Beautifully confusing cocktails at Locanda

Beth Laberge/Special to the S.F. Examiner‘Amaze me’: Bartender Brandon Presburg created Locanda’s Hemingway cocktail

Staff members at Locanda, part of Valencia Street’s flourishing restaurant corridor since it opened 19 months ago, have just sat down at the bar for their preshift meeting. Managers review different aspects of the site’s interior design since it’s a common source of questions from customers (for example, the cubic-looking tiles are from Heath Ceramics, and you’ve probably eaten off of their plates if you dine in San Francisco regularly; the artist behind the wolf pictures, Meagan Donegan, has a twin, so there is typically a mirror image of the subjects appearing in her work). Then desserts are sampled, new additions and subtle changes to the menu are explained with rapid-fire points from the head chef and everyone gets to taste the latest candidate for Locanda’s cocktail menu. We spoke with bartender Brandon Presburg.  

What’s the process like for creating the cocktail menu here?

It’s a collective effort — just about every bartender has one of their drinks on it. Today we tried a drink that I came up with, and people are more than willing to share their opinions and give a bit of feedback.

You came up with the Hemingway. Talk a bit about it.

Well, at the end of his life, [Ernest] Hemingway was diabetic, so he used grapefruit juice in his daiquiris because there was less sugar. One of my co-workers, Alex Phillips, makes a grapefruit syrup, so I applied it to the concept and it gives the drink a dry, citrus pop. The scent of the Haitian rum — grassy with a bit of overripe banana — is an important part of it.  

Your drinks are $10 and then there’s La Bella Confusione $12. As a bartender, is that an opportunity or a land mine?

(Laughs) Hopefully it’s an opportunity. It depends on how they order and their situation — I’m not going to booze somebody up if they’re on a date with her parents present. Some people are specific and some say, “Amaze me,” so you’ve got to ask follow-up questions or you’ll totally miss and end up starting over. A lot of people just want to dip their toe in this huge pool of liquor we have to choose from, so it can be an opportunity to put them on to new spirits and use a bit of creativity.

How has Locanda settled into the Mission’s roster of restaurants?

I started not too long after we opened, so I’ve had a pretty good perspective. We’re generally pretty busy and have a bunch of regulars that we take care of. There’s actually a database of them so we can stay on top of the little things that they like. Also, people have stopped asking if we’re the bar aspect of Tartine next door.

557 Valencia St. (415) 863-6800 www.locandasf.com

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