We rolled up to the bar as if we were Charles Bukowski, Hank Moody and Charlie Sheen.
Nothing teaches you what you don’t know more than going somewhere else. I suspect this idea is the basis for every pilgrimage out there, be it religious, vocational or what have you.
Ours was the latter. In a business ruled by trends it is often necessary to see what is new and happening, as much as you might resist or disagree with it. I mean, does it matter that French 75s never came in a champagne flute? Or that Moscow Mules originally came in an 8-ounce cup, and now routinely get delivered in a 16-ounce one? Or that Manhattans are alternately shaken or stirred, or shaken again depending solely upon which decade you grew up in? But, I digress.
As sure as Francis Bacon’s quote, “If the mountain won’t come to …,” we went to the mountain, or to the hills, as it were. The mecca of cocktails was a mere 15 minutes and $6 or $7 away, depending on the level of preparation. San Francisco beckoned.
We took that level of preparedness seriously, enlisting the prudent aid of Uber. Drinking and driving never mix. Now, we really weren’t going to be drinking, we were going to be sampling, but nevertheless, never is never.
Bar No. 1 did everything right: great service, great drinks and great food. It helped that we knew the manager, and that he waited on us exclusively. Sometimes the service received by VIPs is not the service received by everyone; it is important to remember that. Especially if said VIP writes for, say, the local paper.
Bar No. 2 was a different experience entirely, summed up by one memorable quote from one of the bartenders.
Me: “May I get a glass of water?”
Bartender: “It’s over there.”
Ironically it appears that water service is something left up to the guest in many of San Francisco’s bars, including some of its most famous. I would truly love to see how far that idea would get in Marin County.
Woman from Belvedere: “I need water with muddled mint and cucumber in it.”
Me: “It’s over there.”
My boss: “You’re fired.”
Bar No. 3 achieved everything we were looking for. Raw egg white, check. Esoteric liqueurs, check. Silly glassware, check. Old-school drinks made new-school style, check. Bartender in stocking cap, check. And the drinks were indeed fabulous. Impossible to replicate at home but fabulous nonetheless. I thought of showing up for my next shift, unshaven, shirt untucked and stocking capped. I suspect that it might be the shortest shift in recent memory, fabulous drinks notwithstanding.
Bar No. 4 was a class establishment, no flash in the pan as it has existed, well, since before I can remember, and that is a long time. Drinks were made the old-fashioned way. In fact, in exactly the old-fashioned way. Manhattans came in Manhattan glasses, martinis came in martini glasses and never the twain shall meet. Unfortunately, this was not what we were looking for because, if we were looking for tradition we would not have come to San Francisco in the first place.
Bar No. 5 was the trendiest of the trendy. A secret code word and everything. We had one round of the most intricately involved drinks ever. The menu even said, “Be prepared to wait 15 minutes because our drinks are hand crafted.” I did wonder, however, how that set them apart from every other bar on the planet. And I did notice that on page 12 of its extensive cocktail list there was a drink that bore an uncanny resemblance to a drink on our very own drink list (on page one of our one-page list). I pointed this out to the Charlie Sheen of our little group. He laughed and envisioned the scene.
Charlie: “Sir, it’s going to be at least 15 minutes for that drink. It is hand crafted.”
Man from Ross: “Where’s the manager?”
Eventually we made it back across the bridge and safely home, courtesy again of Uber. Leaving me with these thoughts:
– “There’s no place like home” or “You can never go home,” both written by geniuses. Take your pick according to your wont.
– Finding out how not to do something can be just as important as finding out how to.