Where to Drink in San Sebastián

35 Calle San Bartolome
La Madame is one of the most forward-facing dining spots in San Sebastián. It’s one of the only place in the city where you can find well-executed fusion cuisine, with touches of American, Japanese, French and Basque cuisine and perhaps THE only that has a real cocktail program in place. It’s a dark, vibey spot. Call ahead for reservations and go hungry. Mondays are special menu days, each with a different theme.
Kontxa Pasealekua, 12, 20007 Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain
Bataplan is San Sebastián‘s best example of the classic, European, sweaty, house-music-filled disco. It is the iconic disco of the city, the one that you can bet every single San Sebastiánite has passed through at least once in their life. Bouncers do their best of keeping the crowd decently good looking. And in summer, the above ground terrace is open. It’s a great place to drink at sunset, meet people, and the crowd tends to skew a little older (think 30s and above).
Everyone knows a pintxo hop is a must-do in San Sebastián. What everyone doesn’t know is that Atari Gastroteka, located in the shadows of the old town’s beautiful Santa Maria church, is the perfect last stop on the tour. Their artisan foie is slightly sweet and incredibly flavorful, lightly sprinkled with cracked black pepper and sea salt, and served on raisin toast. Paired with a gin and tonic (some of the city’s best), it’s your ideal transition into postprandial nightlife. And Atari also has dessert pintxos for those in your group who want to end on a sweet note.
Rekondo is a little hidden treasure of a restaurant, started by an aficionado of wine. A real aficionado. His varied collection means the restaurant has a wine list of hundreds of pages. These are wines critics dream about, at prices that are a fraction of the cost in other parts of the world. They are so well-priced, in fact, that the restaurant only allows bottles to be taken off the premises if they are opened. On the outskirts of town, it is rarely completely booked and has a spacious terrace that is absolutely perfect for having a bottle of wine at sunset.
Zabaleta Kalea, 6, 20002 Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain
La Gintonería, in the less-traversed neighborhood of Gros, could very well be the best gin-tonic in San Sebastián. With two shelves laden with premium and hard-to-find gins, it’s a gintonaholic’s dream. They have a selection of premium tonics and an arsenal of techniques to match. Watch as they instantaneously infuse your gin with cardamom using a pellet of dry ice. Or inhale as they drip just a few drops of bitters into your fishbowl glass. Whatever gin you choose, you are in for one of the best mixed drinks of your life.
31 31 de Agosto Kalea
When in San Sebastián, you absolutely must do as the locals do weekends at midday—hit the streets for a vermouth. It’s basically the Spanish equivalent of brunch, and one of the best spots to do it is A Fuego Negro. Famous as an avant-garde pintxo bar, A Fuego Negro actually has one of the the best tortillas (Spanish omelettes) in town: the perfect in-between runny and gooey, intense yellow-orange, with tender bits of potato and onion. They also have their own vermouth, The Beltza. These two together, plus a secret ingredient, a live DJ spinning vinyl on (many a) Sunday makes it a top place to day drink.
1 De Alderdi Eder Parkea
From an objective point of view, bars don’t really get any better than Gu. Creative, ambitious cocktails like the ‘Viaje de Colon’ (pisco, lemon juice, mango puree, agave nectar, basil)? Check. Guest DJs and the city’s most beautiful crowd? Check. An interior decor that pays homage to midcentury origins? Check. Food that goes above and beyond typical bar fare? Check. Spectacular views over one of the world’s most beautiful bays? Check. A must while in San Sebastián.
Okendo Kalea, 1, 20004 Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain
One of San Sebastián’s only luxe cocktail bars, Dry, is hidden away in a corner of the five-star Hotel María Cristina. Here you have a cocktail list by the master, Javier de las Muellas, that features cocktails with specialty ingredients and daring presentations. You’ll also find riffs on classics, such as an Irish coffee with pink peppercorns, and cinema-themed cocktails that pay homage to the city’s film festival. And if you visit during the festival, the luxury surroundings included rubbing elbows with the stars.
Calle Mayor, 18, 20003 San Sebastián, Guipúzcoa, Spain
Very few of the newer bars in San Sebastián hit the mark on ambience, food, drinks and service. Sirimiri, in the heart of the old part, does it all. The wooden beams make the narrow bar feel cozy, and the attentive young waitstaff draws a crowd, creating one of the Old Town’s buzziest atmospheres. The big draw is the cocktail list, which is ever-evolving and features about 50% vermouth-based cocktails. Not feeling a cocktail? Try a sweet, red vermouth on the rocks...it will take you an entire vacation to work your way through the list. The bar food is pintxo fusion at its best, from squid croquetas to pork buns.
Bajo, Ramón María Lili Pasealekua, 2, 20002 San Sebastián, Guipúzcoa, Spain
There’s a new coffee shop in town. Sakona, located in the center of town, has a lovely, airy storefront that just begs to be entered. Modern wood accents bring to mind artisan coffee spots in bigger capitals, and they are outfitted with all the coffee musts of the modern persuasion: aeropress, chemex, mocca masters, et cetera. However, Sakona is not just a shop; they are roasters, based about 10 miles outside of San Sebastián. Javier Garcia, the owner, is a barista who has placed in the world championships. His humble attitude and desire to spread coffee love is a far cry from the typical barista behavior, so settle in and ask all the questions you want, a café con leche in hand.
The Hotel Astoria 7 is one of the city’s most emblematic hotels, with perhaps the best sense of humor. In December of 2015, they inaugurated a new cocktail bar led by Patxi Troitiño, a local barman who also happens to be the winner of the best Gin & Tonic in Spain in 2015. At the charming bar in the corner of the hotel’s ground floor, you can try traditional and daring cocktails. Make sure to order the award winning gin & tonic. In his free time, the maestro’s latest project has been to design six cocktails for Netflix based around their original series. ¡Action!
General Artetxe Kalea, 1, 20002 Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain
The corner of Bar Roberto couldn’t be more hidden or more nondescript. The bar’s awning gives away no secrets, either. What might draw your attention are the throngs of people from noon to 3pm each weekend. This tiny bar has the longest list of vermouths in town. Take it like a Spaniard; before lunch, sweet, on the rocks, with a few bites of olives or potato chips. At Roberto, you can choose from vermouths from all over Spain, along with a couple imported from Italy and France. They add their own special mixture of bitters and liquor to enhance it, along with a handful of citrus peels. Express interest for a rare vermouth behind the bar and you might just find yourself offered a taste.
1 Sanchez Toca Kalea
Pokhara, located in the center of the city, has one of the best ambiences around. The quintessential European café, with a touch of Paris and a touch of Spain, it attracts a younger, hip crowd. Don’t expect food beyond the obligatory croissants and tortilla española, but do try their carajillo. They put special care into this boozy alchoholic drink. First vodka or whisky (your choice—but choose whisky) is set aflame. Then a shot of espresso is pulled while the bartender whips body into cool, fresh cream. All of this goes into a glass to form the carajillo, one of the most delicious drinks known to man.
5 Alameda del Boulevard
What happens in the Museo del Whisky stays in the Museo del Whisky. And in this institution of Donosti, you never know what will happen. With a wild selection of whiskeys (as the name suggests) and an equally impressive gamut of cocktails, Museo de Whisky is full of surprises. Then there are the characters that visit this spot on a regular basis. The bottom floor is a piano bar with no holds barred.
Constitución Plaza, 9, 20003 Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain
A midday vermouth is a Spanish weekend ritual, and Bar Txurrut’s picturesque terrace is the best spot for enjoying one. Smack in the middle of the Old Town, Txurrut sits in the fabled Plaza of the Constitution, one of the world’s best places to watch the world go by. Grab a seat and order a vermouth, but make sure to order it ‘preparado’. This will get you a martini glass of chilled artisan vermouth, doctored with a touch of bitters and a dash of Amaro, shaken and strained. A bag of potato chips, open and sitting in the middle of the table, and the scene is complete.
Zurríola Hiribidea, 18, 20002 Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain
The Loaf is San Sebastián‘s favorite bakery. One of the only to work with sourdough starters and natural fermentation (aka real bread), after its founding in 2014 it became a staple in the daily shopping of the local bread-obsessed culture. It only makes sense that a team so driven by details would also focus on their beverage service. That’s why, at The Loaf, you’ll find locally roasted coffee to go with those 100% butter palmeritas, served up by a dedicated barista on a state-of-the-art La Marzocco machine. Or grab one of their sourdough crust pizzas and pair it with a Dougall’s beer, one of the most established local brews from nearby Cantabria.
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