are aloe, gentian root, rhubarb, gum myrrh, red cinchona bark, galanga and zedoary. Made by the Fratelli Branca Distillerie in Milan Italy, they claim that the recipe has remained unchanged since its invention in 1845. Fernet gained popularity in San Francisco during Prohibition because its medicinal properties kept it legal. Today, SF accounts for 35% of the country’s Fernet Branca consumption and reportedly more per capita, than any other city in the world. The most common way to drink it in San Fran is to take it as shot and follow it with a chaser of ginger ale.

Bullitt 2The San Franciscan
In a shaker, add ice to:
2 oz Maker’s Mark Bourbon
Splash of Fernet Branca
Orange Bitters
Pear Brandy
Top with small amount of Simple Syrup
Strain into a chilled martini glass
Add orange peel zest and garnish with peel

Bullitt | 2209 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109 | (415) 268-0140

Another cocktail, often called one of the most famous and notorious pre-prohibition drinks ever created, is the Pisco Punch, which was created in San Francisco in the late 19th century. Made famous by Duncan Nichol at a bar called Bank Exchange (which no longer exists, and is now the site of the Transamerica Pyramid), it was the most popular drink in the city for more than 50 years. Other bars, like Pisco Latin Lounge, offer a similar drink recipe to the original. While it’s said that the recipe went to the grave with Nichol, many people believe this Pisco Punch recipe, taken from The California Historical Society to be the original:

Pisco_punchPisco Punch
1. Take a fresh pineapple. Cut it in squares about ½ by 1 ½ inches. Put these squares of fresh pineapple in a bowl of gum syrup to soak overnight. That serves the double purpose of flavoring the gum syrup with the pineapple and soaking the pineapple, both of which are used afterwards in the Pisco Punch.

2. In the morning mix in a big bowl the following:

▪                1/2 pint (8 oz) of the gum syrup, pineapple flavored as above
▪                1 pint (16 oz) distilled water
▪                3/4 pint (10 oz) Fresh lemon juice
▪                1 bottle (24 oz) Peruvian Pisco Brandy 

Serve very cold but be careful not to keep the ice in too long because of dilution. Use 3 or four oz punch glasses. Put one of these above squares of pineapple in each glass. Lemon juice or gum syrup may be added to taste. 

ForbesOne of San Francisco’s more unique places to grab a cocktail, and a gourmet meal, is Forbes Island. Located off Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf, it’s a man-made island that is actually a barge, which weighs about 700 tons. Made to look like an island, it is actually floating vessel with a motor. Built by Forbes Thor Kiddo who inhabited it as a home for 23 years in Sausalito before moving it to San Francisco, he turned it into a restaurant in 1999. It features numerous dining rooms, some of which are actually submerged, giving diners a fish-eye view, so to speak, of the bay.

Forbe's IslandThe Floating Island Cocktail
Orange Juice
99 Bananas Schnapps

Forbes Island | 39 Pier # 205 San Francisco, CA 94133 | (415) 951-4900


In a city known for its cocktails, it should come as no surprise to learn that it’s also home to many great distilleries, and some of the world’s best spirits. Host city of the The San Francisco World Spirits Competition, a prestigious annual event that celebrates excellence in international award-winning spirits, the upcoming event will place on March 18, 19 and 20, 2011 at Hotel Nikko in downtown. Each year more than 1,000 spirits are entered from 50+ countries.

209ginSan Francisco’s premier boutique distillery is Distillery No. 209. Opened in 1996, after founder Leslie Rudd purchased some vineyard property in Napa209 DistilleryValley and discovered a sign on the property that read “Registered Distillery 209”, he purchased the San Francisco facility and with the help of distiller Arne Hillesland, began producing Gin. One of the leaders of the “New Gin Movement”, 209 uses less juniper berries in order to soften the taste, instead bringing up flavors of citrus and spice. Their bottles are replicas of a 1914 Genever bottle, a nod to gin’s origins.

Distillery No. 209 | 401 Terry Francois Blvd Pier 50 Pier # B, San Francisco, CA 94158 | (415) 369-0209

Sf vodkaAnother local distillery, which makes three different kinds of vodka at their distillery on Treasure Island, is SF Vodka. All three of their vodkas are made using a different sugar base. Their Baker Beach Vodka is made from corn and is gluten-free, their Ocean Beach Vodka is made from sugar cane and their 2010 Double Gold Medal-winning China Beach Vodka is made from a blend of California grapes.

Anchor-Distilling-Co-Junipero-Gin.2_5_1.wine_4032028_detailAnchor Brewing Company is well known for its beer (which is discussed more below), but the lesser known Anchor Distilling Company, which was established in 1993, is the producer of many types and styles of distilled spirits. Since 2004, they have won a total of 17 medals at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Their Junipero Gin, which is handmade in small batches in the classic distiller dry gin tradition, won the Double Gold Medal. They also make three different types of single malt whiskeys, and a Genever, or traditional Dutch gin.

Chinese medicineOne place in the city where you can find a unique spirit, that you can’t get anywhere else, is Red’s Place. The oldest bar in Chinatown, Red’s has a unique medicinal wine called Ng Ka Py that you can only get here. At 48% alcohol, this traditional Chinese liqueur is made with maltose, cane sugar and various plants. It’s generally consumed straight up. Another popular spirit at Red’s is Moutai Yingbin. This 106-proof high-end liquor is the National Liquor of China.

Red’s Place | 672 Jackson Street, San Francisco, CA 94133 | (415) 956-4490


IMG_3768The American craft beer explosion has long had its epicenter in San Francisco, where brewing techniques and traditions have been thriving since before the Gold Rush.Anchor Brewing Company, which was founded in 1896 and purchased by its current owner, Fritz Maytag, in 1965, is famously responsible for the resurgence of craft beer in the United States. Plagued with troubles from its inception, like several fires, the 1906 earthquake,IMG_1032Prohibition, and fickle beer consumers who seemed more apt to drink lagers instead of ales, Maytag was able to turn the failing brewery into one of the most well known breweries in the world and lead the way for the craft beer revolution. In 1971, Maytag created Anchor Steam, an iconic San Franciscan ale that has become synonymous with the beginning of the craft beer movement, and also created a new category of ale: the California Common beer, a derivative of historic steam beer. Today Anchor has five year round beers: Anchor Steam, Anchor Small, Liberty Ale, Anchor Porter and Old Foghorn Barleywine. They also create seasonal brews throughout the year, like the Humming Ale and Christmas Ale.

Anchor Brewing Co | 1705 Mariposa St, San Francisco, CA 94107 | (415) 863-8350

Speakeasy Ales & Lagers is another San Francisco Brewery that’s making its mark on the craft beer scene. Founded in 1997, their flagship ales include Prohibition Ale and Big Daddy IPA. In 200021st-Amendment-Beerthey began bottling and now their beers are available all over the US and in several other countries.

Another popular brewpub, that has limited distribution, is 21st Amendment Brewery and Restaurant, located just a few blocks from AT&T Ballpark. Founded in 2000 by Nico Freccia and Shaun O’Sullivan, 21st Amendment is named for the law that repealed Prohibition. Their beers, like the Bitter American, Monk’s Blood, Hell or High Watermelon Wheat, Brew Free or Die IPA, and Fireside Chat are sold in cans and are currently only available in 14 states.

TheThirstyBearLogo-300_291pxOffering Spanish style tapas and great beer, in the SOMA neighborhood, is Thirsty Bear Brewing Co. The bar’s unique name came about as home brewer at the time, Ron Silberstein was reading an article in the newspaper with the headline “Thirsty Bear Bites Man for Cold Beer”.  He knew after reading the article that this would become the name his brewery, which he eventually opened in 1996. The man who was bit by the bear in the article, Victor Kozlov, was immortalized when Silberstein named a beer after him: Koslov Stout. Thirsty Bear doesn’t bottle or can its beer, but you can find a great selection of their certified organic beers on tap at their brewpub.

MagnoliaLocated in the Haight-Ashbury district of the city, you’ll find another notable beer place, Magnolia Pub and Brewery and just down the street is Toronado Pub. Magnolia makes their own beer, like the Blue Bell Bitter, Spud Boy’s IPA, and Spooky Tooth Stout, while Toronado specializes in Belgian ales and is known for its impressive draft beer selection.


RICE-A-RONI-SF_mediumSan Francisco is known for many important culinary contributions. In the 1960s a popular commercial jingle helped put San Francisco on the map with “Rice-a-Roni, the San Francisco Treat!”

The city by the bay is also home to sourdough bread, which was made popular around the time of the Gold Rush as it was the main bread that was made in Northern California. It’s proximity to the ocean, and temperamental weather makes it a prime location and climate for clam chowder, or for clam chowder that’s served in a sourdough bread bowl.

GhirardelliGhiradelli Chocolate is also located in San Francisco. It was incorporated in 1852 and is the second oldest chocolate company in the United States.

A lesser-known San Franciscan culinary invention is the Popsicle. In 1905, 11-year old Frank Epperson was mixing powdered flavoring for soda and water. HePopsicleleft the concoction on the porch, with a stick in it, which he was using to stir it. Overnight, the temperature got so low that it froze. Eighteen years later, inspired by this childhood experiment, he introduced the frozen pop on a stick to the public at an amusement park in Alameda, CA, calling it “the Epsicle ice pop” which he later changed to Popsicle.



  • Yerba Buena means “good herb” or “good grass”.
  • San Francisco Bay is considered the world’s largest landlocked harbor.
  • San Francisco is also sometimes called “Frisco”.
  • 85% of the beverages sold at Buena Vista are Irish Coffees.
  • Fortune Cookies were invented in San Francisco.
  • “Bullitt” is also the name of a film staring Steve McQueen whose memorable car chase scene through the streets of San Francisco is regarded as one of the most influential car chase sequences in movie history.
  • Pisco is a strong, colorless grape brandy produced in Peru.
  • Fernet Branca is popular in Argentina, and widely accepted as their national drink.
  • Ng Ka Py is mentioned in John Steinbeck’s “East of Eden”.
  • Out of the two-dozen breweries in SF when Anchor Brewing Company was founded in 1896, it is the only brewery to have survived.
  • Sourdough bread was so common during the Gold Rush that it became a general nickname for the gold prospectors. The nickname remains in “Sourdough Sam”, the mascot of the San Francisco NFL team, The 49ers.
  • Alcatraz means pelican in Spanish. The rocky pelican’s island was a military fort before it became a prison.
  • Denim jeans were invented in San Francisco for the Gold Rush miners who needed tough, comfortable clothing.
  • Treasure Island is an artificial island halfway between San Francisco and Oakland connected to the Bay Bridge.
  • San Francisco is home to the 2010 World Series Champion San Francisco Giants.
  • The original name of the Ghiradelli Chocolate when it opened for business in 1852 was “Ghirardely & Girard.”
  • The Star Fleet Headquarters in Star Trek are located just north of San Francisco.


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  1. Stephen Rose March 17, 2012 at 12:15 pm - Reply

    I haven’t tried Red’s Place in Chinatown, but highly recommend the Li Po Lounge, which was featured by Carson Daly when he filmed in the city. The Li Po Lounge also serves Ng Ka Py, which they use in their signature cocktail, The Li-Po Special (Mai Tai).

  2. Travis McGee May 4, 2014 at 3:26 pm - Reply

    If you think “tiki drinks (are) nothing but awful cocktails in fancy glasses” then you don’t know what a true tiki drink is. Spend some time at Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco and you might think differently. Better yet, next time you’re in Ft. Lauderdale head to the Mai Kai, established in 1956, for the best tiki drinks you’ll ever experience.

    We’re not talking pink Mai Tais and umbrellas in the glass. We’re talking the real thing.

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