It seems most whiskey bars fit into two categories: the ancient, wood-worn, Gaelic-influenced, cozy shrines to all things malt or the hyper-stylized, faux-vintage, deftly lit meccas of drinking and striped shirts like 7 Grand in LA. One’s authentic and one’s damn near impossible to move around in on the weekends.
Then there are rare places like Whiskey Thieves, which is like your dad’s old tavern down the street, dressed up a little bit with the most splendid of beverages. Located right on the edge San Francisco’s Tenderloin (our answer to LA’s Skid Row or NYC’s Bowery before all the sanitizing gentrification – John Varvatos, I’m scowling at you), this place is one part neighborhood dive bar pool room and one part whiskey research lab. Indeed, if it’s not whiskey you’re looking for, you have to lean over and peer into the wells to see the other spirits on hand. As for the whiskey, it takes up the whole back bar wall. They have two main sections, Scotch & American but each has a few interlopers; there’s a great selection of Irish, a few Japanese, Rye and even a couple of Canadians represented. The selection runs pretty deep, there were quite a few things I wanted to try and the bartender dozed off while waiting for me to make my pick. He was good-natured about it though, and had just as hard a time pronouncing Airigh Nam Beist as the rest of us non-Scots do. There’s no list to peruse, nothing that fancy, but the bartender was helpful and patient and the prices seem reasonable, if not a little lower than Nihon and Bourbon & Branch.
We were here early in the evening on a Sunday (whiskey on the lord’s day? shocking) so it was quiet enough to savor a couple of drams. I hear it can get pretty packed later in the night, especially on the weekends. One word of warning, California’s smoking ban is not strictly enforced here, so be prepared to get little Marlborough with your peat.