Over the past several years, the Tenderloin and Lower Polk neighborhoods have slowly transformed into destination spots for locals and tourists alike — not just for great Southeast Asian food, but also for high-end cocktails. Although it has kept its former name, KoKo Cocktails is no longer a Korean bar. It now features the kinds of inventive cocktails one can find at other, new classic cocktail bars in The City. Justin Mulford is one of three partners who reopened the bar in 2008.
KoKo Cocktails 1060 Geary St., San Francisco, (415) 885-4788
How long has this place been a bar? It was a Korean bar for 10 years and then a German-themed bar called Alta Frankfurt from 1987 to 1997. Before that, it was the Coach Room from 1977 to 1987.
When did you buy this bar? I met my two partners, Lori Martens and Christopher Keith, while we were all working at the Tunnel Top [601 Bush St.]. We came across this place three years ago.
Has this place changed much? It was very sketchy. We turned this place around so well that we’ve helped out the block and we are now the best bus stop [38-Geary line] with a liquor license.
I see there are no TVs here. What other kind of renovations did you do? We took out the pool table and put in tables and chairs that we found at the Alameda flea market, and put in the rest of the seating from a church in Petaluma. All the neon and mirrors were replaced. It now has a ’60s feel. It’s very minimalist.
Do you have any special events here? For about a year now, we have had a bourbon-and-bacon happy hour on the first Friday of every month. We cook about 15 pounds of apple-wood-smoked bacon and dole it out until it’s gone. We pair it with different bourbons, and who doesn’t love bacon? The nuances of good bourbon and apple-wood bacon go very well together. We buy the bacon and Morty’s Deli [280 Golden Gate Ave.] does it for us.
What’s the clientele like? Most are from the neighborhood. The ages range from the late 20s to mid-50s. Nights are dictated by the different DJs we have each night, and we get a lot of restaurant and bar workers, and City Hall types.
What kinds of spirits do you feature here? Whiskey in general has been the dominant spirit for the last three or four years. There are a lot more on the market and you have access you couldn’t have before.
What do you like about bartending? I have a lot more time to myself and I was able to do a lot of traveling. I also like the personal connection and talking to people. And I have never had to take the job home with me.
Why did you keep the name KoKo Cocktails? We like the name. It’s catchy. The sign outside is also great.
What’s the cocktail philosophy here? Most of our drinks are classics with new twists. We also do the craft beer thing. Discovering those kinds of things is fun.
Stir bourbon, triple sec and bitters over ice. Rinse a cocktail glass with Absinthe. Serve up with lemon zest.