Beyond the Branch
The right glass for every beer

SF cocktail history

Plymouth gin is the bartender's favorite brand here in San Francisco. What's nice is that the brand sponsors events to thank them for it. In the winter they offered a lecture on molecular mixology techniques, and earlier this week they flew in David Wondrich to lead a big group on a cocktail history tour of San Francisco. Always the hanger-on, I crashed the party.

We started at the Buena Vista Cafe for an Irish Coffee to get us warmed up. We then each took a flask filled with Sydney Ducks Punch (named after San Francisco's most notorious gang of the Gold Rush era), and headed off to North Beach.

We stopped into Vesuvio for a Negroni and pizza. None of these things have anything to do with San Francisco cocktail history but Vesuvio is a cool old bar. Then we headed to the site of the El Dorado (where the Hilton is on Kearny now), a bar/hotel with a tent ceiling, chandelier, and all-female orchestra. It is reported that Jerry Thomas worked there, though no proof has been found. It was so posh the bartender used a solid gold muddler, which someone suggested that Mr. Mojito recreate and sell online.

Close by at the site of the Transamerica building was the Bank Exchange where the Pisco Punch was invented. We called up pisco historian Guillermo Toro-Lira and yelled "cheers!" while he was on speakerphone.

Next up was the site of the Occidental Hotel at 130 Montgomery, where Jerry Thomas worked his second time living in San Francisco. Then we headed to the Palace Hotel where Cocktail Bill Boothby was the head bartender, and had the Palace Cocktail (gin, orange juice, pineapple syrup, egg white) while hearing about its pre-and post-quake history.

Our last stop for food, jazz, and many more drinks was the House of Shields, which will be celebrating its 100th anniversary this April. There we learned about the history of the Gibson cocktail, which was created in SF in the late 1890's. It was simply London dry gin and dry vermouth, without the orange bitters and garnish that defined a Martini. A Gibson with an olive was called a St. Francis Cocktail and popularized at the St. Francis Hotel. The Gibson eventually became the Martini, so to distinguish the old drink from the new martini they added a cocktail onion as in the Gibson we know today.

Luckily I wrote that down because on our sixth hour of drinking the details got fuzzy. I continued to stay and hang out with the crew until long after it was reasonable, then spent the next day reflecting quietly on the previous night's adventures.

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