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9 Bay Area Cocktails to Drink This Summer

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A bartender in an apron vigorously shakes a a tumbler to make a cocktail. A fully stocked bar is visible behind him.
A bartender at Bardo mixes a drink. The Oakland cocktail spot's version of a Back Porch bourbon sweet tea drink is a strong contender for the Bay Area drink of the summer.  (Alan Chazaro)

Be sure to check out our full 2023 Summer Arts Guide to live music, movies, art, theater, festivals and more in the Bay Area.

Let’s be honest: Bay Area summers are hella weird. With inconsistent days that get interrupted by strong winds, fog and poorly-timed storms, it’s not quite the palm tree–saturated, sunglasses vibe that an uninitiated visitor might be craving. Still, it does warm up around here (relatively speaking), and if you’re lucky, your boss might let you hop off the clock early so you can inhale more fresh oxygen than usual — or, better yet, unwind with a decadent cocktail in hand.

Whether it’s a non-alcoholic concoction with top-shelf botanical extracts sipped on a ritzy rooftop or a boozy behemoth poured with a heavy hand at a red-light dive bar, Bay Area bartenders will be serving up enough drinks this summer to keep Alcatraz Island afloat. Trust me, I did the science, it checks out.

Here’s where KQED employees will be sipping their favorite “warm-weather” cocktails around the Bay.

A bourbon cocktail served in a glass tumbler, garnished with a lemon slice and a sprig of mint.
The drink reminds the author of a hot Louisiana summer. (Alan Chazaro)

Back Porch at Bardo Lounge & Supper Club

Bourbon, house black tea syrup, mint, Angostura, lemon peel ($14)
3343 Lakeshore Ave., Oakland


This slickly decorated, mid-century themed bar and restaurant tucked a few blocks away from Grand Lake Theater is a cocktail lover’s paradise. Bardo’s zine-length drink menu is sophisticated and diverse (including an impressive range of mocktails), but my personal favorite is the Back Porch. The name alone reminds me of a hot Louisiana summer, and the mix of bourbon and black tea syrup, with touches of fresh mint and lemon, give it that homemade sweet tea aroma you can’t ever go wrong with. —A.C.

‘Surfer on Acid’ at White Cap

Coconut coffee rum, amaro, sherry wine, falernum, pineapple ($14)

3608 Taraval St., San Francisco

Summer is a tough season in San Francisco. And it’s especially tough in the Outer Sunset. In the two summers I lived out in the Avenues, the cold fog could get so thick that I wasn’t able to see any sand on the beach, mere blocks away. One way to cope was by building fires to stay warm. The other? To bundle up in a down jacket and grab a cocktail at White Cap. The “Surfer on Acid” is a classic — tropical, boozy — and while you’re drinking it, you can pretend you’re somewhere where it’s actually hot in May, June or July. —Bianca Taylor

Two mint-garnished tropical cocktails, lit from behind by candle light.
The Saturn is one of the refreshing tiki drinks you can find at El Cerrito’s Little Hill Lounge. (Alan Chazaro)

Saturn at Little Hill Lounge

Gin, passion fruit, orgeat, falernum, lemon juice ($12)
10753 San Pablo Ave., El Cerrito

Here’s a quick lesson for my non-Spanish speakers: “cerro” translates as “hill” and “El Cerrito” means “the little hill.” So the next time you’re on Highway 80, look for the tiny hillside along the San Pablo Bay shoreline and tell your Uber driver to hop off the first exit. At Little Hill Lounge, you’ll encounter tiki drinks inside a retro ’70s red-interior room with a gorgeous oval-shaped bar in the middle. There might even be a neighborhood regular belting jukebox favorites to himself. The Saturn is my beverage of choice here. It’s smooth, satiating, zesty and simple. —A.C.

Chamborlada at Forbidden Island

Rum, Chambord, pineapple, coconut ($16)
1304 Lincoln Ave., Alameda

Full disclosure: I’m one of those maniacs whose favorite La Croix flavor is coconut. I want coconut everything. Coconut cake, coconut sake (it’s a real thing!), coconut protein bars — just give me all of the coconut. (Don’t tell me it tastes like sun block, I’ve heard it all before.) Because of that, Forbidden Island is a cocktail paradise for me. There are ample drink options for coconut haters in this fantastically kitsch little joint, but there is also an entire section of the menu dedicated to “Coconutty Creations.” My favorite is the Chamborlada, a drink that combines light tropical flavors with a heavy hit of alcohol. It’s the perfect cocktail to transport you to a tropical island, even as the fog rolls over the Bay outside. —Rae Alexandra

A whisky highball in a tall glass, garnished with a slice of lemon peel.
The Japanese whisky highball at Umami Mart is simple, elegant and extremely refreshing. (Luke Tsai)

Whisky Highball at Umami Mart

Japanese whisky, soda, lemon ($12)
4027 Broadway, Oakland

As someone who goes for low-alcohol carbonated drinks almost exclusively (yes, I’m a lightweight), I love a good Japanese whisky highball. My drink of the summer this year is the version they’re pouring at Umami Mart, which you might know for its design-conscious Japanese bar gadget and kitchenware shop in North Oakland. But did you know about the not-so-secret bar in the back, where you can bop your head to old jazz records while perusing the finely curated shochu and sake collection? The classic highball couldn’t be simpler: a high-proof Iwai whisky from Nagano (so the drink isn’t actually that weak), Fever Tree’s aggressively fizzy club soda, a slice of lemon peel and plenty of ice. It’s the kind of elegant cocktail you make for a person who enjoys cold beer: super smooth, super refreshing. On a hot day, there’s nothing better. —Luke Tsai

‘Last Mistake’ at North Light

Mezcal, Aperol, aloe, citrus, ginger, soda ($15)
4915 Telegraph Ave., Oakland

North Light appears to be a narrow bar hidden between busy Temescal stores, but keep going to the back and it opens into a beautiful patio. The place serves delicious food (love the tater tots), and my go-to drink is the “Last Mistake,” a smooth and uplifting blend of mezcal, citrus flavors and ginger. My favorite thing about North Light is that it doubles as a bookstore whose selection is curated by writers and artists as illustrious as Michael Chabon, Patti Smith and Samin Nosrat. Nothing I love more than snacks and a drink with a book in front of me. (Also on the drinks front: the KQED Live team’s July 13 cocktail event with the podcast Bay Curious!) —Sarah Rose Leonard

A hand holding up a cocktail, with fruity, pulpy bits floating on top. A fully stocked bar is visible in the background.
A fruity, spicy “E&E” from the Cat House Bar makes a good start or finish to a Lake Merritt excursion. (Alan Chazaro)

‘E&E’ at the Cat House Bar

Tequila, mezcal, pineapple, cilantro, lime, jalapeño ($13)
3255 Lakeshore Ave., Oakland

When all else fails, add tequila and mezcal to your night for an extra summery kick. With fruity splashes of pineapple and lime and dashes of spice from the jalapeño and cilantro, The Cat House Bar’s “E&E” is a perfectly balanced cocktail served in an elegant, laid-back environment. Pro tip: Both Lake Merritt and the aforementioned Bardo are within short walking distance. —A.C.

A pink cocktail garnished with mint on a wood bar counter.
The ‘Hitman’ is an pink, effervescent beauty of a cocktail. It also happens to be alcohol-free. (Alan Chazaro)

The ‘Hitman’ at Dalva

Grapefruit, lime, NA bitter, Mala syrup, soda ($7)
3121 16th St., San Francisco

There may not be another bar in San Francisco serving a better mocktail than this pink beauty at Dalva. The beverage is what some of my bar-hopping friends might call effervescent — it’s also light, minty, herbaceous and bubbly. Soak up the non-alcoholic (or alcoholic) vibes at this grown-up lounge with psychedelically-swirled decor next to the Roxie Theater. Conveniently, it’s just a few feet away from some of the Bay Area’s best pupusas. —A.C.

The Great American Sazerac at the Great American Music Hall

cognac, rye whiskey, simple syrup, absinthe rinse ($16)
859 O’Farrell St., San Francisco

In need of a good drink and show this summer? The Great American Music Hall is your place. This historic building lies in the heart of the city, surrounded by some of the best restaurants in San Francisco. Formerly known as “Blancos,” the venue was built in 1907, served as a speakeasy during Prohibition and, just like the movies, even had a small basement stage that remains to this day — the perfect place for an intimate show with your favorite artist. My go-to drink is the Great American Sazerac, a little drink that packs a punch and is as rich as the venue it’s named after. It’s complex, warm and just sweet enough to balance out the potent kick of rye whiskey. —Antony Fangary


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