Milk does a cocktail good at Cantina

Cantina: Opened in 2007 by longtime bartender Duggan McDonnell, Cantina features culinary cocktails — many of them inventions of McDonnell’s — that draw from San Francisco’s rich drinking past and its Latin influences. Likewise, the bar features wines from Latin appellations, and you can just as easily stumble into a book-release party as a Chilean wine tasting. The bar uses homemade bitters, syrups and infusions, and features citrus grown on trees in Santa Clara Valley. For the holidays this year, McDonnell teamed up with the “Got Milk?” campaign to create four new cocktails featuring milk. 580 Sutter St., San Francisco, (415) 398-0915

How long have you been a bartender, and what else have you done? Ten years. I wouldn’t say that I’ve had a checkered work history, but I’ve done theater production and event management, I was an elevator operator at the Space Needle, a freelance wine steward at Costco and a summer-camp teacher. In the food and beverage business, I’ve been a busboy, waiter, bar back, bartender and bar manager.

What’s the concept of your bar? It’s an homage to Latin cultures of the world and particularly reading and drinking. I believe drinking can be a smart thing to do. So between the bottles are old tomes.

Why did you get into the business? I can’t but think it is part of being Irish to open a bar. But I didn’t want to open an Irish pub. There are plenty of other people who do it good.

What’s the clientele like here? People who live and work downtown, and travelers. Eating and drinking is an invitation to travel now. There’s culinary tourism. And people bring in printouts of bars.

A lot of bars do seasonal menus. Why? I was one of the first guys to do that, and I’m a huge advocate of fresh produce and seasonality. Global warming has really screwed that up, though. When it’s 77 degrees in San Francisco in December, it’s perfect to drink a margarita.

Why did you team up with the “Got Milk?” campaign? It was a culinary and intellectual challenge. I laid out all the ingredients and found out what works. After I did that, I took my blinders off and asked, “What already exists?” Here in San Francisco, Jerry Thomas created the first California Milk Punch, so there’s a strong culture of milk in cocktails. Milk, just like eggs and egg whites, got lost in Prohibition. Clearly, milk is a healthy thing. Milk is also a great ingredient in cocktails because of its creamy, supple texture.

Why do you make a Pisco? It’s essentially a living legacy of the world’s first brandy. It’s also the original spirit of San Francisco from the Gold Rush. Duncan Nicol at the Bank Exchange Saloon made the most famous cocktail of it, the Pisco Punch. And everyone from Mark Twain to Jack London has written about it.

Cinnamon Sake Horchata

  • 1 quart milk
  • 1½ cups Nigori sake
  • ½ cup homemade cinnamon syrup
  • ½ cup freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon almond extract
  • Cinnamon powder to taste

Whisk thoroughly in a punch bowl until all ingredients are thoroughly integrated. Add ice, dust with cinnamon and serve. Serves 8.

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