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Hops & Hominy a quiet escape from Union Square cacophony

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Exposed brick

Grant Street, Union Square, late afternoon. Tourist hordes fill the sidewalks, moseying along clutching shopping bags and guidebooks. The entrance to Chinatown is in sight, and beyond it The City is somehow more dense. Cut into Campton Place (or enter via Tillman Place, another alley off Sutter Street) and it’s all immediately forgotten. Walk into Hops & Hominy and you will have completed your escape. Exposed brick, high ceilings and gorgeously stained wood surfaces make up the backdrop for a casual atmosphere punctuated by a warm greeting from a very young staff (is anyone who works here over 30?). They hustle, take pride in their business and have created an appealingly unpretentious, foodie-friendly establishment with a penchant for craft beers and cocktails in the middle of downtown. “I guess that’s our niche,” said Adam Edwards, co-owner and bar director. “I didn’t know we were supposed to have one.”

This is an interesting space. Do you know anything about its history? Supposedly, it’s the second-oldest bar in S.F. There’s a huge mezzanine upstairs and allegedly it was a [house of ill repute] 40 years ago. I’ve encountered a couple of folks who have volunteered that they know that from experience.

What did it look like before? It was a god-awful club with purple walls and white leather furniture. They had so much tar on the brick that it would have cost us $80,000 to get it removed. We opted to learn some painful lessons about DIY sandblasting instead. But now we’ve got all that club stuff in a container in the desert that we break out for Burning Man.

Sounds like a good time. So describe your approach to bartending.
As far as cocktails go, I believe in strength and balance. All of our drinks are strong and some are a little sweet. And I like to make and try new ingredients. We have about eight different types of jams that I make, which change weekly. I just prepared 200 pounds of cherries. They’re used in our Smoked Bacon Manhattans, which uses bacon-infused Bulleit Bourbon that I make here.

The wine list looks huge, especially the by-the-glass options. Yeah, we’ve got 65 wines that we serve by the glass and a wine preservation system to maintain the opened bottles.

How did you get started? You all seem pretty young. Dave [Baeli], Daniel [McKinney] and I are all in our late 20s. They’re the chefs and I handle the drinks. The food shines in this place; I’m just backing those guys up. I’ve been eating their food since we were 12. We all grew up in Ocala, Fla., split to different parts of the country for a while — one was a chef in Manhattan, for example — and we reconvened here. Our doors opened on Jan. 30.

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So what’s on the horizon for the business? Brunch! We’ll have a spicy watermelon gazpacho bloody mary on the menu. I’ve been pickling watermelon rinds for it. We’re also launching a new cocktail list. Our other bartenders, Grady Lee and Raul Vera, are contributing to it too. We do a lot of things The City isn’t into — like smoking pork in downtown S.F. I’ve got visions of microbrews and piles of pork set out on parchment-paper-lined picnic tables on Tillman Place.

Have there been any other lessons learned along the way? A few. Overall, it’s been great. I work 14 hours a day, but it’s with my close friends at a bar.

Hops & Hominy: 1 Tillman Place, S.F., (415) 373-6341, www.hopsandhominy.com

Gin & Jam

  • 2 oz. Hendrick’s Gin
  • 2 oz. house-made sour mix
  • Teaspoon of house-made jam

Mix all ingredients together, serve over ice.

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