Honor Bar opened recently in Emeryville, California, and I stopped in for a visit.
The space is a square room with an oval bar against the back side, a window into the kitchen on the far left, and seating at both communal and smaller tables. The bar top is high with a deep red surface, the color of red tabletop candles.
In the room there is a pinball machine and an old Joust arcade game. The small entry room (where you'd expect to find a hostess stand if this was still a restaurant) is also filled with nicknacks.
Not far from the entrace is a large washbucket of beer on ice- this is part of the "honor bar" of the name. You're free to grab a beer and drink it while you wait at the bar to get a cocktail, and pay for it then. I like this policy.
We arrived at the bar early in the evening so we didn't have to wait for a seat nor for a drink. At least at that capacity, Honor Bar feels to me more like a tavern than a bar. Food is an important part of the program while the bar dominates the space. It's a chipper venue, and the crowd was post-work people in nice clothes rather than the t-shirt and jeans slacker found in a lot of East Bay bars.
But onto the drinks: Alex Smith has created a wonderful menu (Honor Bar cocktail menu here) and the execution was perfect in nearly all the drinks we tried. They were all coming out awesome, so we had seven of them.
The Black Sabbath (laphroaig, averna, absinthe, orange bitters) was a clever mix of flavors I wouldn't have guessed would work together, the Bleeding Monarch (bourbon, passion fruit, orgeat, campari, balsamico amaro) was surprisingly tiki-esque, the Porfiriato (reposado tequila, guajillo-infused mezcal, cocchi di torino, licor 43, cinnamon bitters) had just a subtle heat that came in on the drink's finish, and the Jenkin's Ear (aged rum, oloroso sherry, hum botanical, angostura bitters) had a bright beautiful entry and dark nutty sherry finish.
The drinks were really great, the space was comfortable, and everyone was nice. If Honor Bar were near my house I'd be there all the time.