There are no achievement awards for San Francisco wine bars, other than my reviews here on Vinography, but if there were, Bacchus Wine and Sake Bar would certainly get the award for "Smallest Wine Bar." This little postage stamp of a bar in Russian Hill is as close to a secret neighborhood wine bar as you can get. With no publicity, no parking, no signage, and only six seats at the wine bar and a couple more in the window, it only needs to add a bolted door with a secret password to become a modern day speakeasy.
Luckily for the denizens of Russian Hill, and those who show up too early or without reservations at Sushi Groove restaurant next door, Bacchus offers an intimate space to drink some nice wine with just a couple of your closest friends (no room for any more than that) or to chat with a few of the regulars that stop by on their way home from work.
The wine list at Bacchus matches the proportions of the overall space. Compact or petite, whichever you prefer to call it, the list offers about fifteen wines by the glass or the two-ounce taste, most of which change over the course of a couple of months as new wines are brought into the mix. Selections are often from California, France, Spain, and Italy, but also can range farther afield. Uniquely, the bar also offers five sakes to taste as well, which scores big points with me (though I would be a lot happier if they actually managed to change them on a regular basis -- there doesn't seem to be much variation in the sake list). The bar also has an impressive list of wines available by the bottle -- impressive not for its length, but for the near total absence of crappy wines anywhere on it, and for its special attention to small producers in many regions of the world.
Most of the time, you'll find manager Bodhi Freedom behind the bar (he's the guy in the picture). Freedom, who has been managing the bar for several years, recently also became the new owner, purchasing the establishment from the owners of Sushi Groove. Regular patrons know that this is extremely good news, as Freedom's extensive knowledge of the wines (he buys them all personally) combined with his friendly conversation have gone a long way to establish the reputation of Bacchus as the best place to get a casual drink in the neighborhood.
For those who can't possibly consider having a glass of wine without something to nibble on, or for those who just can't wait until dinner, Bacchus offers a very simple cheese plate (usually one artisan cheese from a local cheesemonger) with nuts, dried fruit, and crackers or some chocolates for those who are looking for something sweet to eat.
I don't even know if it is possible for a place this small to have a "scene." While the bar has atmosphere simply by virtue of its tiny size, there's really not enough space for it to feel anything other than friendly. Which, combined with a few nice wines, is certainly enough reason for me to stop in whenever I find myself in that area of the city.
Bacchus Wine and Sake Bar
1954 Hyde St
San Francisco, CA 94109
Parking in this neighborhood is impossible. Don't bother. Take a cab or take the Hyde Street Cable Car. And be prepared to go elsewhere if they're busy, there's not exactly standing room available.
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