Iron & Gold turns divey joint into lively bar

All: Beth LaBerge/Special to the S.F. ExaminerSlather it on: Chani Hawthorne was wandering through the grocery store jam aisle when she was struck by sweet inspiration.

A few blocks south of Cesar Chavez Street, and a few doors up from San Francisco’s only gun shop, you can find a former dive bar wading into the craft cocktail scene. Iron & Gold, known as the Argus a year ago, has added salvaged wood paneling, stylish mining lights and several dozen bottles of specialty liquor to turn a dimly lit Mission hangout into a dimly lit Mission destination. You can still belly up to the long wooden bar to order a $2 can of Olympia, but now there’s a menu of house cocktails with ingredients such as elderflower and agave that, at $8 apiece, might tempt you to pry open your wallet a bit wider. Iron & Gold is a busy on the weekends, often adding music from local DJs. It also was the site of a recent recipe competition by 10 Cane rum that longtime bartender Chani Hawthorne won with an inspired use of marmalade. She has been serving drinks for five years at this address, and at a couple of other bars around The City, as a way to keep the bills paid while she follows her true passion as a musician.

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How did you get into bartending?

I started bartending nine years ago in Albuquerque, N.M., at a rock club called Atomic Cantina, and I was just kind of thrown to the wolves. I just dove in there.

What do you do outside of bartending?

I play bass in a couple rock bands. One, Cruel Summer, is a little shoegaze-y but maybe more aggressive, and the other, Standard Poodle, is probably a little slack-back garage-y.

What is the difference between Iron & Gold and the Argus? The Argus was more of a dive bar, but it had a finer selection for your dive bar status. Since then we’ve gone in the direction of making more craft cocktails and offering a wider variety of liquor, but we still kind of want to try to cater to the neighborhood and have a comfortable feel in here where you can probably get a fancy cocktail and then move on to your regular beer.

How did you come up with your recipe for the recent competition?

This cocktail was inspired by walking around in Rainbow [a grocery store]. I felt like the 10 Cane rum was already kind of sweetish and has a kind of honey overtone. I was going to go in the direction of honey first, but I was hanging out in the jam section and I got really overwhelmed and excited and my brain just went in too many different places. I was just like, ‘Calm down, get the marmalade,’ because it has the tang and the orange rind and that’s going to add to the drink, so that you get some texture and more involvement, plus little bits of candy.

Do you have a favorite liquor right now?

That just moves around with me so much. I’ve been really into gins lately. I was trying to mess around with that, but I haven’t really developed anything — there’s nothing undergoing construction right now.

Are there any liquors that you can’t stand?

Any kind of drink that is like a candy — besides something that you’re supposed to just mix with — is pretty disgusting.  If you have a candy filler then that’s just gross. But I like things on the more sour, bitter end anyway.

What is your favorite time to work behind the bar?

I work Wednesday night here and I really like that because it’s in the middle of the week and I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything. … It’s mellow enough but busy enough that I’m not staring out a window or anything.

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