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Three bars where vermouth reigns

Classy fortified wine is flooding the city.

Like a bit actor in a long-running show waiting to deliver her one line—a whisper to the gin in a martini, a quick shout at the whiskey in a Manhattan—vermouth plays one of the most important supporting roles in the cocktail world. But lately, bartenders have noticed that this smooth operator has the chops to stand on its own. Here, three local spots where vermouth is getting top billing.

Gitane
At this Moorish-themed cubbyhole, the talented wine director, Greg Borden, recently debuted a menu of a dozen vermouths. Borden’s vision of the category is expansive and includes Barolo Chinato (fortified, infused, sweetened Barolo with quinine) and spicy Cardamaro (wine infused with cardoons and thistles), as well as rarely seen vermouths like Quiles and Vergano. 6 Claude Ln., S.F., 415-788-6686

Maverick
No local bartender has done more to promote vermouth cocktails than Mike Pierce, co-owner and wine director of Maverick. Though he’s known as a wine guy, his vermouth cocktails—like the Blood & Smoke, pictured above and deconstructed at right—have a certain genius. The challenge is to not drink them too fast. 3316 17th St., S.F., 415-863-3061

The Alembic
Vermouth has become such a popular pour that this Haight Street bar now carries Sutton Cellar’s version on tap. The local favorite is made in Carl Sutton’s Dogpatch winery and is fantastic stuff—pale, dry, and pleasantly bitter. It’s won so many fans that a Sutton and soda is now a standard drink at many San Francisco spots, including this one. 1725 Haight St., S.F., 415-666-0822

Read how to make the beauty pictured above.