bourbon and branch

[by john]

a glorious day of rooftop dim sum, dan tat from golden gate bakery, theater, a trip to bourbon and branch, and formidable amounts of thai food capped my sf adventure.

bourbon and branch is a speakeasy bar in sf's sketchy tenderloin district which prides itself on, well, being a speakeasy. yes, it's pretentious. but yes, it's cool. you get a password with your online reservation to use at its unmarked door. a rare experience, at least. and a stark contrast to alembic's wide open front door. there are so many competing pros and cons, in fact, that bullet points are required:

  • fruit drawer - a roll-out drawer full of fresh seasonal fruit, awesome.
  • cloth drink napkins - embroidered and all.
  • seasonal menu - our night was the first for the spring menu.
  • gorgeous - tin ceiling, cloth walls, elegant modern chandelier, tractor seats at the bar.
  • ditzy waitresses - good thing we sat at the bar.
  • expensive - $2 more per drink than alembic, pushing justification.
  • bad speakeasy - their front door opens up directly to the street, so there's no anteroom to hide the bar from passers-by. when it's still light out, it ruins the mood. take a page from milk and honey and use two heavy curtains.
  • branding - they measured from shot glasses emblazoned with their logo. settle down, guys. not to mention the glitzy flash website.
alright, enough of that, on to the drinks. b&b is very menu-heavy. seasonal cocktails, champagne cocktails, classics, favorites from other bartenders, whiskey list... we must have sat there for 10 minutes poring over it. that's a con on my scorecard, because i'd rather be interacting with the bartender, but some could find it helpful.

we decided on two creations from the new spring menu. me: a mariachi, my first drink with mezcal, an extremely close relative of tequila which has gotten a bad reputation lately with the worm-in-the-bottle gimmick. yellow chartreuse, cointreau, fresh lemon juice, and orange bitters rounded out the cocktail. delightful! i enjoyed the whiskey-esque, smokey profile of the mezcal, which gave way easily enough to the citruses. my only complaint is that the last half of the drink was rather sweet; somehow the mezcal lost its magic by then.

my guy got the delicious 'devil's advocate', with gin, lime, ginger syrup, 3 fresh muddled raspberries, and a couple dashes of absinthe on top. i mean, just plain awesome and drinkable. i wish the absinthe had stayed longer than the first couple sips, though.

our bartender had the same hipster getup (by that i mean newspaper boy hat) as our one at alembic, so i had to put him to the same off-piste test, something bitter and spirit-based. he really pulled through, outdoing his rival: rye, licor 43, and fernet branca. for once, the fernet's long finish was subdued, and the bazillion combined herbs and flavors in the three ingredients worked perfectly together. wildly surprising and tasty, and with a working name of 'friends of ours'.

'i want something with st. germain and fire.' my boyfriend's request set the bartender back on his heels a little bit. after tasting his initial attempt with gin, green chartreuse, and the requested ingredient, he poured it out because the elderflower didn't shine through. restarting with the blank palette of vodka, he added peach bitters and a flamed grapefruit peel to complement the st. germain. an airy finished product, well done under the constraints.

now i just wish i could work there so i could fix all those nagging cons (plus get those expensive drinks for cheap).

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