Can you even call it summer if you’re not sipping a refreshing cocktail? Around the Bay Area, new bars have surfaced within the past seven months, and after a grueling year for bars, we think drinks are in order. SFGATE’s Food + Drink team visited some of the newcomers found throughout San Francisco and beyond to try a selection of tropical to low-proof drinks. Drinks aside, many of the new bars come with a playful atmosphere, like Jaranita’s festive dining space and garden-centric bar Propagation. The only problem you’ll have is deciding which place to hit first.   

The Red Window Cobbler at Red Window, a new tapas bar in North Beach. 

The Red Window Cobbler at Red Window, a new tapas bar in North Beach. 

Madeline Wells/SFGATE

At North Beach’s colorful new tapas bar Red Window, you won’t find any whiskey or gin on the menu. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t cocktails. 


Instead, you’ll find a creative menu of low-proof cocktails, in which the absence of a full liquor license becomes an asset rather than a disadvantage. 


“We set off to create the very first low-proof cocktail bar, where we get a beer and wine license, but build it like a cocktail bar,” said bar director Elmer Mejicanos, who is also bar director at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana. “… It’s challenging but also fun to figure out different ways to build flavor without using the usual spirits.”

Red Window’s drink menu is divided into different styles, from spritzes to tiki to the “bar cart” section, where the bartender will come to your table and mix the drink for you there. 

The pride and joy of Mejicanos’ inventive menu, though, is the Red Window Cobbler. It’s his take on the sherry cobbler, a classic cocktail that dates back to the 19th century. Where normally Mejicanos says he can develop a full cocktail menu in a couple of weeks, the cobbler recipe alone took him months to perfect, in which he tested about 40 different sherries. 

“A lot of really great cocktail bars are making sherry cobbler, so this is a way for us to put our foot down and say we can do something just as good as a regular cocktail bar, using the same ingredients,” he explained. “… This is the one where I wanted to shine. I wanted to put our stamp on it.”

And shine it does — the sweet, tangy concoction with a complex nutty undertone served over crushed ice is so lively and refreshing, you won’t even miss the high-proof spirits. — MW

Red Window is located at 500 Columbus Ave., San Francisco. Open 4 to 9 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; noon to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and noon to 9 p.m. Sunday. 

Friends and Family

The Anouk's Kiss cocktail at Friends and Family, located in Oakland. 

The Anouk’s Kiss cocktail at Friends and Family, located in Oakland. 

Madeline Wells/SFGATE

At trendy new Oakland bar Friends and Family, you’re probably going to want to pick a seat on the patio. Not because the stylish interior is any less pleasing to look at, but because outside, you get to draw on the table. 

“Everything that I want to exude out of the space is a feeling of nostalgia, a feeling of romance, a feeling of playfulness,” said Blake Cole, the former manager at Oakland restaurant Hopscotch who now co-owns Friends and Family with Trick Dog’s Kimberly Rosselle. 

When Cole and Rosselle began planning the opening of the bar’s romantic outdoor space (they were takeout-only for months, as Friends and Family first opened during the early months of the COVID-19 shutdown), they wanted to make it feel extra special. White tablecloths were a must, but those have to be protected with paper. And if there’s paper, why not crayons?

“This is such a fun opportunity for people to connect with each other, especially if you’re on a date or meeting a friend you haven’t seen in a long time,” said Cole. “It’s kind of nice to have a little icebreaker activity, and I feel like the crayons were the perfect way to do that.”

Friends and Family’s playful cocktails are the perfect accompaniment to your colorful doodling. Each drink is an homage to a beloved person or place. “Mom’s Rosy Cheeks,” for example, is a variation on a gimlet served the way Cole’s mom likes it. 

“We definitely wanted a cocktail menu that had classics but also had some more adventurous cocktails, but keeping things relatively clean and simple and nothing too precious,” explained Cole.

One drink that epitomizes this simple yet still bold ethos is “Anouk’s Kiss,” bar manager Julian Arreola’s loose interpretation of a zombie. While maintaining the classic tiki drink’s base of blended rum and lime, he pairs down the usually lengthy ingredient list and puts his own spin on it.

“Anouk’s Kiss is inspired by the escapism found in tropical drinks and tiki culture, but reshaped in a playful manner that lends itself to an aperitivo hour in Milano,” said Arreola. “Through substituting commonly found components such as Cointreau for Martini and Rossi Fiero … and utilizing the depth of Chinese 5 spice, we’re able to maintain a playful essence, while making the experience something all of its own.” — MW

Friends and Family is located at 468 25th St., Oakland. Open 5 to 11 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Monday; 4 to 11 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Jaranita 

Jaranita is located at 3340 Steiner St. in San Francisco. Pictured from left to right: passion taffy, zen-gria, and chicha-morada (bottom right). 

Jaranita is located at 3340 Steiner St. in San Francisco. Pictured from left to right: passion taffy, zen-gria, and chicha-morada (bottom right). 

Susana Guerrero/ SFGATE

Even if it’s not a particularly sunny day in the Marina, walking inside Jaranita makes you feel like you’re miles away from gloomy San Francisco. One of the best ways to enjoy the Peruvian restaurant’s cocktail menu is in the rear dining room where the former Bistro Aix olive tree remains. 

Jaranita, which opened in January, has decked the olive tree out in colorful beads and threads. It’s part of the festive theme the restaurant hopes to spread throughout the space. 

“‘Jarana’ means street party, so we wanted to encompass that in the Marina,” said Diego Pilares, beverage director at Jaranita. “We really wanted it to be a fun experience all around.”

Jaranita comes to the Marina as part of restaurant group Acurio Restuarantes, which owns La Mar Cebicheria Peruana in San Francisco. Pilares, who likewise happens to be the beverage director at La Mar, said that he wanted to keep the drinks at Jaranita refreshing, light and Peruvian focused. The passion taffy is one of the bright drinks on the menu that blends passion fruit, anise, and sake. 

“I really wanted that anise flavor to come through, but anise can be a very difficult thing to play with, because it is such an overpowering spice,” Pilares said. “I thought passion fruit would be the perfect balance to the anise and it ended up working really well because they complement each other.” 

Other drinks, like the chicha morada, which is made with Peruvian purple corn, can be prepared either virgin or spiked. Since Jaranita holds a beer and wine license, most of the cocktails are made with sake, which is a nod to Peru’s Japanese population and influence. The license has been restrictive Pilares admits, but he says it’s helped him think outside the box. 

“The limitations have provided us the opportunity to be more creative than we could be elsewhere,” Pilares said. “I like the idea of creating something completely new and different that no one else has.” — SG

Jaranita is located at 3340 Steiner St., San Francisco. Open 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday to Wednesday, and 11:30 a.m. to 9:45 p.m. Thursday to Saturday. 

BarZola

Some of the drinks featured at BarZola in Palo Alto, including the smoke and mirrors (left).  

Some of the drinks featured at BarZola in Palo Alto, including the smoke and mirrors (left).  

From L to R: Eden Kiryakos/ Amy Y. on Yelp

It’s just been about a month since BarZola opened in Palo Alto, and on a recent Friday night, bar manager Duncan Harrison is busy slinging a cocktail shaker around for the drink lineup that evening. The bar is filled with customers ogling the drink menu, which Harrison describes as both adventurous and approachable. 

“We’re coming in with a wide brush … and doing the most ambitious and, I would say, the highest quality cocktail menu in Palo Alto,” Harrison said. “We kind of work from a framework of my favorite classics and little rifts on the best drinks.”

Among the cocktails available on the menu is the smoke and mirrors — a kumquat-infused mezcal libation with mandarin, strawberry, lime, and habanero served in a tall glass with a sole kumquat and a banana leaf for garnish. Harrison describes the drink as a mezcal spicy margarita that has been elevated by a huge fruit profile. 

“I wanted to take all my favorite cocktails, the classics, and maybe stuff I’ve had at famous bars that I’ve been to and put our own BarZola stamp on it,” Harrison said of what inspired many of the drinks on the menu. 

Harrison’s past bartending gigs include a stint at District in San Jose, where he trained at the San Francisco location with the former beverage director, Ashleigh Plasterer. Harrison says that Plasterer played a huge role in his career as she taught him the basics to deep dives on inventive drinks. Harrison’s most recent job was at Trick Dog, where he ran the food program as he awaited a bartender opening that ultimately never came with the COVID-19 shutdown. 

But when Guillaume Bienaime, chef-owner of BarZola and neighbor restaurant Zola, asked Harrison to come on board, Harrison jumped. He’s excited to continue refining the cocktail menu and work with other creatives, including a former colleague at Trick Dog, to really put Palo Alto on the map. 

“Driving to the city is a bit of a hassle,” Harrison said. “The goal is to be so good at this that it makes Palo Alto a place to go get cocktails.” — SG

BarZola is located at 565 Bryant St. in Palo Alto. Open 5 p.m. to midnight Thursday to Saturday. 

Propagation

Night After Night is Propagation's take on the pina colada - with some twists.

Night After Night is Propagation’s take on the pina colada — with some twists.

Dianne de Guzman / SFGATE

If you suddenly feel relaxed and vacation-y while sipping on a cocktail amongst the plants at Propagation in San Francisco — you’re not alone.

“I think a lot of people think that our bar is like a vacation,” said owner Heather Hoffman. “This couple came in the other day, and they were like, ‘Where did you go on vacation that inspired you to open this [place]?’ We’re like, ‘Well, if we want to go to work every day, we want to be in a place that’s relaxing.’”

It’s here among the foliage that Propagation’s seasonal cocktail menu might inspire your next trip; the drinks this summer are packed with notes of berries, the pleasant tartness of citrus, and even a couple of cocktails come with a touch of coconut to help transport you to someplace summery. Hoffman’s honed her drink-making skills over the years in San Francisco and is creating an exciting cocktail menu that changes to fit her personal style each season, and her customers’ taste in booze.

The cocktail Night After Night is a fitting drink for summer, since it reminds Hoffman of vacation and is a take on her favorite drinks, the iconic piña colada. But this particular piña colada was made with one very specific customer in mind: Lauren Nguyen, Hoffman’s wife and bar partner.

“My wife, Lauren, she’s not a big drinker. She’s always one of those people that [says], ‘not too sweet, not too this, not too much alcohol’ — I think she’s my most challenging customer,” Hoffman said. “So I always want to please her because she’s hard to please with drinks, in general.”

With her wife’s preferences in mind, Hoffman constructed this cocktail as a highly drinkable, less-sweet piña colada for Nguyen. Propagation’s take has the added oomph of tequila (a favorite of the couple), along with lime, pineapple and coconut cream, and topped with pink Himalayan salt and tajin, all served over a large ice cube.

The drink was a hit with Nguyen and the bar staff after its creation, but stalled out as an addition to the menu, as the Propagation crew struggled to find a name for it. Meanwhile, Hoffman said, her wife was having this drink during her visits to the bar, quickly becoming her favorite, while the drink remained nameless for two weeks.

“[Finally], I was like, ‘That’s it you guys, it’s Night After Night, because night after night, we cannot come up with a drink name that’s going to cover how good this drink is,’” Hoffman said, laughing. — DdG

Propagation is located at 895 Post St., San Francisco. Open 4 p.m. to midnight Tuesday to Thursday; 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. Fridays; and 2:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Saturdays. 

The Tailor’s Son

The Golden Thread at The Tailor's Son

The Golden Thread at The Tailor’s Son

Nico Madrigal-Yankowski

The peaty notes of Scotch aren’t ones usually associated with summer. But at The Tailor’s Son, a new restaurant by restaurant group Back of the House, the cocktail menu has a drink that blends smokey, sweet and slightly tart flavors for a whiskey cocktail to enjoy this summer with their northern Italian cuisine.

At The Tailor’s Son, cocktails are “more of vehicles to stimulate the appetite, to help connect you with friends,” Carolyn Kao, bar manager and cocktail menu creator of The Tailor’s Son, said in a phone interview. 

Kao, who has worked all over the Bay Area bar scene at places like True Laurel in San Francisco and, most recently, Viridian in Oakland, was excited to create the cocktail menu from scratch. The Golden Thread at its most basic is a riff on a Scotch old fashioned. But at its most ornate, it’s two Islay Scotches — a blended Scotch for a smooth touch and an ounce of Ardbeg for the smokey component — along with chestnut honey, saffron, and orange bitters. 

“Scotch just works so well with honey. So I was looking at different Italian honeys and I saw chestnut honey. I was like ‘Oh, that’s really interesting.’ So I tried it and it was surprisingly really bitter. And I’ve never had bitter honey before,” said Kao. She knew she was on to something but needed a hint of savory to curb the bitterness of the chestnut honey.

She bounced some ideas off chef de cuisine Tali Missirlian. That’s how she finalized the final component of the Golden Thread: saffron. Kao recounted, “I was like, ‘Tali, do you think that saffron and chestnut honey would work? She was like, ‘I don’t know, let’s try it.’’ Kao threw some saffron in it and said to Missilrian, “Taste it! I trust your taste buds.” Missilrian beamed back at her and said, “Yea, this is really good.”

The Tailor’s Son is located at 2049 Fillmore St., San Francisco. Open 5 to 10 p.m. Sunday to Thursday; 5 to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.