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#61 Bourbon & Branch (San Francisco, California)

Once an actual speakeasy, Bourbon & Branch, which opened in San Francisco in 1867, operated illegally during Prohibition as The Ipswitch ± A Beverage Parlor from 1921 to 1923. John J. Russell purchased the business in 1923 and called it “JJ Russell’s Cigar Shop.” Russell, who had connections to bootleggers in Vancouver, British Columbia, didn’t sell many cigars. The well-heeled arrived and those who asked for a certain cigar were escorted through a trapdoor to his underground bar, which was fitted with five secret exit tunnels that remain along with the bar today. Patrons followed a strict set of house rules (a similar set remains in use today), including ordering alcohol without raising suspicion (bartenders told patrons to be quiet and “speak easy” — thus the term speakeasy). There are four rooms: Bourbon & Branch, The Library, Wilson & Wilson Private Detective Agency, and the JJ Russells Room. On the four menus, you’ll find 100 cocktails. The bourbon selection includes actual hand-numbered Noah’s Mill, Buffalo Trace, and Rittenhouse 21-year. You’ll also find rare scotches, like Monkey Shoulder, Glenmorangie Margaux Finish (one of 1,200 bottles in the U.S.), and Balvenie 1971. There is only one Canadian whisky — a Crown XR (only 7,500 cases were produced). It’s the rare, carefully curated collection of bourbons and respect for the past that keep patrons coming to this California bar, which also has a main bar and the Library (enter the Library by ringing the buzzer and using the password “books”). (Robert E. G./Yelp)


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