The Spirited Traveller: Crafty sipping in San Francisco

Fri Mar 11, 2011 10:57am EST

RN74, a bar/restaurant in the South of Market (SoMa) District of San Francisco, is pictured in this undated photograph. REUTERS/HANDOUT

RN74, a bar/restaurant in the South of Market (SoMa) District of San Francisco, is pictured in this undated photograph.

Credit: Reuters/HANDOUT

(Reuters.com) - If you're in San Francisco on business, consider yourself lucky: in addition to some of the finest wine bars in the country, the Bay area boasts one of the most lively and influential cocktail cultures around.

The key phrase in San Francisco is "craft cocktails". And the city's bartenders take their craft very seriously. Just as Bay-area chefs seek out the freshest seasonal ingredients, so do the local mixologists, who use fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs to brew up syrups, tinctures and infused liquors, all destined for your glass.

For business drinks, where to go may depend on the type of business. In the South of Market (SoMa) District, look for dot-com millionaires and media types. Here, RN74 (<www.michaelmina.net/rn74>) is better known for its American/French regional cuisine and award-winning wine list, but the bar also has a "let's do business" aesthetic, serving up cool, reinterpreted classic cocktails.

Meanwhile, in the Financial District, where trading ends at 1pm Pacific time, happy hour begins at 1:01 at expense-account classic Michael Mina (<bit.ly/gD3jCK>). Like its sister restaurant above, Michael Mina is better known for its wine and food (Japanese-inflected French), but look for cutting-edge cocktails with a knowing wink toward the classics, such as the "Lawrenceburg 75" (Bourbon, Meyer lemon, sparkling wine), a riff on the French 75.

Since they don't call it "the City by the Bay" for nothing, it's also worth seeking out drinks with a waterside view, such as The Slanted Door, (<slanteddoor.com>) in the Embarcadero area, with a creative menu inspired by Vietnamese street food and cocktails featuring spirits from smaller, artisanal producers.

After hours, the city's diverse array of cocktail havens beckon.

Absinthe (<www.absinthe.com>), a brasserie in the chic Hayes Valley area and The Alembic (<www.alembicbar.com>), on Haight Street near Golden Gate Park, both cater to the classic-cocktail crowd, offering carefully studied drinks like the Pisco Sour and the Sazerac.

At Heaven's Dog (<www.heavensdog.com>) in SoMa, drinks run to exotic Colonial stylings and hand-cut ice. A testament to the attention to detail, one of the bartenders even has her own line of cocktail syrups, Small Hand Foods. And it would be a shame to skip the bar that's been lauded as one of the best tiki nouveau haunts in the country, Smuggler's Cove (<smugglerscovesf.com>), featuring more than 70 exotic rum-soaked libations in a festive nautical-themed setting.

RECIPE: Pisco Sour

San Francisco has a centuries-long history with the Peruvian grape brandy known as pisco. It began when California-bound explorers and gold miners travelled around the tip of South America, stopping in Peru to replenish supplies and pick up some pisco while they were there.

The recipe below showcases Encanto Pisco, which has a special connection to SF, as it is co-owned by Bay-area bar owner Duggan McDonnell and sommelier Walter Moore.

3 oz. Campo de Encanto Pisco (or other pisco of choice)

1 oz. Fresh-squeezed key lime juice

1 oz. Gomme Arabic Simple Syrup

1 egg white Dash of Angostura bitters, for garnish.

Combine all ingredients except bitters in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake vigorously, then strain into a chilled coupe glass, and garnish with a dash of bitters.

(Kara Newman is the author of "Spice & Ice: 60 tongue-tingling cocktails", available <here>. The opinions expressed are her own.)

(Editing by Peter Myers)

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