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Dec 18, 2012 3 min read

Getting Into Holiday Spirits

Getting Into Holiday Spirits
A few of the 1,400 Santas at Marlena’s. Photo: ©
Table of Contents

San Francisco really does the holidays up well—especially many of our bars around town, offering all kinds of hot, spiked, minty, spicy, egg noggy drinks to get you feeling warm and festive. Last Wednesday night, I decided to take my dear friend Michele Mandell out for a tablehopping night around town, the first (and totally unofficial) tablehopper holiday spirits tour, hitting up some local spots to get us in the holiday mood. Let me tell you, if you feel like duplicating even part of this tour, it’ll have you feeling elf-like in no time. The rules: one drink per place, and plenty of food in between stops. Oh, and I completely failed in taking pictures of the drinks. I just drank them. It happens. (But I do have a few more pics of our night out over on the tablehopper Facebook page.)

We started our tour at MARLENA’S in Hayes Valley, famous for its annual display of more than 1,400 Santas that take a week to set up (here’s a good backgrounder on the bar’s 22-year-old tradition). It’s pretty staggering. This bar also has such a welcoming vibe. Within 30 seconds of walking in, we were already making friends and getting recommendations on how to order our hot toddy. Bonus: doggy tricks by Max, whose owner let us feed him treats so he’d show us his “handsome” trick (he’d get on his back legs and wave his paws in the air). Too. Much.

Next, we hit up ELIXIR in the Mission, on a mission for one of their Tom and Jerrys. Alas, they were fresh out, but we did get to try their Kentucky Pilgrim, which was not a bad substitution. At all. Think Wild Turkey 101 infused with cardamom, cranberries, and cinnamon, mixed with hot water, lemon juice, Luxardo maraschino, and demerara syrup to make one hell of a toddy. Perfect if you have a cold.

Next, a quick pit stop at ARINELL for a slice of pizza.

Since we were less then a block away, an impromptu visit was paid to the HIDEOUT in the back of Dalva—one of my favorite bars in the city—where barman David Curiel totally rocked one of the best holiday cocktails I’ve had: the Egg Noggy Nog. This creamy combo of bourbon, Campari, maple, egg, allspice, cream, and coffee bitters is a can’t-miss for the holidays. Seriously, whoa. It was hard to just have one.

It was time for a visit to the famous Tom and Jerry 65-foot Christmas tree on 21st Street (off of Church). It’s an annual tradition for me to come by and check out the tree every holiday—usually more than once—to get in touch with my inner kid. Santa is usually out front in the evenings handing out candy canes—and trust, the adults have as much fun as the tykes. It’s one of the most generous displays of holiday spirit, each and every year. Thank you Tom and Jerry!

The ladies caught a chill and were still a little peckish, so we headed back to Hayes Valley for a late-night bite of French onion soup at ~ABSINTHE~. Yeah, it totally hit the spot. Cocktail options here are numerous, but this was more of a food stop.

All aboard for the final destination: the BALBOA CAFE. I haven’t been there in years, so it was a treat to see the place all outfitted by designer Ken Fulk to resemble Martini’s Bar from It’s a Wonderful Life, with plaid walls and snowy windows. We finished with a Peppermint Patty, a total boozy and sweet and chocolaty dessert in a glass (yeah, with Rumpleminze in it). After that, it was time to bid all a good night!

Have fun out there, and remember, there are more than ever-elusive taxis to get around safely at night, from Uber to Lyft to Sidecar to Homobiles!

A ceiling o’ Santas at Marlena’s. Photo: ©
Tom and Jerry’s 65-foot tree on 21st Street. Photo: ©
The two of us are most likely on Santa’s naughty list. Photo: ©
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