Bacchus Kirk is a neighborhood bar in the best possible sense: it’s friendly, unpretentious, and cozy (it actually has a fireplace). It has an impressive happy hour that lasts from 4-8pm daily, but the drinks are already affordable.
We tried the $8 ($6 during happy hour) Bacchus Manhattan—mine was up and my girlfriend’s was on the rocks: Maker’s Mark, apricot brandy, sweet vermouth, and bitters. In an unfussy bar like this, at prices like that, this cocktail could easily be too sweet, or otherwise unbalanced. But it was good, really good, and surprisingly balanced, as if the proportions were added (and created) with care.
Bacchus Kirk was the final bar on our four-day trip to San Francisco, and while the Manhattan wasn’t the best drink of the trip, the experience there probably was the most enjoyable. Sure, the music was good and the bar wasn’t busy—that always helps. But it wasn’t just that. It was some indescribable combination of things that great bars have, something about the people, the ambience, and the service.
Compare that to Cantina, another, more cocktailian bar a couple blocks away just behind Union Square. When we walked into Cantina the night before, everything went wrong. The bar staff was either absent or aloof and it wasn’t clear if there was table service. A large group was served at their table, but the guy who brought them their drinks ignored us completely.
I managed to find myself a menu and then finally got served at the bar. The place wasn’t very busy, but the three guys behind the bar seemed overwhelmed. I asked for a Five-Spice Margarita (El Jimador tequila blanco, Qi white tea liqueur, lime, five-spice infused agave nectar) for myself and a Blackberry & Cabernet Caipirinha (Weber Haus cachaça, muddled limes & Driscoll farm blackberries, Alberti cabernet) for my girlfriend, each $9. Both drinks were good, but not great. Mine was a big disappointment because I couldn’t taste any of the five-spice infusion—it was more a regular Margarita. We left in a hurry after those drinks and headed to Rickhouse, which was great.
If we lived in San Francisco, we would have given Cantina another try—all bars have off nights, and Cantina has a great reputation. Hell, we actually tried to go back the next night, but both Cantina and Rickhouse were closed on Sundays. Who knew San Francisco could be such a sleepy town? But their odd hours forced us to keep looking for a bar in the neighborhood, and we stumbled happily into Bacchus Kirk.