Time Out Bar Awards Finale and the best spritz yet

The low-ABV trend stirs nothing more in me than polite disinterest. Brunchtime day drinking elicits a shrug. Frankly, I thought no spritz could move me. But at Time Out’s Bar Awards Finale at the Chapel in San Francisco, I found the lesson I needed to make me a spritz believer.

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Spicewood Spritz from Firehouse Lounge in Austin, TX. I don’t like spritzes. I loved this spritz.

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Evolution of the Walker Inn: an enthusiast’s perspective

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Kumquat toddies off Walker Inn’s Winter Citrus menu, served with dry spices and tinctures of cardamom, cinnamon, and star anise for a personalized cocktail. The foreground sunken ice bar chills juices and garnishes.

Writing about Los Angeles’ Walker Inn has been, since this blog began, both an imperative and an impossibility.

The Koreatown bar’s menus, themes, and approach to cocktails are of history-making importance in West Coast drinking. (As far as this amateur is concerned, they are California’s Aviary. Let more knowledgeable drinkers dispute that.) Writing about the Walker Inn, like drinking there, is obligatory.

But my three visits differed so wildly that I abandoned my unfinished story every time. What I loved about my first time at that unique bar was miles away from what mattered on the third visit.

Recently, Walker Inn staff themselves provided the key to finishing this story. Their “Bar Indepth: The Walker Inn, USA” seminar at Tales of the Cocktail laid out details from architectural design to lab equipment to income. Missing pieces fell into place as they explained the service evolution that allows them to serve more cocktails to the ideal number of drinkers at a pace that shows off their carefully planned menu and exquisite presentation.

In return, I know what the consumer gains and loses in this service evolution.

It turns out that the story I wanted to write — the loving paean to the place that gave me my benchmark for superlative hospitality — is an ode to a place that no longer exists. The Walker Inn still exemplifies theme, scientific creativity, and spectacle like nowhere else west of the Mississippi, and my admiration is largely unchanged.

But I have one critique.

Just one.
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2017 James Beard Award finalists

It’s a week of announcements! Hard on the heels of Tales of the Cocktail’s agenda reveal comes the list of 2017 James Beard Award finalists, which includes these notable local cocktail bars and bartenders:

Outstanding Bar Program

  • Bar Agricole
    (Bar Agricole helped drive ethical cocktail sourcing. You can’t get a Campari drink at the bar, but you can get an amaro made from known ingredients that could be tracked from harvest to bottle.)

Book Award: Beverage Category

  • Smuggler’s Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum, and the Cult of Tiki, Martin Cate with Rebecca Cate
    (I’ll be surprised if this doesn’t take the award. It’s a beautiful tome, a friendly look at a niche category, and the photography of over-the-top decorated tiki drinks grabs the attention more than your average cocktail book. My copy is, of course, signed by Martin and Rebecca.)

Outstanding Wine, Beer, or Spirits Professional

  • Lance Winters, St. George Spirits, Alameda, CA
    (St. George is a font of local excellence and sass. Their Terroir is my ne plus ultra of gin.)

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The once and future cocktail class

The problem with mixology classes aimed at civilians is the proliferation of Cocktail 101-level information. Fortunately, the demand for ongoing education and the area’s niche expertise appear to be forcing the evolution of local classes. Options are definitely improving for scholarly cocktail enthusiasts.

Plan your cocktail education with these upcoming opportunities:

Make Your Own Bitters workshop at the Oaktown Spice Shop
Oakland, March 14, $30
Coupe Tales expects to be in attendance. Oaktown Spice Shop has long been cocktail friendly; they offer a kit to make your own tonic syrup.

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Foraged Cocktails Workshop from ForageSF, May 2015

Artisan Foraged Cocktails Class from ForageSF
Oakland, March 19th, April 2nd and April 16th, $75
I have attended one of these before and very much enjoyed the lecture on my own local ecosystem and incorporating wild flavors into my cocktails. I went home with locally-driven, handcrafted bitters that I still use to this day.

Cocktail class series at Two Sisters Bar & Books
Hayes Valley, SF, March 13 (gin), April 3 (springtime mixology), May 1 (tequila and mezcal), $85
Two Sisters doesn’t wear its bookish charm skin-deep (unlike Novela): it walks the walk with a regular book club. While my experience with Two Sisters tells me its cocktail classes will be thoughtful deep-dives, which hopefully helps justify the steep price tag.

Of note is that Two Sisters has announced it is closing this summer. These classes are the last ones you’ll be able to attend there. Continue reading

Peak rum bar

Approaching the rum bar tipping point

Put me down as a fan of bars with tunnel vision. Highly specialized bars offer superior education, a deep-dive for enthusiasts past the Mixology 101 mark, and an outlet for pricey or cult spirits.

But specialization invites certain economic realities. “A little speakeasy with 16 seats is great, but I’m sorry to say that you’ll never make a living,” Dale DeGroff told G-LO via DrinkWire.

Thus I marvel at the saturation of spirit-specific bars in San Francisco — specifically rum bars. Continue reading

Aquafaba is coming

Also, Gib’s is one of the best cocktail spots in Madison, Wisconsin.


Madison is the locus of politics and education in the state of Wisconsin, as it houses both the grand state capitol and the state’s flagship university. Boasting spectacular views and pastimes in the lush summer and snowy winter months, this odd isthmus city boasts more cultural creativity than outsiders expect.

This is to lay the groundwork for a bold claim: every time I drink cocktails in Madison, I discover something new before it begins to appear on Bay Area cocktail menus.

You doubt. I sympathize with your confusion but assure you that my years of ongoing investigation confirm the claim.

This time it’s aquafaba or, as it’s more commonly described, the liquid from canned chickpeas that you can whip up into a passable and vegan meringue. In cocktails it can serve as a frothy egg white substitute or simply as a silky note of texture. The first time I spotted it on a menu was at Gib’s Bar.
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Thematic cocktail menus worth traveling for

Please send airfare. I’m firing up Kayak.com right now to balance the cost of a San Fransisco/D.C./Twin Cities jaunt against my burning need to experience these menus.

San Francisco: Drink your art with Trick Dog’s mural project

Trick Dog‘s blisteringly creative menus are among the very best the industry has to offer (a curious juxtaposition with its aesthetically cold echo chamber of a space, surely one of the least comfortable the industry has to offer).

Their current menu debuted January 8. Drinks are based on Bay Area local artists, each of whom created a mural in San Francisco for the project. The hard-copy menu at Trick Dog seems to be a printed book of photos, the sale of which benefits non-profits, so you can have your art and drink it, too.

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Sirron Norris mural photo by Sonya Yu via SFGate

The above mural by Sirron Norris (a friend of a friend of Coupe Tales, though we’ve never met) accompanies his namesake cocktail: Calle 23 blanco tequila, Cardamaro, fig, chamomile, cinnamon, and lime.

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Nuggets of wisdom

Gems I took away from the barstaff at The Miranda, which just soft-launched in Oakland:

  • A pinch of salt or dash of saline isn’t just useful in negronis and other stirred cocktails; try it in daiquiris and gimlets too.
  • St. George’s Rye gin is great in stirred drinks. Conversely, why use a fine flavorful gin in a sour where it could get lost?
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The reason I made a beeline for The Miranda. The Room 237: Gancia Americano, Cocchi Americano, lemon, Agricanto, sparkling rose wine. The room 237 keychain is my own (a beloved tchotchke from Borderland Books).

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