For the first time since I got into all of this cocktail wackiness I had a chance to visit San Francisco. I’ve met a number of people from there, know at least one person who has moved out there from here, know others that moved here from there.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t a trip solely to introduce myself to the food and drink delights that San Francisco has to offer; I was going out there for work, which meant I was there with a few coworkers and got to spend a week working while here in DC a snowstorm shut down the Federal government for four days straight. I was lucky in terms of flights – not so much as a delay, despite leaving from Reagan National Airport.
I knew I had three places I definitely wanted to visit. I heard a lot of good things about Alembic and Bourbon & Branch. I’d also had a chance to meet Martin Cate at Tales of the Cocktail last year and I knew he’d just recently opened a new tiki-themed place called Smuggler’s Cove. Having talked to a Facebook friend out there, I decided to try to hit Alembic Tuesday night and then Smuggler’s Cove Wednesday night. Bourbon & Branch I’d save for Thursday night.
Tuesday my coworkers wanted to join me so we piled into a cab and went to Alembic. We got there just a bit before 5 PM, which is when their lunch menu switches to a dinner menu. However, they were having a Stone beer dinner that night, thus we could still order off the lunch menu if we wanted. Two of my coworkers got rockfish sandwiches, which surprised them with how good they are, and another got the banh mi – again, he was surprised at how good it was. I got the jerked duck hearts and some peppers that were fried and covered with smoked salt and loved them.
Most of the time I was asked to order. For one guy who I know likes proper martinis, I ordered a Gilded Lily – Plymouth gin, yellow Chartreuse, orange flower water, topped with sparkling demi-sec and gold flake. That was definitely a hit drink while I enjoyed a Vasco de Gama (Buffalo Trace bourbon, garam masala spiced apple syrup, Islay scotch).
The Vow of Silence had rye, Benedictine (always a good combination), creme de griotte (which is cherry), and Angostura bitters. It reminded me a bit of a De La Louisiane without the absinthe. Camper English via text suggested the Blue Steel, a drink whose Zoolander reference I’d missed, which was Appleton rum, creme de cassis, dashes of absinthe and Angostura, a splash of rye, and garnished with a sprig of cilantro and a twist of lemon. A very interesting drink and the cilantro definitely was a different garnish, but yet it added something to it that I couldn’t quite pick out.
I felt a bit bitter that night thanks to [SECTION REDACTED DUE TO OBSCENITY]ore and so I asked for a bartenders choice with something of his choice, but bitter. I saw Cynar, bourbon, Benedictine and Angostura, and definitely missed something else – it was an interesting change of pace. I couldn’t resist tasting the Southern Exposure – Junipero from Anchor, mint, lime, sugar, and celery juice – however you juice celery, I guess. It was a nice change of pace from the previous drink.
We finished up with a Negroni which was made just the way I like it – Beefeater gin, Punt e Mes, and Campari in equal proportions. Yummy.
The next night my coworkers headed out for dinner; it didn’t really sink in until I got there (despite having been on the website that day) that Smuggler’s Cove doesn’t serve food, but hey, that’s okay, fruit juice is like food. I met Jennifer and hung out with the bartender. She sipped rum and told me about the rum programs there and at Forbidden Island; he told me about his trip to Dubai. Martin wasn’t there, unfortunately, so I left a note for him, and started with the drink that was always my favorite at Trader Vic’s in Atlanta – a Navy Grog.
Reza, the bartender, said that the “Three Dots and a Dash” was the best drink on the menu so of course I had to try it. Camper told me to try a Jet Pilot if I dared, so of course I did, and I had to get a Rum Barrel so that I could get, well, a rum barrel tiki mug. While there one of my coworkers joined me and fell in love with the place. He (and the next night the other coworker confirmed it) how much better they liked the bartenders at the Cove than at Alembic. Reza was the epitome of the gracious, talented and knowledgeable bartender, patient with all of his customers and more than happy to help you out and give you his thoughts and opinions when asked for them. Our bartender at Alembic wasn’t rude, but definitely had the “if I don’t see you I can relax, even if I’m right in front of you and your glass is empty” attitude you get sometimes.
How could you blame him? The decor is great, vintage tiki. It’s a small place, with three levels – you walk in on the second level right to a bar, and there’s one below. The upper level is just seating and there’s no table service. We sat on the middle level bar and hung out, and I have to admit, I did read the entire “Yo ho ho” poem on the wall of the men’s room.
You’ll note that I didn’t write down the ingredients here. I’m going to be honest with you – it’s too much of a pain in the butt to do that with tiki drinks on a Palm Centro! Just go buy some tiki books, why doncha.
Thursday I planned on going to Bourbon and Branch but ran into two problems.
First, I didn’t realize how important it was to get reservations. I hadn’t, and there was no room at the inn, as it were. There were possibilities but I was feeling a bit daunted at that point.
Second, after training was over, I passed out for an hour. I didn’t mean to, but I sat down on the bed and WHAM, out. That put me running a bit behind. I went down to the hotel-ish sports bar and got some happy hour nachos, a beer or two, and some Fernet to wash it down, which showed one of the nice things about SF – Fernet even at crappy hotel sports bars! YAY!
When I got back ahold of my coworkers from their foray to Chinatown they wanted to go back to the Cove, so away we went! This time Martin was there and it was good to be able to say hi to him again. He’s an amazingly nice guy and runs a heck of a shop at Smuggler’s Cove. I tried a few different drinks and ended the night with a delicious Painkiller (3). Yummy.
Next time I go to San Francisco I will definitely need to try to make reservations for Bourbon & Branch – but I can’t wait to go back to the Cove.