On Sunday evening, I swung by the DEVIL’S ACRE in North Beach for the first night of the bar’s (very quiet) soft opening—the official opening is Wednesday December 17th. “The Devil’s Acre” was a nickname a section of the neighborhood used to have (it wasn’t just known as the Barbary Coast). More fun trivia: did you know the word “hoodlum” originates from the area as well?
The spacious project is in the former Jazz at Pearl’s, a location that was vacant for some time, just next door to Tosca and Specs’. The Future Bars team (Bourbon & Branch, Tradition, The Wilson, Local Edition, Cask, and the upcoming Tupper & Reed in Berkeley) gutted the space and completely built it back out as a Barbary Coast bar—at one time it was a hotel and pharmacy, with a jewelry shop and Chinese-American cigar-rolling shop upstairs.
The vibe is very much a pharmacy-saloon-apothecary hybrid, with one wall lined with a collection of vintage pharmacy containers, and many little remedy bottles above the bar. The bartenders wear cowhide aprons that mimic old pharmacist aprons, which had to be sturdy enough to protect them from corrosive substances (fun fact: the aprons are the same cowhide as the padded rail along the bar). And about that amazing bar: it was originally from Pennsylvania, and then was shipped to someone in Hawaii, who never did anything with it, so now here it is in San Francisco. It’s a beaut.
The bar menu is a booklet designed like an almanac, and in between the cocktail sections (“Period Specific Classics” and “Barbary Coast Originals”) are ads for neighboring businesses, like Comstock Saloon, Tony Nik’s, and Naked Lunch. (Classy, that.)
The bar is a partial homage to Jerry Thomas’ How to Mix Drinks: A Bon Vivant’s Companion, the first cocktail book, which was printed in 1862. Partner Doug Dalton says the goal was to put a spin on some of the cocktails and make them more palatable, and also serve other drinks of that era. Bar leads Darren Crawford (who has lived in North Beach the past 10 years and has worked at Tony Nik’s) and Jay Pouliot (Tradition, Alchemist, Cotogna, Beretta) include a pisco punch, bourbon crusta, and sherry cobbler (Harry Johnson, 1888) on the menu.
I tried the Clover Leaf (inspired by Harry MacElhone and the old Waldorf Astoria, 1910), shaken with jonge genever, Carpano bianco, lemon, grenadine, egg white, and a mint leaf, an ideal cocktail to start the night with. The Golden Era features gin, applejack, dry vermouth, lemon, aromatic bitters, and an orchard syrup that was was potent with the flavor of apple and spice—it’s a bewitching, fragrant, balanced cocktail.
Further into the almanac is a soda fountain section, where you can enjoy that same orchard syrup in a soda, along with a root beer, a lemon-lime soda, ginger beer, and other bubbly drinks made with real syrups. Sodas were how pharmacists used to serve bitter medications, and I know exactly where I’m heading the next time I have a nasty hangover: I’ll try the ammonia Coke, which was once used as an antacid.
There is also a section of pharmacy remedies and elixirs: you can order an aromatic elixir or surfeit water (a cordial) with an immunity tonic, or maybe an energy boost is what you need? There’s even a love potion. (You can also add some of these remedies to your cocktails.) Isn’t this fun? And just wait until you see the vintage mechanized cocktail shakers on the bar.
There’s a lot of seating in the main room (perfect if you’re waiting for your table at Tosca), and the large windows that look out on Columbus keep it from feeling like a hidden speakeasy. There are so many quality details, from the beautiful wallpaper to the elaborate medallions on the ceiling, plus chairs with striped silk backrests, and inlaid in the wood floors are reproductions of pharmacist pill tiles (which they would use to prepare medications on).
Downstairs is the Remedie room, which will be open all the time (unless someone has a private buyout). It’s the perfect private party room, with its own bar, and vintage chairs and tables. Open Tue 5pm-2am, Wed-Sat 3pm-2am, Sun 3pm-12am, closed Mon. 256 Columbus Ave. at Broadway.