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Meet Your Mixologist: Rickhouse's Claire Sprouse

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Rickhouse Bartender Claire Sprouce recommends the “long-forgotten classic” Holland Gin Cocktail that the staff found in the 1876 Bartenders Guide Reprint. It has a spicy taste

Put a Financial District crowd in a cocktail bar with the feel of an old saloon and you have Rickhouse. Dim lighting, exposed brick and a pot-belly stove play up the rustic style of the space without straying into theme-bar territory. There are no wagon wheels nailed to the walls, but there’s an abundance of creatively used whiskey barrels — appropriate for a bar that takes its name from a storehouse where whiskey is aged. Metal hoops have been fashioned into chandeliers, while the stairway rails and ceiling are made from the oak slats of old barrels. Some 300 bottles sit on shelves behind the dapperly dressed staff. In the rear of the bar, blue-light filters through a skylight above balcony seating arching over an entrance to a second back bar. And if the meticulously prepped garnishes, mixers and homemade syrups don’t give it away, the bar spoon tattoo on bartender Claire Sprouce’s index finger will let you know that mixology is a craft Rickhouse takes seriously. 246 Kearny St., S.F., (415) 398-2827, www.rickhousesf.com


What sort of patrons frequent Rickhouse? It varies. We have lots of suits, and the hotels are kind enough to send business over. People who appreciate good whiskey, and locals, too, who just want to have a beer.

What sets the Improved Holland Gin Cocktail apart? Genever is a maltier, Old World style of gin, and the absinthe is from the St. George Spirits distillery and is more potent than most. Our menu is seasonal, so the spicy taste fits the time of year.

Do you have a favorite cocktail? People always ask, but I don’t have one. When I’m drinking, I prefer the cheapest beer and rail tequila in the well.

How does Rickhouse compare to the other businesses owned by the Bourbon & Branch team? We’re the rowdy little brother of B&B. Here, we pack ’em in as much as the law will allow.

Do you ever host live music? Mondays are quieter, so we’ll have a jazz and reggae band that has an upright bass and acoustic instruments. On Saturdays there’s a Southern rock band that gets the people dancing and the whiskey spilling.

How did you get involved with the bar? Five months ago, I was running a cocktail program in Houston and working in a dive. While I was in New Orleans, I met a future co-worker and we hit it off. I was told that if I could make it to S.F. in eight days, the job was mine. I sold all my stuff and here I am.

What’s the deal with your bar spoon tattoo? That happened after a long day of tequila drinking with friends from all over the world.

How does the ever-changing cocktail menu adapt to the season? I make a lot of syrups and bring them in. We all make ingredients at home and bounce ’em off each other.

There seems to be a good sense of camaraderie among the bar staff. We get along well. We pull pranks. We took out an ad in the paper offering two-for-one mojitos at Bourbon & Branch during a bartender’s shift who hated making them.

You mentioned that it gets pretty packed in here. Once a week we’ll have to throw someone out for misbehaving. Doing it with tact is a true art. A conversation works better than a big, hairy door guy tossing someone out.   

Featured Recipe

Improved Holland Gin Cocktail
n 2 oz. Genever gin
n ½ oz. Maraschino liqueur
n 1 bar spoon of simple syrup
n 3 dashes Old-Fashioned Aromatic Btters
n 2 dashes absinthe

Pour ingredients into glass, briskly stir with ice, garnish with a lemon twist.

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