I enjoy seeing bartenders making their rounds about San Francisco, starting programs and evolving into the type of drink makers that suit the mood and feel of the environment.
After bowing out of fine dining, Davin Affrunti invited me to come check him out behind the stick at Barrel Head Brewhouse in North of the Panhandle for a swig of their “beertails.” (Yes, this is something you never knew you wanted until now: a drink marrying beer and booze.)
As always, Affrunti was warm and hospitable as I chowed down on a burger and cheesy poutine while imbibing his twist on the I am D.B. Cooper cocktail. About a year ago, Affrunti made me the classic version while he was bar manager at Prospect in South of Market. You can still find the drink on the menu there.
As co-bar manager of Barrel Head, Affrunti has taken his passion for suds and has made it a point to include them in cocktails. This time around, in what he now calls Strange Brew, Affrunti replaces the whiskey with gin, accents the drink with maple syrup and Douglas Fir Eau De Vie, topping it with Deschutes’ Fresh Squeezed IPA.
Affrunti’s Donde Esta La Biblioteca, which is pretty much a lager-topped Paloma (blanco tequila, grapefruit soda, lime juice), showcases how the beertails offer a more bubbly texture and less condensed flavors, making them the perfect sipper as the endless summer fades to fall.
“The beer-cocktail thing is around, but it hasn’t really taken off,” Affrunti said. “Here it keeps things interesting and fresh, as we’re trying to make it a focus.”
The bar menu also invites guests to create their own cocktail, sans the beer, in The Manhattan Project, where people choose from a handful of spirits, vermouths, bitters and garnish.
I continued with the agave kick and a cocktail of tequila, Dolin Blanc, blood orange bitters and a lime peel. A decent drink, if I say so myself.
THE SCENE INSIDE
As the name suggests Barrel Head Brewhouse is making its own beer, and it’s high ceilings, large steel serving tanks and glossy wood communal tables give the space an industrial type of feel.
You can watch the brewers at work, the bartenders shaking it up or the football season snap into another year of play. The World War II-era torpedo behind the taps adds a badass touch to the space. Affrunti told me that the fella who delivered the torpedo shell was pulled over by police on his way to the bar.
The two-story space on the corner of Fulton Street and Masonic Avenue is frequented by students and faculty from the nearby University of San Francisco, along with NoPa neighbors on a recently renovated block that’s blossoming with restaurant openings and things to do in the area.
“We’re not reinventing the wheel — just straightforward good food, good drinks, local purveyors, beer made on site,” said co-bar manager Brendan Card. “It’s the perfect marriage.”
Affrunti, along with some front of the house staff and Monk’s Kettle alum cooking in the kitchen, call themselves “the refugees of fine dining,” exchanging the buttoned-up attitude for the laid-back and welcoming atmosphere of the gastropub.
I will definitely be back.