New in both is a designation of "Notable Cocktail List" (also, Notable Sake List) along with the Notable Wine List designation already in the guides.
Venues in San Francisco (I omitted the suburbs for this analysis) that received the notable cocktail list designation are: Alembic, Absinthe, Jardiniere, Nopa, Poleng Lounge, 1300 Fillmore, Yoshi's, Gitane, Slanted Door, Dosa Fillmore, Laiola, Spruce, Tipsy Pig, Beretta, Conduit, Range, Bix, Aziza, Ame, Chaya Brasserie, Heaven's Dog, Orson, and Zare at Fly Trap. This is 23 venues by my count.
San Francisco Venues written up that did not receive this designation include: Fish & Farm, Lar Mar Cebicheria Peruiana, Michael Mina, Mamacita, Slow Club, Zinnia, Americano, Boulevard, Coco500, Epic Roasthouse, Fifth Floor, Luce, Lulu, Mexico DF, One Market, WaterBar, and Town Hall.
In New York (I only looked at the Manhattan listings), venues that received notable cocktail list designation are: Craftsteak, The Redhead, Eleven Madison park, 'inoteca e liquori bar, Chinatown Brasserie, Double Crown, Gotham Bar & Grill, Mas, Minetta Tavern, Allen & Delancy, Rayuela, The Stanton Social, Acquavit, Rogue Tomate, Bar Masa, Kittichai, Pulic, Savoy, Macao Trading Co, Marc Furgione, Daniel, and Ouest. This is 22 venues by my count.
New York venues included in the guide that did not receive the notable cocktail list designation include: Momofuko Ssam Bar, WD-50, The Modern, Per Se, and The Odeon.
Seeing which venues are included and which are not leads me to believe that this designation defines "notable" as being noted in the press, or heavily advertised by the venue itself. The cocktails at La Mar and Epic Roasthouse are generally solid and well-executed; those at Michael Mina and Boulevard in my experience have been some of the best in the city. But none of these venues has had many write-ups in the media. Yet the drinks at these venues are far better than some that did make the list. Particularly confusing are high-volume drink venues like Americano that didn't make the list, while others like Chaya Brasserie did.
The New York list is confusing to me also but as I don't live there I can't say what's really going on. I just noticed that most of the top cocktail spots are not included at all (it is a food guide at its core, so this could be the cause). Any New Yorkers reading this, I hope you'll include your insights in the comments.
Michelin Guides are famous for their anonymous inspectors who travel the world doing these reviews and doling out stars for restaurants, but I'll bet their "notable cocktail list" designations aren't part of the review process. They seem to pick up that information from media instead- and as a member of the cocktail media I've got a pretty good perspective on what/where other cocktail writers and myself have covered and not. I don't find many of the choices offensively wrong; just slightly inconsistent with reality. Who is doing these reviews after all, reviewers or... me?
And, just saying, if Michelin is looking for people to do real cocktail menu reviews I'm available.
It's a good sign that they've acknowledged in these new editions that cocktails are important in fine dining- a great step towards noting that cocktails are a culinary craft and not merely flavored intoxicants.
Speaking of fine dining, I also noticed this: Very few restaurants that receive a Michelin star are on the notable cocktail menu list.
In SF, only Range, Aziza, and Ame received both a Michelin star and a notable cocktail list designation. In Manhattan, one-starred Gotham Bar & Grill, Minetta Tavern, Rogue Tomate, and Marc Furgione all did, and restaurant Daniel received a Michelin 3-star rating as well as a cocktail designation.
I think this says something about the Michelin rating system, but more about cocktails and fine dining: the restaurateurs are (still) not paying enough attention to cocktails. If you're at an expensive, white tablecloth, Michelin one-star restaurant and the bartender pours some unbalanced, lukewarm Lychee Martini, you should have your star removed. At least in my book.