Appetite: Highlights of SF Cocktail Week, part 1

The magical settings, moments and drinks were many in the 4th Annual SF Cocktail Week, which set the bar high for all future Cocktail Weeks… consider attending next year, as it’s far from being just for drink aficionados. It’s for those who love a memorable party done in true San Francisco style.

I have watched Cocktail Week grow from intimate nights out at bars in prior years to this year’s galas and ferry rides. Camaraderie was strong and I couldn’t help but think that though there were even grander galas at major cocktail weeks like Tales of the Cocktail or Manhattan Cocktail Classic, the quality of the settings and drinks I had every night at SF Cocktail Week were far superior to most everything I tasted at either of those two events. SF, once again, does drink proud. (Check out part 2 here.)

9/21 – Inauguration of Boothby Center

SF now has a cocktail center to call its own: the “Cocktail Bill” Boothby Center for the Beverage Arts, which debuted opening night of Cocktail Week, named after SF bartending legend Cocktail Bill Boothby. A multi-use space in the Mission, it will be community center, beverage lab, and event space, preserving the art and history of the cocktail. The Barbary Coast Conservancy of the American Cocktail(BCCAC), headed up by H. Joseph Ehrmann (Elixir), Jeff Hollinger (Comstock Saloon), Duggan McDonnell (Cantina), calls it home base. Opening night was a raucous toast to the still raw space with, what else? Classic cocktails, including the week’s official drink, a Papa Ghirardelli.

9/23 – Ragtag Rabble Gaming Soiree  

The back room of one of my favorite bars, Burritt Room, was transformed into a turn-of-the-century, Barbary Coast-era saloon/parlor with craps, blackjack, roulette and poker (sans real money), and a beautiful menu of classic cocktails prepared with skillful care, from The Last Word to a Boulevardier with scotch. A jazz quartet (with talented female vocalist) set the mood, transporting me to another time, as did the decked-out crowd who filled but did not overcrowd the room with bowler hats, suspenders, boas, saloon or retro attire. It was a swank affair that carried on late into the night with an after-party at Comstock Saloon.

9/25 – Cocktail Carnival Gala

The event of the week, Cocktail Carnival Gala in the stunning, historic Old Mint, was a brilliant night. I only wish even more people filled  (not overcrowded) the spacious mansion we were given free reign in. This was a one-of-a-kind night I’d plan towards next year. The Barbary Coast-Era carnival theme included roving minstrels, talented musicians, contortionists, man-on-stilts, jugglers and acrobats, roving among us through each high-ceilinged room as we sipped punches from antique punch bowls.

Leave it to Martin Cate from Smuggler’s Cove to wow us with a 40-gallon rum punch bowl with flaming volcano shooting out of a sea of spiced punch. Daniel Hyatt and the Alembic crew scooped some mighty tasty ‘swill’ out of a swampy bucket. One cachaca-based punch sported an ethereal liquid nitrogen top. Bartenders from Elixir, Cantina and 15 Romolo ensured there was not one bad drink in the house.

Chef Chris L’Hommedieu of Restaurant Michael Mina and William Werner of Tell Tale Preserve Co. sent out small but impeccable bites like lobster corn dogs, chips topped with caviar and creme fraiche, and lush dark chocolate caramel cake squares.

The courtyard of the Old Mint was a surreal setting transporting me directly to an ancient Spanish or Italian square. Chipped building facades contrasted against a deep, midnight blue sky. As minstrels serenaded us on this warm, sultry night while the full moon cast a glow over the courtyard, I felt alive with the night… one of those perfect moments that lives illuminated in memory.

The evening ended (at 2am) with a bang: Brass Mafia played and we began to dance. Circling in and among us, their blaring brass brought to life songs from musicians as random as Michael Jackson, Salt-n-Pepa, Men at Work, even Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It”, all in New Orleans’ brass band style (they threw in a few classic Nola Dixieland tunes, too). It was a joyous, raucous dance.

Thanks to the Bon Vivants for co-hosting a tremendous event none who attended will soon forget (which I hope you will all attend next year).