Bitters Bock and Rye brings barbecue to Polk 

click to enlarge Johnny Boswell
  • evan ducharme/special to the s.f. examiner
  • Johnny Boswell says Bitters’ barbecue is a crowd pleaser. “If you can’t enjoy some wonderful smoked brisket, then I don’t wanna hang out with you,” he says.
The owners of neighboring bar Blur have brought Polk Street its only dedicated barbecue joint. The large, dimly lit space has taken over what was once an Indian restaurant, selling out of its smoked and fatty brisket, dry-rubbed ribs and housemade sausage nightly. The bar and restaurant used reclaimed wood from fences and an old schoolhouse to make its countertops and large mirror frames. The San Francisco Examiner sipped a glass of Willett Pot Still Reserve while speaking with bartender Johnny Boswell, who didn’t need the help of a contractor to build this bar.

Where did you find your beginnings? I grew up in Vegas — bartended out there at Caesars and The Orleans. Then after college, I lived out in Prague for a while and hosted pub crawls. One of my buddies from college started the Prague Underground. We’d take bachelor and bachelorette parties out. I had an awesome time.

Why’d you leave Las Vegas for San Francisco? I came here on vacation to visit family for two weeks. I love this city. You don’t have to worry about a dress code. It’s comfortable, not pretentious.

What do you like to drink? Jameson and ginger beer. Barbecue seems like a market that hasn’t been tapped in this part of town. We’re still growing. But on a random Tuesday night, we’ll get a walk-in party of 20. When people are brainstorming what to do for dinner, they think sushi, Italian, but what about barbecue? When barbecue came across the table, we thought it’d be a good idea. And if you can’t enjoy some wonderful smoked brisket, then I don’t wanna hang out with you.

What are some of your favorite bars? I live in Fort Mason, aka Frat Mason. I live with a couple of my buddies and we’ve got a pool table, foosball, and we’ve got a full bar downstairs with an industrial ice machine. We’ve got a little bit of everything, so I never really leave work. We call it Baby’s; that’s the spot. It’s so underground you have no idea.

What are some of your pet peeves as a bartender? Oh man, people who say ‘I don’t care what I want,’ or, ‘Surprise me.’ F*** that. Do you want beer? Do you want a cocktail? Give me something to work with. If you’re that indecisive, then why are you drinking?

So you helped build this bar? Not gonna lie, my electrical and plumbing still need work. My parents managed rental properties as a kid so I’ve always been familiar with different kinds of construction procedures. From the cutting, the drilling, the sanding, the staining, to the sealing, I’ve physically helped build this bar.

What has been the coolest experience you’ve had as a bartender? I bartended at the Fillmore for three years, hung out with a few bands in my time — Sammy Hagar, Kid Rock, Judas Priest. The single coolest moment was during Metallica’s 30-year anniversary. Metallica was on the instrumentals, Ozzy [Osbourne] was singing. It was during a sound check at 2 in the afternoon. I was in the room with maybe 10 other people. I was standing midstage, hands crossed. It was like my own show. That was awesome.

Maple Rye Old Fashioned

2½ oz. Dickel Rye

½ oz. maple syrup

3 dashes Fee Brothers Walnut Bitters

Baked and shredded bacon

Rim glass with shredded bacon. Fill with ice. Add maple syrup, bitters and rye to Old Fashioned glass. Stir. Garnish with orange peel.

About The Author

Rhys Alvarado

Rhys Alvarado

Bio:
Rhys Alvarado is a cocktail enthusiast and sucker for soul and sweet reggae music. A food and drink blogger since 2009, Rhys has sipped his way from Hawaii to Santa Barbara and up the coast to San Francisco, where he's found a glorious wave of craft concoctions and expert drink-makers.
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