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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The Shaddock

Before research taught me that a shaddock is an archaic name for grapefruit or pomelo, I disdained the cocktail name and simply called this one “My Favorite.”

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“Let’s have My Favorite tonight.”
  • .75 oz gin
  • .75 oz Aperol
  • .75 oz fresh lemon juice
  • .75 oz St. Germain

Shake with ice, strain, serve.

In addition to its bright citrus burst, the Shaddock offers a uniquely grapefruity flavor that is present in no single ingredient but miraculously appears when Aperol and St. Germain join forces. (The Humble Garnish pointed out that grapefruit magic with their Apparent Sour.)
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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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Smoke ’em if you got ’em

A glance at my scotch or mezcal collections should tip you off to my love of smoky flavors. Though those liquors are typically my go-to building blocks for a smoky glass at home, I’ve long marveled at the actual smoke employed to create some of my most memorable cocktails when dining out.

The full smoke

The formative moment of my smoky cocktail-sipping career, and the standard to which I hold all others, is this Vanilla Hickory Smoked Manhattan from Barchef in Toronto.

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Vanilla hickory smoked Manhattan, Barchef, July 2012

Crown Royal Cask 16, housemade cherry vanilla bitters, hickory-smoked syrup, vanilla cognac (also housemade, I believe), set in an antique cloche to pull in the flavors of smoking hickory chips and vanilla pods.

Once removed from the smoking bell jar the Manhattan and its hand-chipped ice sphere provided me with the longest, smokiest finish I’d yet experienced (at the time, I was not yet a scotch fan). By fully smoking the drink in its glass, the ice, glassware, and your very hand become part of the immersive experience.

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Barchef’s smoked Manhattan, out of the cloche and into my heart

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Come drink with us forever and ever and ever

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Left: Hedge Maze. Right: Overlook.

At any given moment The Shining is in my top three favorite movies (and jostling for first place). VHS, DVD, Blu-Ray, 35mm (both whole and also slashed to hell from decades of projectionists slicing frames out of iconic scenes for their collection or enrichment), forwards and backwards, de/reconstructed in Room 237, aped in countless examples of pop culture: I have watched it whenever, wherever, and however possible.

When this great cinematic love meets my love of imbibing, I’m as happy as a guest at an Overlook Hotel party.

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“Great party, isn’t it?”

As San Francisco celebrates hosting the Kubrick Exhibition, I’ve tracked down a few places offering Shining-themed cocktails.

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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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From Eeyore’s Requiem to the Hundred Acre Failure

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This is not an Eeyore’s Requiem; this is alcoholic orange soda.

A photocopy of a photocopy. A jpeg resaved so often it loses all form. This is what I did to the noble Eeyore’s Requiem.

A friend reminded me of this delicious this bitter drink, and Serious Eats informed me of its noble pedigree: this is a Violet Hour original. (Love the Violet Hour. Love Serious Eats, for that matter.)

My friend said he’d held off making this until he found Dolin Blanc, which struck me as slightly odd since he isn’t the type to fear substitutions. Me, I fear few substitutions. And with supplies of Campari and Cynar running low, I thought I’d play with substitutions until I got a drink I no longer loved.

Theory: 5 or more iterations until undrinkability was reached.
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Themed cocktails at the Rickshaw Stop

Creativity isn’t limited to the contents of a glass.The Rickshaw Stop in San Francisco ennobles its relatively basic bar with thematic cocktail specials at its events.

For instance, Reeve Carney’s solo show boasted a Dorian Grey cocktail.

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Grey Goose vodka, orange juice, 7-Up, and cranberry juice is not my usual tipple but the Rickhouse had keenly intuited which of Carney’s roles brought me there that evening. It’s clever bar marketing that acknowledges the artist, gives in-the-know audience members a little wink, and highlights available drinks beyond your average venue choices.

Themed cocktails are everything.