My editors may not know this, but I’ve been wanting to write this column for eight years. Back then it was called “Mixologist” and it had been long-running tradition for freelancers to whip up short Q&As with The City’s talented bartenders. I was a legal affairs reporter then, and as such, I drank a lot more: I thought spinning prose about fruity concoctions would cut up many dull days covering court decisions.
It goes without saying that life did not go as planned, this year in particular. Now finally with a dream job, I thought I’d be sitting on worn-leather bar stools while venue owners regaled me with crazy nightlife stories, and while they ordered us round after round of free, fancy drinks. I did see some bars, and I visited parklets. I also pulled out a lot of my old cocktail recipes. I asked bartenders to make things at home and send me the photos. I wrote way too honestly about my struggles in quarantine, and in a low point — although my editor loved it— I wandered around Golden Gate Park taking Instagram-esque photos of orange cocktails I’d made to match our orange sky.
This month marks a whole year I’ve written these stories, and although the series is not what we planned, I think it came out better in many ways. In quarantine, a lot of friends tell me they balled up, shut out the world, and ate a lot of comfort food. I did some of those things, but absent so many of my routine distractions, I had so much unspent energy that needed to be put somewhere.
I wanted this week to focus more on bartenders, and I’d hoped to feature 12 San Francisco bars with their drinks. I reached out to nearly 30 of them, but in a lockdown, I don’t blame them that only about a third got back. So instead of 12, I give you the eight shots of Christmas from seven of our talented venues— one of them gave me an extra shot.
North Pole Dance
Served by Ramon Garcia at Alchemist Bar & Lounge, 679 Third St., S.F.
– 1.25 ounces St. George Pear Brandy
– .25 ounce White Creme de Menthe
– .25 ounce Liquid Alchemist Orgeat
– .25 ounce coconut liquor
– 1/8 ounce Chareau Aloe Vera
– 1 dash Hellfire bitters
Directions: Combine all ingredients with ice into a shaker. Shake and pour into a chilled shot glass.
2020 Trashfire Tonic
Served by Susan — no last name given — at Mini Bar SF, 837 Divisadero St., S.F.
– 1 ounce Trashfire Tonic base (recipe below)
– 2 ounces bourbon (or tequila, or mescal, who cares?! 2020 is almost over!)
Directions: Shake with ice and strain into glass.
Trashfire Tonic base
– 8 ounces water
– 1.5 ounces honey
– 1 ounce lemon juice
– 3 cinnamon sticks
– 1 “thumb”-sized ginger nub, peeled and sliced
Directions: Sans alcohol, simmer all ingredients for five minutes in a small saucepan. Remove from heat and let steep for 20 minutes. Strain mixture through a coffee filter and refrigerate until ready to drink. Lasts up to a week, but most likely gone in a day.
Served by Samantha Renteria at Raven Bar, 1151 Folsom St., S.F.
– 1.5 ounces tequila
– .5 ounce fresh lime
– .25 ounce simple syrup
– .5 cranberry juice
– Salted cranberries for garnish
Directions: Shake the fresh lime, cranberry juice, simple syrup and tequila together. Strain the chilled mix into a shot glass served with limed wash cranberries covered with salt.
Also served by Samantha Renteria of Raven Bar
– .5 ounce peppermint Schnapps
– .5 ounce Vita Divine Creme de Cacao
– .5 ounce heavy cream
– Mini candy cane for garnish
Directions: Build into a shot glass the heavy cream, peppermint schnapps and creme de cacao, and serve with a peppermint candy cane.
Meaning “Good Night” and “Christmas Eve”
Served by Briana Santiago at Blondie’s Bar, 540 Valencia St., S.F.
– 1.5 ounce El Tesoro Anejo
– 1 ounce Mr. Black Cold-Brew Liqueur
– .5 ounce Fernet Valet
– .5 ounce cinnamon infused honey
– Orange zest for garnish
Directions: Pour ingredients into a pint glass with ice and shake vigorously. Strain into a shot glass of your liking and garnish with orange zest. Repeat as needed.
Shanghai in October
Served by Yong Zhu at China Live, 644 Broadway, S.F.
– 1.5 ounces Glen Grant 12-year-old scotch
– 0.75 ounce ginger shrub
– 0.75 ounce sweet vermouth
Directions: Combine all ingredients into a shaker, pour into a shot glass, and top off with Ume soda.
Served by Nicolas Torres at True Laurel, 753 Alabama St., S.F.
– Coral Lager
– 1.5 ounces of Pear Eau De Vie
Directions: Add a “teeny” amount of the lager with a freezing cold shot of the pear brandy, and serve in a frozen miniature pint glass. Notes Torres: “Really cold pear brandy is a shot that some of my favorite bars would offer if you knew about it. Most notably the Nitecap in New York City, one of my favorite bars that hopefully makes it through these tough times.”
Served by Will Presley at R Bar, 1176 Sutter St., S.F.
Directions: Serve this straight up.
Notes Presley: “Fernet-Branca’s 175-year-old recipe is a blend of 27 herbs, roots and spices that originate from four continents to make up its top-secret formula. The unique ingredients, including mint, ginger, rhubarb, saffron and more, have made the amaro the world’s most popular Italian liqueur, and a bartender favorite. Fernet-Branca’s complex and bitter, yet balanced herbal flavor profile elevates any cocktail, including classics, such as the Manhattan, Negroni and Collins. Fernet-Branca serves as the leader within the Fratelli Branca portfolio, a collection of fast-growing premium brands, all which have remained entirely privately owned by the Branca Family.”
Saul Sugarman is a San Francisco-based writer, event producer and apparel designer. Read more of his content and buy his wares at saulsugarman.com. He is a guest columnist and his opinions are not necessarily that of the Examiner.