Many claim that the martini was invented in San Francisco, at a bar in Martinez. Whether this may be true or not, there is no denying that some of the best martinis in the country can be found in San Francisco, with the city really knowing its stuff when it comes to crafting this classic cocktail.
If you want to taste some of the finest martinis in the city, here are the bars that conjure up the very best.
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Have you met this spicy member of the Martini’s extended family, “The Ghost of a Genius?” This stirred cocktail starts with a base of @rutte_distillery Celery Gin that is beautifully matched with a pickle-spiced dry vermouth and turmeric pickling brine. The addition of lemon-celery bitters adds the perfect bit of brightness that gives this martini a “twist” to go with its house-pickled cocktail onion.
Home to the largest gin selection in all of North America, Whitechapel is a fun and quirky bar, decked out in a way that makes it feel as though you have stepped into a Victorian train station. The bar is proud to serve up more than 600 different gins, and even have a bespoke house gin made exclusively for them, making Whitechapel a must for any gin lovers out there.
As you can imagine, with so many gins on offer, the cocktail menu at Whitechapel is pretty long. The martini reigns supreme here, with the menu featuring an entire section dedicated to the way in which the martini has evolved from the 1840’s to the 1950’s.
Here are some of the members of Whitechapel’s “martini family tree”:
- The Gin Sangaree from 1862 – featuring Bols Genever, Port Wine, Water, Sugar and Nutmeg
- The Dundorado Cocktail from 1900 – featuring Ransom Old Tom Gin, Italian Vermouth and Calisaya
- The Fairbank Cocktail from 1922 – featuring Bombay London Dry Gin, French Vermouth, Creme de Noyeaux and Orange Bitters
- The Vesper Martini from 1953 – featuring Gordons London Dry Gin, Vodka and Kina
The food at Whitechapel is a tantalizing fusion of world street foods and classic British cuisine. They do several different light bites, from grilled sandwiches and flatbreads to sharing platters and hand pies. They also serve up a few bigger meals, including grilled kebabs wraps, fish and chips and their signature burger.
2) Blondie’s Bar
Blondie’s Bar specializes in two things – live music and martinis. Of course, the two go hand-in-hand together, meaning that an evening at Blondie’s is one that you will definitely enjoy. The bar is lively, energetic and always filled with a happy buzz, with the live music ranging from Honky Tonk and Blues to 70’s Flashback and Hip Hop.
The first thing that you should know about the martinis at Blondie’s Bar is that they are served up in impressive 16 oz glasses, ensuring that you always have plenty to drink. Their cocktail menu is awe-inspiring, with some of their most popular martinis being:
- The Almond Mocha, which is served in a chocolate-rimmed glass
- The Deep Blue Funk, which tastes just like a blueberry freeze pop
- The Mission, which is served up with a spicy string bean garnish
- The G Spot, which is a simple raspberry cosmo with a refreshing lemon twist
Of course, the best martinis come with a garnish, and Blondie’s Bar certainly has a wide variety of garnishes for customers to choose from. Some of the most unique include:
- Housemade spicy sausage-stuffed olives
- Blue cheese stuffed olives, also housemade
- Ginger stuffed olives – another housemade specialty
- Gherkin-stuffed olives
- Pickled asparagus
While the incredible garnish selection may lead you to believe that Blondie’s Bar serves up some creative food too, this is where you would be wrong. Of course, olives are always available, as are a few other bar snacks, but don’t come to Blondie’s expecting a full meal.
3) August (1) Five
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If you’re curious about the name of this restaurant, it was inspired by the date at which India gained its independence from the British. Yes, that’s right, August (1) Five is an Indian restaurant – one that uses traditional techniques to cook up modern Indian cuisine.
Why settle for one martini when you could have three?
That’s exactly what August (1) Five offers with their Martini Flight, which consists of:
- A Summer Negroni
- A Roasted Onion Gibson
- A Truffle Manhattan
The restaurant’s Holi Cow martini is another popular choice, with turmeric gin, chartreuse, vermouth, black pepper, ginger and citrus – punchy yet refreshing!
Being one of the most popular Indian restaurants in the city, you probably want to know a little more about what the food is like at August (1) Five…
Well, expect classic Indian dishes with a twist. Some of the items on the menu include:
- Braised duck leg with spaghetti squash, spices and a five spice jus
- Potato and fig kofta with cashew, melon seeds and green chilli
- Lamp chops with a pistachio dust, charred vegetables and a beet jelly
If you happen to be visiting at the end of 2020, you will be lucky enough to sample the restaurant’s special four course tasting menu. Again, this menu features Indian-inspired dishes but with a Californian twist.
Many would consider Wildhawk to be quite the hidden gem – although the bar serves up some incredible cocktails, it doesn’t have the same amount of foot traffic as some of the other bars in the city, making this the perfect spot to relax and unwind with a martini.
The bar itself is friendly and lively, with a slight bohemian vibe to it, while their cocktail menu makes use of innovative techniques and ingredient combinations.
The House Martini is what most people come for. If one of your pet peeves is a warm martini, you won’t need to worry about here – Wildhawk serves theirs up with an accompanying sidecar in a frozen sake bottle, ensuring that your drink stays chilled without the risk of being watered down.
Of course, creativity is key, especially in San Francisco, which is why Wildhawk features a prominent industry member each month, inviting them to share their favorite martini. This month, the featured martini is called the Seaside Sling, and was inspired by a classic pear and stilton sandwich. The recipe contains:
- Martin Millers Gin
- Cocchi Americano
- Belle de Brillet Pear Liqueur
- Scrappy’s Black Lemon Bitters
- Lime Twist
- A Castlevetrano Olive stuffed with Blue Cheese
Food isn’t one of the main focuses at Wildhawk, but they still serve up a selection of nibbles that perfectly accompany their drinks. From cheese boards to meat boards to olive bowls, this isn’t the spot to head to if you’re after a full meal, but the offerings are enough to balance out the martinis.
5) The Vault
The Vault is a restaurant that focuses on modern Californian cuisine, with all of its dishes showcasing the produce from local farms and producers. The restaurant does have a bar and lounge area dedicated to their creative craft cocktails, with their signature martini being one of the most popular in the city.
The house Vault Martini is definitely a must-order. You have a choice of two spirits for this classic cocktail:
- Tito’s Vodka
- Ford’s Gin
Your spirit of choice will be served up with a housemade pickle brine and Dolin Vermouth, and can be either shaken or stirred.
As mentioned above, The Vault prides themselves on their food, so it would be a shame to visit for the martinis alone. The mouthwatering food menu consists of mains such as:
- Wild mushroom risotto with squash, pepitas and roasted scallion
- Pan-roasted day boat scallops with caviar, mussels and sweet peppers, in a green curry sauce
- Chicken stuffed with truffles and served with apples, endives and parsnips
If you simply can’t make up your mind, you can always opt for the family-style tasting menu, which features samples of the restaurant’s finest dishes.
6) MKT Restaurant and Bar
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Feeling lucky? 🍀 ____ In honor of #StPatricksDay, MKT Beverage Manager, Fernando whipped up your something green for the weekend: a gin gimlet with a spicy twist. ____ Leave a comment below with your most creative cocktail name and we might surprise one of you with something special on us! See our Stories for more 👀
Located inside the Four Seasons Hotel, MKT Restaurant and Bar is famous for its dazzling floor-to-ceiling windows, giving you some of the best views around of downtown San Francisco. The vibe here is relaxed but sophisticated, with the restaurant being done up in a retro-urban style.
MKT Restaurant and Bar takes their menu extremely seriously, including their cocktail menu. Named Fog City Tales, the cocktail menu at this establishment has been inspired by the city’s history. Whether it be a famous figure, a neighbourhood, or a moment from the past, each cocktail on the menu has a fascinating story behind it, showcasing San Francisco’s heritage.
The martinis here are served up in large glasses, and there is an extensive menu to choose from that features everything from classics to modern innovations.
Can’t decide what to order?
Give the Flower (Em)Power a try – Tanqueray that has been infused with rose, hibiscus, lavender and violets, mixed with Campari and strawberry vermouth.
MKT Restaurant and Bar is open for breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner. Their menu is beautifully planned out, featuring delicacies such as:
- Funghi Misti Fritto
- Whole Red Snapper
- Kelp Noodles with Crispy Kale
- Duck Breast with a Cherry Glaze
You will likely be feeling pretty full after spending a couple of hours at MKT Restaurant and Bar, so take a stroll along Market Street once you are done with your meal and martinis. Just a short walk away is the OROGOLD San Francisco store, where you can pop in for some product demonstrations, expert skin care advice, or even a VIP gold facial.
7) John’s Grill
With live jazz music every night, John’s Grill is always full of life and energy, making it one of the city’s most-loved dining spots. Having opened its doors way back in 1908, John’s Grill is now a San Francisco legend, especially since this was the first restaurant in downtown San Francisco to open after the city’s devastating earthquake.
The decor features period furnishings and dark walls that are lined with hundreds of photo frames showcasing important local figures. Their menus, both for food and drink, have clearly been painstakingly curated, leaving you certain that you’re ordering nothing but the very best.
The star of the show and the most popular martini at John’s Grill has got to be the Hammett’s Classic Martini, made with Grey Goose Vodka and Dry Vermouth, served either shaken or stirred.
If you have a bit of a sweet tooth, give the Pear Martini a try instead. This features the pear version of Grey Goose, along with sweet and sour and a small splash of ginger ale.
The food menu at John’s Grill makes use of local ingredients as much as possible, including plenty of fresh seafood. Whether you’re in the mood for prawns, snapper, salmon or a steak, the proteins on offer here are fresh and high quality.
The salads at John’s Grill also deserve a mention. You may not automatically assume that the salads at a grill restaurant are going to be anything special, but these really are. Featuring a variety of vegetables and proteins, along with their special creamy blue cheese vinaigrette dressing, these salads veer more towards decadent than healthy.
If you’re looking for a good martini in San Francisco, you won’t have to look too far. Just about everywhere you go in the city is a bar or restaurant that serves up this classic cocktail, and these seven spots are where you will find the very best.