The Lush

Bar News & Reviews (put it on my tab)
May 15, 2018
danielhyatt.jpg

Daniel Hyatt at The Alembic; photo via Facebook by Claypool Cellars.

z-daniels-hands.jpeg

You never know when you may be having your last drink with someone. Damn. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

Two weeks ago, San Francisco sufferered the loss of one of its finest bartenders and beloved characters, Daniel Hyatt. His death by misadventure was entirely unexpected, utterly tragic, and has left so many of us reeling. It’s a terrible, heart-wrenching loss. He was one of the city’s cocktail OGs, an incredible innovator and mad genius who was so generous with his knowledge and ideas and skills and neverending talent. So many bartenders came up through working for him at The Alembic, and if you weren’t working there, you were drinking there. I miss my time on those barstools, and hanging out with the fantastic people who worked with him—he had a knack for people.

And it wasn’t just about his cocktails—which were in a class of their own, from their sophisticated construction to their clever names—he was truly the consummate barman. He always made you feel so welcome, that he was happy to see you. He had his special kind of hospitality, one that extended beyond knowing what you like to drink. He was a terrific wit, lord, the zingers and one-liners. Mic drops all night. His intelligence, his knowledge about so many subjects. And his kindness. He was a sensitive soul. Salty, but a sweetheart. And just the coolest of the cool. Exhaustingly cool, on so many levels. He struck that perfect balance of not giving a fuck (so punk rock), and totally giving a fuck (he cared about so many things, so many people).

I attended a memorial gathering for him two weekends ago, and wrote these words about him in case people were going to speak about our friend—because if I was going to attend the memorial of my friend and favorite bartender, the one who really turned me on to the magic that a brilliant cocktail could contain, I better come correct. While we didn’t end up sharing formal remarks, we all shared many memories and hugs and tears and stories. And rye.

So, I want to share what I wrote. It’s a bit personal, and profane. Many of us are mourning right now, so I want to pour one out for this beloved human. He touched so many people. My deepest condolences to all his dear friends and family. Daniel is in a very special place in our hearts forever.

Oh, Daniel.

I remember sitting at the bar at Winterland for the first time in, I don’t know, late 2004? Or early 2005? I was looking at the cocktail menu, which was a rare thing to have in a restaurant back then. I was reading it over, and saw the funniest name for a drink I’d ever seen, and is still my favorite to this day: I Lost My Necktie.

I snorted and asked the intruiging-looking man with glasses across the bar from me, “Excuse me, who wrote this menu?” Mr. Blue Eyes looks over his glasses sliding down his nose and replies, “I did.” I said, “Well, that is the funniest fucking name for a drink I have ever seen and I love it. I’ll have one please, thank you.” And that’s where my eternal crush on Daniel Hyatt began. I think we can all say we had quite a crush on this rare and utterly charming and kind and witty man. What a character.

That’s also where I really fell in love with cocktails: at the bar at Winterland. I’d never had anything like the concoctions Mr. Hyatt was dreaming up. I would just go in there and sit at the bar and order as many cocktails as I could handle, which, back then, was quite a lot. I’d never had anything like them—so fresh, and bright, and nuanced, with exotic flavors from deep within a globetrotter’s pantry. A food lover’s cocktails. And all so brilliantly named. Each one had a story to tell, or would invite you to make one up.

The dishes from the wildly talented chef Vernon Morales were so cutting edge and unique, giving us bacon ice cream before anyone else; the desserts from Boris Portnoy, from the famous caramelized brioche French toast to what was one of the most beautiful cheese plates I’ve ever seen, with carrot marmalade, nougat, and hazelnuts. Those three were powerhouses of flavor creativity, and were so damn ahead of their time, that stupid San Francisco didn’t understand the pure level of deliciousness happening there, and Winterland tragically closed in 2006.

I wanted to confirm the date Winterland closed, and found this post from the one and only Mr. Hyatt, on Yelp, dated July 14th, 2006, in response to a typically frustrated Yelper—Frisco J.—trying to order some drinks at a busy birthday party, but what he “really wanted to do was to slap [the bartender] around and piledrive his ass to the ground.”

Here was Daniel’s retort: “Alright, in all fairness, I work for this place. In fact, I manage it. For the most part, I like these postings but take them with a grain of salt. Everyone is allowed their own opinion, it helps all of us in the industry evaluate what is working and what is not, and do our job better. The reason I even bother to post this is that I find the last few posts to be petty, and really just kicking some very accommodating people around.

“As everyone probably knows by now, we are closing at the end of the week due to lack of business in our location.

“Maybe nobody knows, or cares, what is involved with closing a restaurant, and perhaps it doesn’t matter to you. One thing that happens at slow, and closing restaurants, is that you find yourself short staffed. Especially when the volume of business is four times that of a normal Tuesday or whatever.

“Second, if you find yourself standing in a party of 50, waiting for a drink. Hello, you’re in a bar at a birthday party. You are not the only one waiting and nobody is standing around ignoring you.

“Cheap shots may make you feel a little vindicated about the wait for your second round of drinks, but think about the people who walked around the room with your macaroni and cheese, searching for you, as you bounced from seat to seat in that crowd.

“The people that work here care about this place more than any staff I have worked with in years. They have stood through many slow nights, and put in the extra when we needed it. You could find no more knowledgeable or dedicated restaurant staff anywhere, period.

“So do us all a favor and save the complaints for someone that may benefit from them.

“If you want to ‘piledrive someones ass to the ground’… give me a call.”

Boom. Classic Daniel delivery. So much heart, and kindness, and trying to get someone to understand a situation and have some empathy. But also, fuck you and seriously, don’t even fuck with me.

Frisco J, don’t call him.

I found this other gem, from another Yelper:

“The floater (as I thought of him throughout the evening since I couldn’t really tell what his job was) asked us how we were. We replied, Great. We reciprocated, and he said in a very monotone and possibly heroine induced tone, Well. You can’t believe how well I am. We had to stifle our laughter until we were seated. So far, weird.”

Motherfucker! God, he was so droll. It almost wasn’t fair for him to be so funny, like, he took the lion’s share of funny in this world, and now he took it away with him. Snappiest repartee. Comebacks and twists and turns of phrase that would have pleased Henry Miller, with some Bukowski-esque misanthropic observations thrown in, but really, he loved people so hard. I know many of us have been looking back on our texts (comedy gold, I swear), cheeky emails from him, and if anyone has a drawling voicemail from him, I’d really love to hear it.

I’m going to miss his greeting of “Hey mama” or my very favorite, “Hey, lil’ mama” in that trademark lazy twang of his.

He had one of the kindest hearts, a champion of women and his fellow bartenders and misfits and just humanity in general. He knew how to take such good care of people, and connect. It made his already-brilliant cocktails taste even better.

I’m going to miss his smoky-spicy hugs, that hangdog face of his, those electric and piercing blue eyes he’d try to hide under his smudgy glasses and arched brows and mop of greasy hair, those eyes that were all-seeing and didn’t miss a move or a beat. They would sear into you, especially if he looked at you from over them, as he’d tilt his head down. And those eyes were also capable of transmitting the biggest, warmest, toe-tingling smile. If you could make Daniel’s eyes crackle, you’d have quite possibly made a funny joke. Maybe. Perhaps he was just humoring you, because really, he would have said it in a funnier way. But even so, you’d feel love and warmth and connection pour out of them when they’d lock on you. He’d see you. And in those moments of a shared eye lock, I felt like I could see him too.

Our Johnny Cash of cocktails liked to keep his cards close to his chest, the master deflector, but he’d occasionally show you his hand, maybe on a late-night call or at the end of the night at the bar. But really, while at the bar, it was always better to just keep up with the banter, because by the end of a night at The Alembic, you’d have learned about five whiskies, a rare French liqueur, an obscure cocktail book, an unknown blues singer, the origin of some random herb he’d sourced or grown in the back, what goes into his ras el hanout, a great place for dim sum, and then he’d whip up some custom shot just for you before sending you out the door. (In my case, it was The Bone, a spicy whiskey concoction that was always the kick in the ass I needed.)

I loved ordering mint juleps, just to fuck with him. He’d pretend-scowl at me as he’d beat the bag of ice. But it was his fault for making them taste so damn good. Bartender, another faceful of mint, please!

I am so damn fortunate I got to enjoy perching at his bar for so many years. And enjoying some evenings on the same side of the bar too. He was a wicked talent, an inspiration to so many, but also so insouciant, casually downplaying the brilliance of his combinations and inventions and techniques and flavors. Like a jazz musician who made it look easy, although he’d been up chasing a melody for nights. Like a humble rock star…truly a rare breed.

His menus were always my favorite to read, and I’ll be going through my stacks of old menus to find and admire them. Cheeky bastard. He was a bartender’s bartender, a writer’s bartender, a chef’s bartender, and most definitely a drinker’s bartender.

Back in 2013, when Daniel was leaving The Alembic, I wrote: “While many will miss Hyatt’s bluesy cool, quick wit, and wicked dranks, we’ll just need to see what’s next for the man—you can’t keep that kind of creativity hidden away for long.”

And we shouldn’t. Keep making his cocktails, make sure everyone in your life has tasted his Southern Exposure, a proper Vieux Carré. Remember how to treat people, be kind. Take time to talk with them. Check in. Daniel leaves an indelible legacy, one that was uniquely his that was rooted in brilliance and kindness, and it’s up to us to keep it polished and shining bright.

Rest in Peace, friend.

May 1, 2018
25lusk-rooftop.jpg

Rooftop 25 at Twenty Five Lusk. Photo: Anne-Claire Thieulon.

beehive-IpanemaCocktail.jpg

The Ipanema Gold at The Beehive. Photo: Andrew Calisterio.

schoolnight-thepearl.jpg

School Night at The Pearl. Photo via The Pearl’s website.

There are three new bar openings to assist with you getting your springtime swerve on, starting with ~ROOFTOP 25~, the new rooftop bar (and you thought I was going to say basement bar!) at ~TWENTY FIVE LUSK~ in SoMa. It has its own upstairs bar, room for 100 guests, and a chic look by Cass Calder Smith/CCS Architecture + Design, complete with mahogany wood and olive trees. Grab a table with your date or snag a spot at the communal tables, and your next birthday posse can hit up the cabana lounge that seats up to 14. It is SF, so there are heaters, a windscreen, retractable canopy, and blankets (because Karl).

Executive chef Matthew Dolan’s menu includes albacore ceviche, Dungeness crab roll sliders, wood-fired pizzas, and a skillet burger on a pizza dough bun with shishito aioli, mushrooms, and Valley Ford’s Highway 1 cheese. Cocktails include a spicy blended passion fruit margarita, bottled cocktails, adult Otter Pops (caipirinha, watermelon sangria, or key lime pie), or keep things truly adult with a Spanish-style G&T with London dry gin, Fever Tree tonic, fruit, and herbs. Conveniently open Sun-Wed 11:30am-8pm and Thu-Sat 11:30am-10pm.

Over in the Mission, I had fun checking out the new ~THE BEEHIVE~ in the former Range on Valencia. Check out more about the retro 1960s-inspired décor, cocktails by lead bartender Emilio Salehi, midcentury party food, and swanky back room in my Table Talk column on Bay Area Bites. Open Mon-Wed 5pm-12am, Thu 5pm-2am, Fri-Sat 3pm-2am, and Sun 2pm-10pm. 842 Valencia St. at 19th St.

I mentioned a few weeks ago that Traci Des Jardins was opening a semipermanent bar in The Pearl in Dogpatch called ~SCHOOL NIGHT~, and it’s now open Sunday through Wednesday nights. You’ll find affordable and beautifully made cocktails from Arguello’s fantastico bar director Enrique Sanchez, from agave to pisco (Enrique is Peruvian, so duh) to whiskey. Scroll down a little more for the food menu highlighting dishes from the wood-burning oven, like queso fundido, albondigas made with Impossible non-meat, and tacos al pastor, plus a Tijuana Caesar. Open Sun-Wed 5pm-12am. 601 19th St. at 3rd St.

April 17, 2018
1-500club.jpg

The fantastic 500 Club sign. Long may it bubble. Yelp photo by Nick S.

Last year, dive bar lovers across the city were worried over the news that the ~500 CLUB~ was up for sale, and now a friend in the Mission let me know that it has been sold (and heard it could possibly be the whole building and business).

I reached out to the bar but haven’t heard back, so this is an unconfirmed rumor for now. But my source was pretty solid, so we’ll have to see who’s taking it over, and what their plans are before getting worried or too upset. (Fingers crossed for old school SF owners who “get it,” plllllease.) Let’s just hope the process of bringing it up to code (which will have to happen with a new owner) won’t completely thrash the patina of that special bar. Will keep you posted if I hear anything about the new owner. Hit me up if you do! 500 Guerrero St. at 17th St.

~NICKIES~ bar has been holding it down in the Lower Haight for a loooong time (since 1948, as Nickies Barbecue, and then as a reggae spot, dancehall, dive bar, and Irish sports bar for the past 10 years—and has always had the name Nickies), but according to an ABC license transfer and Facebook post, they are closing and new owners are taking over. (I reached out to the bar to find out any closing date info.) And the Nickies name legacy also seems to be ending since the transfer says Haight and Fillmore Trading Company, and it looks like the owner of Kezar Pub is taking it over, so at least a beloved local sports bar is moving in. 466 Haight St. at Webster, 415-255-0300.

CUESA_Cocktails_Shakers_Amanda_Lynn_Photography.jpg

Shake it, don’t break it at Women Movers & Shakers: Spring Cocktails of the Farmers Market. Photo: Amanda Lynn Photography.

Kabuki-bar.jpg

The new Hotel Kabuki bar. Photo: Aubrie Pick.

After getting your swerve on this Wednesday April 18th at Women Movers & Shakers: Spring Cocktails of the Farmers Market to the Ferry Building (click to my original post for a discount code!), you can follow up with a party with Hangar One in Alameda on Thursday April 19th to celebrate their newest addition to their vodka family: Fog Point. You’ll get to taste this special vodka made from fog catching (it’s true!) and even watch a fog-catching demo (by Chris Fogliatti, no less—maybe he’s Karl the Fog?), plus there will be some Fog-centric cocktails by Runway Spirits, and bites by Blue Heron Catering to keep you from getting too foggy. Your ticket also includes a bottle of this unique vodka! Tickets are $152.98 per person, with additional guest tickets available at only $15 a person (Fog Point bottle not included). Tickets and more here. 5:30pm-7:30pm. 2505 Monarch St., Alameda.

And then on Friday April 20th, if you’re not busy smoking out in the park, you can celebrate the arrival of spring and cherry blossoms with global whiskies in Japantown’s newly remodeled ~HOTEL KABUKI~. This spring whiskey tasting with Reza Esmaili includes these global whiskies from Japan (Fukano, Kurayoshi, Ohishi, Nikka); Taiwan (Kavalan); India (Amrut, Rampur); and Seattle (Westland). There will also be Harajuku Girl Japanese-style rice lager from SF’s HolyCraft Brewery Co. There will be llve art by Helice Wen and beats provided by DJ Billy Vidal. Tickets: $29.95-$49.95. 5:30pm-8pm. Sakura Ballroom. Hotel Kabuki, 1625 Post St. at Laguna.

April 10, 2018
thepearl.jpg

Get ready to enjoy School Night at The Pearl. Photo via The Pearl’s Facebook page.

Some new bars are coming soon, starting with a new pop-up project from Traci Des Jardins, who will be hosting a semipermanent bar in ~THE PEARL~ in Dogpatch, Sunday through Wednesday nights. It’s going to be called School Night, and Eater writes that it will open at the end of April. There will be cocktails from Arguello’s fantastico bar director Enrique Sanchez, who will assuredly be featuring agave spirits—and some whiskeys too. Mexican snacks, check. Stand by for more deets in the coming days. 601 19th St. at 3rd St.

Over in Cow Hollow, there’s a pisco- and Japanese whisky-focused bar in the works, highlighting Nikkei cuisine (the Japanese-influenced food and drink you find in Peru—and on the menu at La Mar locally). This new project is from John Park, a partner in Whitechapel and Novela, and it will be opening in the former Ottimista Restaurant and Bar on Union. Eater found a classified ad mentioning it will be open nightly and will offer weekend brunch. Stand by for updates. 1838 Union St. at Laguna.

Mezcal lovers: do not miss this event from the Mezcalistas, Mezcal Cocktail Mission on Sunday April 15th. It’s a mezcal cocktail competition at ~TRES~ (3pm-6pm), with some amazing contestants from up and down the West Coast and amazing judges as well. The goal: to create the seminal mezcal cocktail, like the way a margarita screams tequila, or a Mahattan screams rye whiskey. Next up will be the East Coast heat on April 23rd, and then the six finalists will be flown to Mexico City for the grand finale on May 14th. Tickets: $15 pre-sale, $20 day of event. 130 Townsend St. at 2nd St.