The Tarragon Collins and Mumbai Mule. All photos: © tablehopper.com.
Pimento cheese burger.
Mapo sloppy joes.
After living in the city for 20 years, you can bet I have done my fair share of drinking in my 20s and 30s along 16th Street (especially at Dalva—and now, in my 40s, I’m so happy to graduate to the Hideout). And eating: I remember when Tokyo Go Go was THE place to go with my friends for a fun night out, complete with tuna tartare in martini glasses. Oy.
So, now the Tokyo Go Go space was totally gutted and made into a bar with a late-night kitchen, ~ABV~, and it happily and totally fits into my current 16th Street playbook. ABV is a venture by Erik Reichborn-Kjennerud (who owns Dalva/Hideout), Ryan Fitzgerald (who worked at Beretta and as the brand ambassador for Del Maguey mezcal), and Todd Smith (a Bourbon & Branch alum who could also be found at Hideout). Yeah, they’re seasoned chaps.
Let’s return to the cocktail talk in a sec. First, I’d like to focus on the gratuitously good bar menu by Kevin Cimino (St. Vincent, Commonwealth, Bar Tartine). Like Trick Dog, this is a place that offers a notable drinking and bar dining situation, with a kitchen that’s open late (until 1am!). Cimino’s dishes are really inventive, with fun spins on international street food, Americana faves, and Cali seasonality—and everything is less than $10. You won’t have any utensils; it’s all finger food, served on small pizza pans.
One of the most creative executions is the falafel lamb dog ($8), a link-shaped merguez meatball that gets fried with a burnished falafel coating, and is served like a corn dog on a stick (with tzatziki sauce for dipping). The filling is juicy, the seasoning is lively enough to stand up to whatever cocktail you may be drinking, and you don’t even have to put your drink down to eat it. Success!
Cimino’s North Carolina upbringing shines through in his collard green dolmas ($7), the tender leaves encasing a filling of dirty rice, with Carolina Gold rice and chopped chicken liver and hearts. The flavor on these little bundles runs deep (they are braised in a rich chicken stock), and the ripple of black sesame tahini adds even more dimension. Yet another cross-cultural play is the chicken potpie empanadas ($8), the flaky half-moons encasing a warm and homey American favorite.
The dish I want to order each and every time is the kimchi fritter ($8), which Cimino said was inspired by a squash fritter he used to have at home as a kid, but the version here does a do-si-do with Korean kimchijeon and Japanese okonomiyaki. The pancake is made with kimchi and seasonal vegetables (right now it’s sweet potato and spaghetti squash, but in the summer it even had cherry tomatoes and charred scallion in it). The kitchen deep-fries it and cuts it into four, and serves it with katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes) on top. You’ll bite into a satisfying crisp exterior, containing the creamy and piping hot goodies inside.
Another tasty study in texture (and flava!) is the burger ($9), a compact quarter-pounder that is more tall than it is wide, tucked into a housemade and oh-so-lightly dulcet sweet potato bun, topped with such savory pimento cheese and pickle slices. This well-seared burger hits all the notes: I adore its juicy squishiness with the roll, it’s like when you have a burger that has been wrapped in paper for a few minutes and gets a good steam. Cimino cares about using quality beef (right now it’s Mindful Meats), and he also wants to overdeliver for the price (he does, in spades). I think it’s one of the best bar burgers in town. And if you want to split it (but WHY?!) the kitchen is happy to cut it for you.
Probably one of the cheffiest bites on the menu is the mapo sloppy joes ($7), two bao-esque buns stuffed with a reduced sloppy joe filling that took a trip to Chengdu (Cimino uses some cool techniques on this dish). The meaty combination of beef and pork (which can also include lamb, tripe, and more) gives a Szechuan tingle to your lips that will snap you out of your cocktail-induced haze. Chef Cimino and I shared our love of the spicy beef tendon at Spices! II, which is a partial inspiration for the dish (or at least the little pieces of tendon on top).
There are meat and cheese boards too (although I found the salumi to be cut too thick), and the pulled pork in corn tortillas ($8) won’t knock any of these previously mentioned dishes out of rotation for me. Vegetarians have plenty to choose from here, more than six vegetable dishes, like the griddled radicchio with chickpeas and pepper jam ($6).
The dimly lit space is pretty big (with room for 75 or so)—and that’s a fortunate thing because it’s damn popular. You’ll see some seats outside, and there’s a long bar inside with a parallel counter that runs along the wall. There are long communal tables in the back and upstairs on the mezzanine too. One pet peeve is the stools—the footrest on them isn’t at the right height (either your legs hang too low or get bent way too high), so you’re constantly shifting your position on them.
It’s swell to come by in the early evening (did you know the place opens at 2pm?), when the windows are open and the light is still coming in. The crowd skews all age brackets, from young ladies who can’t quite hold their booze yet to some more experienced barflies to the inevitable tech bros. Big points for the very efficient table service—the servers know the drinks inside and out and can make great recos. You can tell the place is run by some pros—it’s pretty smooth (read: your drinks will come out pretty quickly) considering how many people are piling in there.
The cocktail list is divided into different categories: whiskey, agave, gin/vodka, rum/brandy, 0% ABV, and beer and wine (Matthiasson on tap, score). A light start is the fragrant Tarragon Collins ($10, gin, lemon, tarragon, soda) or the vibrant Mumbai Mule ($11, saffron vodka, lemon, ginger, mint, soda), the kind of mule I can get behind (it’s spicy!).
As a sherry lover, the Casino Perfecto ($10, blanco tequila, cappelletti, amontillado) speaks to me, and fizz fans can go for Lefty’s Fizz ($13, mezcal, lime, grapefruit shrub, dry curacao, egg white), or then there’s the Jackal ($10, rye, lemon, pineapple gum, cardamom, egg white)—whiskey and pineapple can be a little tricky to pull off but it comes together, and the cardamom is a fun note.
I appreciate seeing well-made drinks for $10—with fresh juices and quality spirits, the whole shebang—thanks gang. But a couple of the more spirituous drinks taste a touch unbalanced to me and don’t disappear as quickly (I’m looking at you, Whisky in Church and Fogerty). The menu has some fun references and nods (the Land’s End was found in the original Trader Vic’s book, and lovers of the Lonsdale at Bourbon & Branch will dig the next iteration here, the Dartmoor). I’m curious to see the next release of the menu since some of us have already drunk our way through it. Hic.
This review was based on five visits.