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October 23, 2015

Local Favorites: Cocktail Bars in Union Square SF

**Guest Post by the Avital Ungar, proprietress of Avital Tours

Union Square cocktail lounges are for more than just tourists. Serious and not so serious cocktail lovers are sure to enjoy these top 5 cocktail bars of Union Square, where San Francisco locals love to imbibe.

1.  Burritt Room - Burritt Room is neatly nestled inside the Mystic Hotel and takes its name from The Maltese Falcon, after the alley where Sam Spade’s partner Miles is gunned down. The decor takes its cues from film noir as well, with dim lighting and curtains that make for an intimate setting. The drinks on the other hand have a decidedly modern twist. The Poquito Picante (that’s “a little spicy” for all you gringos out there) kicks things up a notch (Bam!) by slipping a serrano tincture in alongside tequila, aperol, and lime. Too adventurous for you? Try the Mass Appeal, with your choice of vodka or gin, elderflower ginger, lime, and grapefruit bitters. In the mood for something a little more classic? The Mark Twain #2 subs out the gin in a Bee’s Knees for Scotch for a smoky-sweet treat. 417 Stockton St.

2.  Cantina - If you like margaritas, come to Cantina. If you don’t like margaritas, come to Cantina. Get a regular one, or try the five-spice version, by the glass, or by the pitcher. You’ve got options, man. I can’t even palate the thought of a tequila shot, but they’re both good enough to trick me into thinking that I’m a tequila drinker. If you still don’t want to hop on the tequila train, never fear, Caipirinhas, Hemingway Daquiris, and Pisco Punch are here! Each as deliciously deadly as the last. You’ll be grooving along to the DJ in no time. 580 Sutter St.

3.  Library Bar - For those of you who feel that the Library at Bourbon and Branch doesn’t take the theme far enough, there’s Library Bar inside the Hotel Rex. It has the calm quiet of a library without the bother of all those old librarians walking up to your table to shush you. It’s a cute little spot right next to Cantina, great for those with more introverted tendencies, or for catching up with old friends over a G&T. 562 Sutter St.

4.  Hawthorn - Hawthorn earns some points in my book, just because I’m a fan of anywhere that has the chutzpah to put an Aviation on their menu. It’s not an especially complicated drink to make, nor is it even my favorite. But when a bartender can deliver on the promise of gin, lemon, and maraschino liqueur, with just the right amount of the beautifully purple Crème de Violette, she wins me over, having sufficiently assured me of her skills behind the bar. For those of you wondering what I’m going on about, grab a Spinning Wheel (apple brandy plus champagne equals YUM) or a Firebird (tequila plus ancho liqueur plus port equals ALSO YUM) and then hit the dance floor and shake what ya mama gave ya. 46 Geary St.

5.  Tradition - Oh Tradition! It’s a lofty goal to try to reclaim an American bar tradition in a country barely old enough to have real traditions of its own, but somehow, it succeeds. Like the national American identity, Tradition is a melting pot, drawing influences from all corners of the globe and throughout history. When was the last time you saw a Singapore Sling sit comfortably on a menu alongside the Sazerac and a Shrunken Skull? As a matter of fact, when was the last time you ever saw those three on a menu together at all? Just don’t try to tackle all three in a night, or your hangover will leave you feeling like it’s your skull that’s been shrunk. 441 Jones St.

Other Notable Bars:

*Bourbon and Branch 501 Jones St.

*Benjamin Cooper 398 Geary St inside the Hotel G on the second floor

*Stookey’s Club Moderne 895 Bush St.

*Gaspar 185 Sutter St.

Avital Ungar is the owner of Avital Food Tours, which takes guests behind-the-scenes in the San Francisco culinary scene on walking food tours in the Mission District, the Haight Ashbury, North Beach, and craft cocktails in Union Square. Get more information at