Love it or hate it or hope it gets rained out every year, SantaCon is upon us. The annual pub crawl-slash-nominal charity event of day drinkers roaming around the city dressed like Father Christmas is slated to commence at noon today despite forecasts of heavy showers.
Almost hilariously, SantaCon officially discourages public drunkenness. So if you want a nice cocktail but hope to avoid its levels of, um, boisterousness, here are 12 spots where you can still feel merry and bright throughout the holiday season without necessarily getting drunk in a Santa suit.
Editor’s Note: Some of these spots are temporary holiday pop-ups. So if you make a list, take a page from the real Santa and consider checking it twice.
Why prance around in a Santa suit when you can feel like you’re on top of the world? Head to Kaiyo’s cocktail lounge on top of the Hyatt in Mission Bay for cocktails inspired by the holidays and Nikkei, or the fusion of Japanese and Peruvian cuisines. Try a Peruvian-style hot toddy with pisco, passion fruit honey, fresh lemon juice, ginger syrup and cinnamon bitters, or the hot and sultry Steamboy cocktail, garnished with a cinnamon stick and star anise.
Christmas gets a Mele Kalikimaka twist at the San Francisco location of Sippin’ Santa, the brainchild of tiki connoisseur Jeff “Beachbum” Berry. Take yourself on a mini vacay with drinks that pay homage to tiki culture. Go big with Rudolph’s Rum Rhapsody, a scorpion bowl-style drink of Jamaican and Puerto Rican rums with lime, orange, pineapple, passion fruit, falernum, honey, ginger and Angostura aromatic bitters made for two. Or sip like Santa in July with the Kris Kringle Colada of rum, amaro, allspice liqueur, lime, pineapple and cream of coconut.
The Vault Garden transforms its tented outdoor patio into a festive dining area offering seasonal cocktails with plenty of holiday spirit. Get whisked away and warmed up with the Polar Express, a house hot chocolate spiked with mezcal, Licor 43 and Oloroso sherry wine. Allow Santa’s Little Helper (Mount Gay Rum, Glenmorangie X, Drambuie, mulling spice and butter) to get you through the holidays. And bid to all a good night with the Noche Buena, a mix of tequila, Ancho Reyes liqueur, Peychaud’s Aperitivo and strawberry pink peppercorn.
The minds behind this summer’s Peter Pan-themed immersive pop-up bar are at it again with a seasonal dram shop. The temporary bar tucked into Trademark is decked out with baubles and bows, trees and wreaths and, you guessed it, plenty of tinsel. The menu is a mystery, but its promises to be wintery and warm.
One of America’s best cocktail bars dresses up for the holidays with the return of its annual pop-up experience. Expect colorful lights, garlands, ornaments, bows and frills with your servings of season cocktails.
You can literally decorate the walls at this winter wonderland pop-up bar built for grownups. Color in elves, gingerbread men and mittens on the walls like you’re filling in an adult coloring book and relive lazy winter vacay kid days of watching films on the couch as holiday movies screen. Here, you can sip on vodka soda from an igloo or even drink some “yellow snow” (tequila, lemon and agave). Follow Deck the Halls' Instagram for updates on hours.
The second floor of this two-story bar-arcade transforms into the Grinch’s den of mean merriment this holiday season. Drink up some very green drinks amid decorations inspired by Dr. Seuss’ anti-hero. Your heart may not grow three sizes that day, but you may leave a lot more high-spirited.
Looking for a holiday bar with a Western twist? The Marina’s Westwood adds floor-to-ceiling tinsel and trimmings to this honky-tonk where you’ll be able to drink booze out of Santa boot as part of your 90-minute reservation ($9+). Book your table here and have a happy yeehaw-liday!
Spiced cider or eggnog more your thing? Elixir, SF’s second oldest continually operating saloon, offers these classic holiday cocktails, along with a hot buttered rum including vanilla ice cream, butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, allspice and cardamom spiked with a rich dark rum. Yum! The former merchant marine bar also also offers a non-alcoholic eggnog with holiday spices and an orange twist.
Raise one last glass to the San Francisco Wine Society’s posh parklet, as the beautifully designed outdoor space goes buh-bye after Dec. 23. In the meantime, the Wine Society is offering cheerfully themed flights named after holiday songs. Try out 12 wines with the “12 Days of Christmas” flight, or go deep on pinot noirs with the “Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”
Only want to get a tiny bit tipsy? North Beach tapas bar Red Window offers a suite of low-proof cocktails in miniature form, including specialty shots or “shorties” of boozy egg nog, an espresso martini and a mistletoe cocktail with rosemary infused vodka. But you might want to spring for the Ginger Bread Man with clarified milk punch (one of the oldest cocktails known to humanity) that’s topped with a full gingerbread cookie.
We’ve long adored The Madrigal’s late-night happy hour, and we’re delighted that they have a cocktail menu to take us into the long, dark nights of winter. Be on theme with the Cold Snaps cocktail, a fusion of Skyy vodka, cold brew, almond dust, vanilla and biscotti whip. Let visions of sugar plums dance in your head with the Beauty Sleep, made with Meyer lemon vodka, passion fruit, jalapeño and sea salt. And we think Santa might appreciate a grown-up version of a milky nightcap with the Screen Test, a mix of lime, Thai chili bitters and coconut milk spiked with kumquat liqueur and Bacardi.
Raise your own spirits with the Beacon Grand Hotel’s beverage program, benefiting Underdog Animal Rescue. The hotel’s Beacon Lounge offers a pup-inspired seasonal cocktail called the “FIFI FIFI,” made of Lo-Fi Aperitifs Gentian Amaro and New Amsterdam London Dry Gin. For every cocktail sold, Beacon Grand and the hotel’s partner Gallo Winery, will each donate $1 to the Underdog Animal Rescue. Hot tea and barrel-aged whiskey also meet at Beacon Lounge’s "Bubbles, Barrels and Tea" tasting experience on Dec. 10 and 17, including hot toddies and delectable sweet potato cake bites with curried apple and Medjool date chutney as well as honey-glazed goat cheese mousse and saffron preserve with candied pecan. Beacon Lounge also hosts a holiday whiskey tasting Dec. 14.
Christina Campodonico can be reached at email@example.com