The Alembic Bar

The Alembic BarThe Alembic Bar
The Alembic BarThe Alembic Bar
Bar, Eatery

1725 Haight St.
San Francisco, California, 94117
United States

(415) 666-0822 | map
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Photo of elNopalero
Reviewed by elNopalero from California

4.55/5  rDev +14.6%
vibe: 4.75 | quality: 4.5 | service: 4.75 | selection: 4.25 | food: 4.75
A classic, quiet, unassuming cocktail bar with a modest yet well-curated tap list. In the before times this was a dependable spot for a late night bite. There’s still meal service, but more in line with sleepy San Francisco circa 2023.
Jun 24, 2023
Rated: 4.18 by bostonbeans from Massachusetts

Aug 15, 2015
Rated: 4.2 by Spaceman_Jer from Colorado

Jun 26, 2015
Rated: 3.75 by Beervana from Canada (BC)

Jun 29, 2014
Rated: 3.5 by Clembo1957 from England

Jun 18, 2014
Photo of flexabull
Reviewed by flexabull from California

3.83/5  rDev -3.5%
vibe: 4 | quality: 4 | service: 3.25 | selection: 3.75 | food: 4.75
Stopped in here for late Saturday night dinner.

Cool dark and tiny little spot, narrow with a bar, and just a few seats in the back. Big chalkboard listed liquors, wine and beer choices.

Quality was good. Everything they had was craft, but nothing overlay special. I had a Magnolia Proving Ground and a Drakes 1500.

Service was ok. Our bartender and table service was fine, but the hostess was scattered and all over the place, and I'm pretty sure she forgot about us for a while.

Selection was a bit small, I believe they had 6 or 7 taps, but they had decent variety.

Food was fantastic, small plates, but my sweetbreads and veal was excellent. Best meal I've had in some time.

Prices were a bit pricey, but not bad.

Overall, cool little spot with nice cocktails, some good beer choices, and very tasty food.
Jan 21, 2013
Photo of RblWthACoz
Reviewed by RblWthACoz from Pennsylvania

4/5  rDev +0.8%
vibe: 4 | quality: 4 | service: 4 | selection: 4 | food: 4
I've only visited here during lunch, as every time I pass at night the place is pretty jam packed; and I've passed by there quite a few times, I'll have you know. Cool vibe, lots of different booze to try, good food. Not sure if it's really a place I'd frequent on the regular, but it's a nice spot to go to. Selection could be wider, but what's available covers and interesting spectrum of the beer world. Honestly, if rather just go to Magnolia.

Other nearby spots: Whole Foods (Stanyan St.), Liquid Experience, Val de Cole, Kezar Bar & Grill, Magnolia.
Jan 04, 2013
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Reviewed by slander from New York

4.15/5  rDev +4.5%
vibe: 4 | quality: 4.5 | service: 4 | selection: 4 | food: 4
Apparently, I just blew past the woman at the door who was looking to keep us out due to space restraints. Ben told me as much when he caught up to me at the end of the bar. Trouble shot the situation and quickly ordered a beer on the thinking they wouldn’t eject me then, not easily, anyway (I am the solver of problemos, I am solution oriented). To be fair, I didn’t know the deal on the way in, and I did apologize to her on the way out. Revisited in the light of the next day, ‘cause I was in the ‘hood and could...

It’s a deep, narrow, room with a worn “L” shaped, wood bar off to the left. Upright wood plank base, piping foot rail, and seating for 14 on stools. Barback is glassware in rows and some wines atop a 4 door horizontal cooler holding bottled beer selections and wine. Some cupboardiness alongside, and hidden boozings; the tap tower atop, a few wines, and a coffee machine. 3 long shelves run the length above holding a whole hell of a lot of Whiskey, and things that wish they could be. And 4 square blackboards on a rack run up atop, on a cool pulley system that bring the boards down for easy edit action (as opposed to climbing up on the bar to change out the recently kicked for the on now).

2 hightop roundies up front in the windows, and a looong stretch of bar counter adjacent to the run of the bar. Down past the bar, a handful of 2 seat tables on a length of a shared blue cushion bench, and a corner “L” of the same with 5 tables across the way. To the rear, a tight kitchen space, with a horizontal blackboard above the opening listing prix fixe, dinner & cheese selections and specials.

Worn wood plank floors, black pressed tin ceiling with crown moldings, and yellow mustard, no, maybe more of a spicy brown, ceiling trim and walls. Light from a center skylight, some wall mounted lighting fixtures of metal piecework, drop single filament bulbs tracing the bar, and a single elaborate Quisp lamp to the rear. A few tall vertical prints, a wall shelving piece with books, beakers, test tubes in a mini rack, old bottles, cocktail shakers, and other dusty things, and a large ornate square mirror on the rear wall framed (that bitch is enormous).

10 taps, on nondescript handled stainless steel bar tower on the barback. ½ the taps hold “Gypsy/Tenant Brewer ” event selections (Local Brewing Ocean Beach Porter, Oakland Brewing Impact Crater Imperial Stout, Pacific Brewing Laboratory Nautilus, Dying Vines Brewing Old Brick Bitter, and the High Water Brewing St. Eve’s Belgian Strong Golden Ale, for which there should be a cease & desist a-coming); and the other ½ hold regional California play (Magnolia Kalifornia Kolsch & Proving Ground IPA, Moonlight Death & Taxes, Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye, and the Sutton Cellars Brown Label Dry Vermouth). Started with Moonlight Death & Taxes, due in part to it being awesome, and moved to the Oakland Brewing Impact Crater, which was quite tasty, yes.

And the aforementioned bottled beer selections, looks like just shy of 3 dozen, if you include the “Gypsy/Tenant Brewer” event offerings. The bottled menu is broken out by style or stylings, with roughly 1/3 of them imports, and those mostly of the Belgian variety (Orval runs an, in the range of acceptable, $11). And they do some cocktails here, too, uh huh; the bitters and the like on the bar boxed in front of me.

Opted for a light bite, being the Shishito peppers, oh, non-crazily painful peppers of salty goodness. The perfect snack, seriously. I had been thinking ‘duck’, ‘cause it was on the specials board, but the peppers proved to be the necessary fix.

The tunes have been great. Caught some Buffalo Springfield (early Stephen as that goes, oh yeah, Neil, too), and then “Tears from heaven” comes on, and as I’m thinking “damn, I hate this fucking song”, the bar guy barks “No!” and she changes it (Thanks, man). Was jammin’ last night, not so much today (Thursday afternoon, at 3), but I’m liking it more so now. Good scene, and I could hang, but we’re two and out; got to go collect Ben from the evils of work.
May 15, 2012
Photo of emerge077
Reviewed by emerge077 from Illinois

4.13/5  rDev +4%
vibe: 4.5 | quality: 4.5 | service: 4 | selection: 3.5 | food: 4.5
Stopped in for a weekday lunch, not crowded at all. Perfect atmosphere, couldn't ask for a better bar on Haight.

Open ceiling, mustard walls, framed vertical prints of abstract industrial textures. Worn in wood floors and tables. Handsome rustic bar to the left, with a cluster of padded booth seating to the rear. Curio shelves to the right behind the bar with plenty of archaic cocktail curios. It's a small and popular place, therefore can't accommodate large groups, not an unreasonable or exclusive policy. Like Monk's Kettle, seating is reserved for dining if it's busy.

Drafts listed on the chalkboard, small but effective list. Magnolia Kölsch, Drake's 1500, Ovila Saison, and several others. Bottle list covered the stylistic basics. Odonata Saison was "on special" for too much money... a 375mL saison for $26?. Whiskey and spirits selection was extensive, with a creative cocktail list also.

Service was attentive and not pretentious. Everything was delivered in a timely manner. Restrooms were clean, with actual cloth hand towels (same as Magnolia).

Food was delicious, the beef tongue sliders were a memorable savory bite, something i'd have again in a heartbeat. The seasonal grilled nectarine and burrata salad was tasty too.

Overall worth a stop if on Haight, during an off peak time. Amoeba, Magnolia, and plenty of other interesting spots nearby.
Oct 08, 2011
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Reviewed by NorCalgrowler from California

3.79/5  rDev -4.5%
vibe: 4.5 | quality: 4 | service: 3 | selection: 4
Another stop on my birthday tour last year - also on the SF 100 Eats things to try in SF. The Old Fashioned which was way above par. All drinks that were ordered were all over the top inclduing those for my picky wife. The food also looked good witha very eclectic and creative menu. This is much more of a restaurant than a bar. Would definitely go back for a bite but might choose a weekday. But it is a bit $$$ for the Haight district. Bar is narrow and crowded so be warned. It is tough to get a seat at the bar or at a table in the bar area. Selection of spirits fantastic
May 05, 2011
Photo of t0rin0
Reviewed by t0rin0 from California

3.6/5  rDev -9.3%
vibe: 4 | quality: 3.5 | service: 3.5 | selection: 3.5 | food: 4
Visited May 2010 (from notes).

Stopped in on a lunch break while working in the city. Got lucky and found a parking spot right on Haight. The bartender was nice but a bit busy to pay a lot of attention to me. I also wasn't pretending to be into some obscure punk band like so much of that part of town, not sure if that had anything to do with it.

I really came to the place because I heard about all the whacky foods they had and I wanted to try some strange parts of strange animals. But I didnt see any of that on the menu. Maybe my friend just mixed up the names of two bars, who knows. I was also told that they had this amazing bottle list. Again, not the case. So I settled for a fish sandwich (rock fish or something like that) and a glass of a Magnolia beer that I hadn't seen before (Dark Star Mild).

The place was pretty quiet despite having a decent number of patrons in it. Prices were a bit steep, but possibly on par for the trendy part of SF. What ever, been there, done that.
May 03, 2011
Photo of Chelsea1905
Reviewed by Chelsea1905 from Washington

3.26/5  rDev -17.9%
vibe: 4 | quality: 3 | service: 4 | selection: 2.5
Stopped in and had a proving ground IPA. To be honest this isn't a beer bar. However, the staff were great, and the cocktails mixed very well.

Cool lighting, nice old feel to the lighting and lay out- long and skinny bar. Food looked and smelled great.

Nice bar, but not worth reviewing as a beer bar, because it isn't. When I was there they only had about 4 beers on tap!!! However if you are in the area, and want a drink, then stop in.

The prices are a bit high too, but the music was good and my wife and I could talk to one another without feeling we had to shout to one another, and yet still felt like we were not intruding/being eavesdropped on
Apr 21, 2011
Photo of bcm119
Reviewed by bcm119 from California

3.6/5  rDev -9.3%
vibe: 3 | quality: 4 | service: 4 | selection: 3
A hip upper Haight cocktail and liquor bar, from the owner of Magnolia, with Magnolia beers on tap. Although they have some beer, it's probably better to take advantage of their tequila or Scotch selection.

Long, narrow space with a nicely aged wooden bar. Large chalkboard above the bar with their entire list of drinks; beer list on the far right and it is mostly Magnolia. Maybe 6 beers total. They'd run out of Proving Ground IPA when I visited last, my favorite Magnolia beer, so I ended up drinking a few pints of Blue Bell Bitter.

They have some high-end looking food, but I've never eaten here.

This place reminds me of d.b.a. in NYC, but it's smaller, with less beer on tap, and a douchier crowd. If you're into beer there's not much reason to come here. Magnolia has all the same beers on tap a half block away, and the atmosphere has less of a douche factor.
Jul 25, 2010
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Reviewed by ThreeWiseMen from California

3.83/5  rDev -3.5%
vibe: 3.5 | quality: 4.5 | service: 3 | selection: 4
EDIT (09-12-2010): I tried going to Alembic each of the last two nights (Friday and Saturday), and was turned away each time. On Friday, three of us walked up around 11:00pm and were told that they were at capacity, even though there was plenty of standing room inside. We put our name on a list, waited for a bit, and then just left. The next night we rolled up with seven people and were denied access because they weren't "admitting parties of seven." Bullshit. I shouldn't have to be on the VIP list to get into a bar. I liked Alembic when I went back in June, but their snobby, exclusive attitude really irked me. I lowered atmosphere and service from 4.5 to 3.5 and 4.0 to 3.0, respectively.

Stopped in here this past Sunday (6/27) with my girlfriend. We stayed for two rounds.

While it was fairly quiet when we first arrived, Alembic was pretty crowded by around 7:00pm (keep in mind this was a Sunday). Hipsters in their late twenties / early thirties made up the majority of the crowd, though the population wasn't entirely homogeneous. Even when crowded, the bar didn't feel cramped - a definite plus.

The decor at Alembic gave off a sort of 1920's speakeasy vibe, and the employees dressed to match. We found each of these traits (especially the employee attire) to be a little over the top, but it was still far from cheesy.

The beer selection was pretty small, but respectable. Alembic served several Magnolia beers (Magnolia is apparently their sister restaurant/brewpub), along with a few other local specialties (e.g. Marin Brewing's Point Reyes Porter, Moonlight's Left For Dead). Certainly a large enough selection to keep one happy for a few rounds.

To wrap up this review, the service was timely and polite, though the prices were higher than we'd like. I'd love to bring a couple of my yuppie architecture friends here - I think they'd dig it!
Jul 01, 2010
Photo of jdense
Reviewed by jdense from Oregon

3.5/5  rDev -11.8%
vibe: 3.5 | quality: 3.5 | service: 3.5 | selection: 3.5
Located in the upper Haight a few yards from Amoeba Records, I'd classify the Alembic as a Boutique Gastropub. Extensive spirits selection, certainly the best in this part of town, about 10 taps featuring Magnolia products, and pretty cutting edge cuisine are the draw. The atmosphere is a bit too chill for me, though this is the type of place you might want to make a first date out of. Prices were reasonable considering the quality, though I would have liked to have seen a more out of the box beer selection. There are better places in this part of the town to drink, though if you are a couple looking for a drink and a bite after scavenging the aisles of Amoeba this makes sense. A pretty hard jaunt up the hill from the Toronado, I'd advise taking mass transit to this establishment. Not my cup of tea, though for the younger crowd in search of being seen probably one of the better places in SFO.
Apr 02, 2010
Photo of dirtylou
Reviewed by dirtylou from Oklahoma

4.06/5  rDev +2.3%
vibe: 4.5 | quality: 4 | service: 4 | selection: 4
cool bar - located in the Haight-Ashbury hood, common ownership with Magnolia

lots of fantastic looking drinks, wine, sake, etc. But alas, i was here for a pint.

blackboard details the current offerings - about 6 Magnolia beers and 6 other offerings featuring Drakes, Firestone Walker, Moonlight and some others.

cool vibe - hip and dark. i can only imagine the food was pretty solid, given the respect that alcohol is given and the cool atmosphere.

this was the first post-dinner stop on our crawl - certainly a good place to grab a few
Jan 01, 2010
Photo of woodychandler
Reviewed by woodychandler from Pennsylvania

4.26/5  rDev +7.3%
vibe: 5 | quality: 4 | service: 4 | selection: 4.5
Zounds! Yet another place that did not exist from 1987 to 1989. Not only did it exist now, but it was situated right next door to the reincarnation of the Red Vic Movie House! It was narrow, but deep, inside. Facing, a window was left with the entry right. The left wall served as the back bar with an extensive collection of whiskies, including ryes. Above the top shelf were a series of five (5) blackboards, detailing wines and sake, "The BOURBON"; American Rye, Irish Whiskeys, Gin, World Whiskey, and American Single Malt:, I LOVE SCOTCH WHISKY"; and "DRAUGHT ALE". I wasn't shouting, just transcribing. Further aft, left, along the wall were a series of padded benches fronted by standard tables and chairs. The right side had a long shelf fronted by stools (when available) followed by more padded benches. All of the way aft were the kitchen and the lavs. The inverted "L"-shaped, dark wood bar was branded with numbers ala bleacher seats. I was wedged between 12 and 13. Addendum: In talking to my left seatmates, I found out that the bar was bleacher seating from Kezar Stadium, as was the plank along the right wall. Cucumber infused H2O as a refreshing break between beers. I knew that I had arrived when my right seatmate and the bartender and I were all wearing similar goggles. Pressed tin ceiling; hanging exposed light bulbs; saffron paint on the walls; ceiling fans. Mottos: "We're feeling it"; "Take your time - 415"; "Thank you, may I have another"; "Good liquor, Great eats". Man, I was really into this joint. Atmosphere 5, no doubt!
Dec 25, 2009
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Reviewed by jp11801 from Florida

3.43/5  rDev -13.6%
vibe: 4 | quality: 4 | service: 2 | selection: 3.5 | food: 4.5
Ok I am a local and come here just about once a month. This bar may have the best spirits selection in SF. They have great beers well selected, today I'm having a Stone Vertical, they also feature many beers from their sister bar Magnolia that are rock solid representations of SF brew.

This would be the perfect bar/eatery if only I could get service in a semi timely manner. Tonight was a personal worst for Alembic 22 minutes elapsed from my ordering a beer to it's arrival. The cheese plate I ordered had not cme after over 40 minutes so I cancelled it.
So great bar, great food, good beer, great spirits and maybe the most lackluster service I have experienced in SF. Not mean not rude just bad. This is not my first time here more lke my 14th or so. Magnolia owned by the same folks just down the block has much better service. Not sure what's happening here but I really hope it improves as I love this place if I could only get a beer in under 20 minutes.
Oct 19, 2009
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Reviewed by trumpetego from Pennsylvania

3.5/5  rDev -11.8%
vibe: 3.5 | quality: 3.5 | service: 4 | selection: 3
I stopped by The Alembic with a few friends a few nights ago.
The Alembic is right in the heart of the Haight, a block up from Golden Gate Park and Amoeba Records. The place is pretty small, with maybe 10-15 seats at the bar and about 12 tables in the back. Most of the drink menu is written on blackboards above the bar. The tap list, short as it was, was easy to read. However, the much more extensive liquor selection was written in very small letters and I had a very hard time reading many of the names. I've heard they have a good selection of beer bottles, but I didn't see any list either on the blackboard or in print.
The tap list was okay. There were maybe 12 taps, with several from Magnolia and a few guest brews which I don't remember. The Magnolia beers were good, but I don't see the point of going to a smaller, more expensive bar for Magnolia beers when you could just as easily go a few blocks over to Magnolia itself.
The service was quite good. The bartender was attentive and helpful, despite how busy the bar was.
The food menu looked very interesting, but expensive. A good alternative is to head to Escape from New York Pizza two doors up for an excellent, and cheap, snack.
I'm glad I had a chance to try this place, particularly for their extensive slection of Single-Malt Scotch, but I wouldn't recommend it for the casual beer drinker.
Jan 06, 2009
Photo of blane1
Reviewed by blane1 from New York

4.4/5  rDev +10.8%
vibe: 4 | quality: 4.5 | service: 5 | selection: 4 | food: 4
I came here with my wife's friends on New Years Eve and even though the place is small it was pretty easy to move through the mid-full crowd. Noise was not too distracting either.

I prefer pubs and dives so this place was a bit precious for me but it was lively and the staff is awesome. The waitress helped me pick beers (Green Flash West Coast IPAa and Hook Norton Double Stout) and I was very happy with the choices.

The food was good if a little odd (pickled quail eggs? Really?) and served tapas style i.e. tiny and pricey.

If you're on the Haight and want a great place to go and drink some quality brew you could do a lot worse than The Alembic.
Jan 05, 2009
Photo of dbONE
Reviewed by dbONE from California

4.36/5  rDev +9.8%
vibe: 4.5 | quality: 4.5 | service: 4.5 | selection: 4
I was sceptical to go here because we were at Magnolia first and they have the same owner. Boy was I wrong. This place had a nice modern vibe that lifted my mood. The beer selection sign was over shadowed by the overpowering list of liquor. This was ok though. On a beer trip you will most likely have tried all the these beer anyway so I went for the Bourbon. I collect whiskey and Bourbon and I was impressed with the selection. I got to try 2 new ones. The bartender was fun to watch make drinks, very entertaining. We didn't get any food but it seemed a bit foofy. This will be on the list again next time we go to SF.
Aug 06, 2008
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Reviewed by rsawyer from Texas

4.3/5  rDev +8.3%
vibe: 4 | quality: 4.5 | service: 4.5 | selection: 4
Very lovely place. I visited on a Sunday night and it was a bit crowded. Environment is fresh, vibrant, young, etc... a nice change from the damp, dark, wooden dumps that I love so much!

Service was very good. People at bar (patrons) were not into chatting with the out of towner, but the bar tender moved right over and talked beer. Pretty decent knowledge of the brews they served. Some nice local brews on draught, and nice beers on bottle.

I would def. recomend to someone who is working with a group of non-beer geeks. Something for everyone and very cool environment. Now the walk to Toranado after a few beers is both fun and LONG!
Jun 24, 2008
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Reviewed by yurko from Colorado

4.83/5  rDev +21.7%
vibe: 4.5 | quality: 5 | service: 4.5 | selection: 5 | food: 5
In my opinion Alembic is the perfect restaurant (bar, whatever). The beer selection is more than adequate, with numerous local craft brews on tap, and a decent number of import and craft options in the bottle. The spirit selection is more than impressive as well. the decor is kind of dark, but quirky and very cool. the wait staff are all very knowledgable about the food and the beer, and very helpful. They are also fairly tattooed and pierced, which adds to the vibe.

the food is something to behold. Small plates, simple flavors, flawless execution. After a round of oysters I had the octopus carpaccio and the roasted sweetbreads. The octopus was sliced paper thin and presented beautifully without overpowering its subtle flavor. The sweetbreads were cooked perfectly, and had a depth of flavor you would be hard pressed to find in an aged filet.

This is my new favorite restaurant.
Apr 14, 2008
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Reviewed by citrusjim from Massachusetts

4.05/5  rDev +2%
vibe: 4.5 | quality: 4 | service: 4 | selection: 4 | food: 4
In SF for work, I met some colleagues at The Alembic. Their choice (nice one!). We were there with the after work crowd on a Wednesday. The place is small and intimate with a real nice vibe. We sat in the front window at a bar table and were served by a knowledgeable and friendly waitress. Their offerings are well chosen including a variety of US crafts, Belgians, Germans and English. They also have fresh drafts from Magnolia. I think I had an Imperial Heffe...The food is pretty good. They have mostly small plates with a local vibe. If I lived in SF, I would be here often.
Jan 26, 2008
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Reviewed by msubulldog25 from Oregon

3.89/5  rDev -2%
vibe: 4 | quality: 4.5 | service: 3 | selection: 4
A narrow little place near the west end of Haight, the Golden Gate Park area. Visited on 3 July, 2007.

As I was continuing a westward journey down Haight Street, I stopped into Alembic for a bit, just after their 4pm opening time. Only one or two other people inside, besides the bartender, who seemed very preoccupied with candle-lighting and generally pretty-ing up the place.

A long, narrow space with tall ceilings and chic furnishings, emanating a trance-like, relaxing quality (at least when nobody's there). Soft candlelight (thanks to the bartender) and diffuse sunlight from skylights high above give a sort of moody glow to everything, including the chalkboard menu of drinks above the bar. The bar itself is made of a huge plank of darkly-painted wood with numbers etched into it, aged bleacher seating by the looks of it. Inadvertently, I parked myself at spot '13'.

Back to the drink list; it's a gigantic hand-written sign directly above the bar. The beer list is 'relatively' small, but I say that only because the vast whiskey and bourbon selection dominates most of the board. The beers that are listed are, however, quite nice. On-tap are almost all the available beers from Magnolia (which makes sense, as this is a second bar for Magnolia's owner), plus other area favorites like Marin, Two Rivers, Russian River (though the Little White Lie was tapped out, unfortunately) and Moonlight, plus North Coast's Brother Thelonious and Hair of the Dog's Fred from my hometown, Portland.. A dozen or so Belgian bottles represented a nice selection of the better Tripels, Krieks, Saisons, etc.

As it was barely 4pm and I had other places to go, I skipped food and left after just 1 drink, a pint of Moonlight's Late Afternoon Tart. A pint cost $5, so this isn't the cheapest place around, but is a nice, comfortable place to visit for a while.
Jul 08, 2007
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Reviewed by francisweizen from Washington

4.1/5  rDev +3.3%
vibe: 4.5 | quality: 4 | service: 4 | selection: 4 | food: 4.5
This place, which in the creation of Dave from Magnolia, is fantastic! The atmoisphere is great, dark, but not too dark, and tiny, but just spacious enough with a wonderful ambiance and victorian aire about it. The quality of the food and the rotating tap and bottled beer selection is phenomenal and the service is very good as well. I ordered some BBQ pork belly and some sort of absinthe cocktail and they were both fan-freakin-tastic. The beer selection is kept interesting with many magnolia brews and other local micros as well as a hefty bottled beer list and an awesome whiskey selection. The prices are not the cheapest in the city, but hey as a treat to yourself it's definately worth it and just can eat here 3 or 4 times for the same amount of money it would cost you to eat somewhere like Aqua once...
May 18, 2007
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Reviewed by clickpush from Pennsylvania

4.08/5  rDev +2.8%
vibe: 3.5 | quality: 4.5 | service: 4 | selection: 3.5 | food: 5
From the outside this place seems plain and unassuming. A closer glance at the window reveals a short tapas menu and the house cocktail list. Inside you're struck immediately by visual and auditory ambiance: the high gilded ceilings, old fashioned fans, and quiet electro jazz tell you this is no dive bar. In fact, the liquor selection is the biggest I've seen in the area, with 4-5 shelves spanning about half the length of the restaurant. The bar, which is in the front-left of the house, is medium length (about 15 stools) and a shelf on the opposing wall offers a place to rest your drinks to about 10 more stools. Beyond the bar area is the dining room, equipped with roughly 10 tables offering up about 30 seats.

I went for dinner at about 7pm and found only 6-7 other customers there. Although I made immediate eye contact with the bar tender, I stood awkwardly for 2-3 in the space where the bar meets the dining room, waiting for someone to seat me or at least let me know if I could seat myself. I had a chance to look around a little more and noticed 10 unmarked taps under the liquor shelves and cursed them for not having tap handles.

After being seated in the back corner of the dining area (cloth napkins!!) my girlfriend and I were graced with cordial and eloquent service. The waitress offered advice but was not obnoxious, joked politely when appropriate, and encouraged a relaxed pace to enjoy the experience.

Sounds good so far, right?

The plates (small!) run mostly from $10-15, with a couple appetizers costing anywhere from $5-$10. Between two people we shared the lemongrass frites ($5), warm goat cheese salad ($9), lamb sliders - 2 per order ($10), and a bean & autumn squash casserole ($13). The food was delicious! I loved everything that was brought to the table, and left full.

The beer... oh, the beer... There are 10 taps, and all the drafts are $5: 6 from Magnolia and 4 from other local breweries. The bottle list is exceptional for a restaurant, but the prices are so inflated that ordering one would be completely insane. I ordered the Magnolia Wit Rabbit and the waitress came back saying they only had it in bottles. "Since when does Magnolia bottle their beer?!" I exclaimed in confused delight. Alas, she thought we were ordering something else. Two more beer requests were met with the stinging response "Sorry, we don't have it in stock anymore." I finally settled on the Marin Star Triple Wheat, and was shocked when I was handed an imperial pint glass. Tasted it; it was an IPA! I asked told the waitress and she responded "Oh, our Marin Star is the IPA today." Umm, you mean White Knuckle?

So, in brief: the beer menu is NOT current, and I believe they're going to install a blackboard (Magnolia style) to avoid confusion. The draft selection was very weak - they didn't have any of Magnolia's seasonals and their guest taps were not unique. The wait staff aims to please but is deficient in beer knowledge. The bottle list is somewhat of symbol, not really something to be considered for consumption. And the food is delicious.

(p.s. The bathroom is cleaner than yours - and instead of paper towels there's individual wash cloths that you throw into a hamper when you're done. Excellent!)
Oct 25, 2006
The Alembic Bar in San Francisco, CA
Place rating: 3.97 out of 5 with 27 ratings