Come for the cocktails at Sugar Lounge, stay for the complimentary food

In the Barbary Coast era, many of San Francisco’s favored watering holes served food along with drinks — often complimentary, to the delight of patrons like the infamous Emperor Norton. These days, there are still a few holdouts to that fine tradition and Sugar, in the fashionable Hayes Valley neighborhood, is among them. In fact, visitors at Sugar can dine on tempura, chicken, chips, salsa and fresh fruit each and every night. And what better way to top off a free meal than with an innovative cocktail prepared by bartender Chelsea Rae Cole?

Sugar Lounge: 377 Hayes St., San Francisco, (415) 255-7144,

When did you start bartending? I’ve been here almost two years. Before that, I was at California Pizza Kitchen. I started as a server, then moved to bartending.

What do you like about bartending? The freedom to experiment, the people and all the new faces.

What’s the history of this place? Seven years ago, it was a wine bar called Hayes & Vine. The owner wanted a cutesy, pink bar. The neighborhood was calling for something else besides Absinthe.

What is the theme of your cocktail program? The more creative, the better. The more cute and comical, the better.

Who comes up with the drinks? All of us. We pingpong ideas off each other and we take popular drinks and play off those for ideas. We’re constantly getting new ingredients to mix and match.

What are the most popular drinks here? The house favorite and The City favorite is the Jameson. We also sell a lot of sweet, girly, fun drinks like the Le Frenchee and the Blue Nightengale.

What’s the clientele like? It’s as diverse as this neighborhood. We get equal amounts of locals and neighborhood regulars, as well as new fresh faces. We get a lot of people who go to the opera, symphony and ballet. We also get City Hall people and people who work in the state and federal buildings.

What about the free food? I’ve never seen free food anywhere but here. Our owner also owns a bar-restaurant called Hahn’s Hibachi on Castro and 24th [streets] and she tries to cross-promote that. It also encourages people to come back and spread the word about our great nibbles.

What do you like to drink and where? I like Jameson. If I’m going to have a fancy cocktail, I like something vodka-based that is more tart than sweet. I like Black Magic Voodoo Lounge [1400 Lombard St.], the Columbus Café [562 Green St.] and Bacchus Kirk [925 Bush St.], plus the Polk Street pub crawl.

What are weekends like? We have DJs on Friday and Saturdays from 10 p.m. until 2 a.m. The weekend crowd tends to be more enthusiastic and rambunctious.

If you could serve anyone famous, alive or dead, who would it be? Marilyn Monroe, because she’s one classy broad. Also, Ansel Adams, because I’m also a photographer and I’d like to pick his brain.

Le Frenchee

  • 4½ oz Chambourd vodka
  • ½ oz. St. Germain
  • ½ oz. lime juice
  • 1 oz. rosé Champagne

Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake well and strain into a martini glass.

‘We need a place to take a shower and feel welcomed’

Tenderloin linkage center opens one month after Mayor Breed’s emergency declaration

100 years of the San Francisco Opera

Centennial season opens with world premiere of ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ by John Adams

How an improv show hit Broadway, won a Tony Award and is now at ACT

S.F. actor Anthony Veneziale gives the backstory on “Freestyle Love Supreme”