Building the bomb

Pub date March 19, 2007

It seems to be a matter of when, not if, another terrorist bomb will go off in the United States. One day we’ll come across the headline and let out an anguished "Oh, fuck" — a little later we’ll watch a stately funeral in St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, DC. After such tragedy, will I ever be able to walk into a bar and order a nifty Irish Car Bomb again? What’s the buffer zone of alcoholic irony? With limited time before the next blast, I’d like to devote some space to bomb cocktails — in which a shot of something is dropped into a glass of something else — before it’s too late. Something about the plop of the shot and the glup of the drink always leaves a grin. And since I go drinking to get giddy, I’m all for drinks that make me giddy by their mere inception.

Because bombs fall below the purview of many published cocktail guides, there’s actually some debate about what to call them. Johnny Raglin, the bar manager at swanky Absinthe, insists they’re called boilermakers. But that seems to be too general a term: most mixologists say a boilermaker refers only to a shot with a beer. Many bombs don’t involve beer. Gary Regan, author of The Joy of Mixology, told me that he thought "depth charge" sounded good. But ordering a depth charge makes me feel like I’m at a WWII-era flea market. Mark Petrus of the Haight’s Gold Cane Cocktail Lounge may agree; he said he’d probably just call them bombs as well. Below are some of my local favorites — raise a glass and set it off.


(Mandarin vodka in Sparks)

The arrival of Red Bull led to a proliferation of bombs in America. It was long accepted that the receiving ingredient (what’s in the glass) ought to be carbonated. So before there was Red Bull, beer, champagne, soda, and sparkling water were the only available mediums, and the latter three were rarely used. When Red Bull blew up, it became the bomb tinkerer’s experimental plaything. The Tic-Tac (mandarin vodka dropped in Red Bull) is one of the better leftovers from this heyday of discovery. But now its 2007, and Sparks energy drink has proven its mettle by tasting better. Commendations, then, to the Knockout for upgrading the Tic-Tac to this new formula.

Knockout, 3223 Mission, SF. (415) 550-6994,


(Baileys and mandarin vodka in Red Bull)

Like the Broseph, the Orange-cicle is just one permutation away from the Tic-Tac. Yet the two couldn’t taste further apart. When tossed back with the proper intensity, the Orange-cicle is creamy and full-bodied and definitely deserving of its name. Aub Zam Zam is also one of those perfect bars for enjoying bombs. With simple decor and a convex bar taking up much of the front room, the cocktail lounge makes it easy to remain focused on drinking.

Persian Aub Zam Zam, 1633 Haight, SF. (415) 861-2545


(Amaretto and Kahlua, with a flaming floater of 151 rum dropped in cerveza)

The Flaming Dr. Pepper (amaretto and rum dropped in beer and set on fire) is one of the oldest bombs outside a shot of whiskey dropped into some cheap beer. It is also the most notorious: numerous novice drinkers (most of them rowdy teens) have found themselves in the emergency room with second-degree burns after gulping down too many rounds of FDPs. It seems best to avoid the drink, out of fear not for one’s delicate lips but for one’s reputation — who wants to look like an amateur? Fortunately, La Cucaracha at Bahia, which just adds a little Kahlua to the mix, is even better than the original. First of all, it disposes of the pretension that the drink tastes like Dr. Pepper. More important, though, the Kahlua gives it added bite — round after round, this bomb never fizzles out.

Bahia Restaurant, 3239 22nd St., SF. (415) 642-7224,


(Amaretto dropped into Pabst with a splash of orange juice)

I slowed down halfway through gulping back the Wisconsin Lunchbox at Mauna Loa Club because it tasted so good. The nutty tones of amaretto mix great with the citrus kick of the OJ, but the tastes blend even better with the sweet starchiness of Pabst. Two sips later, though, and I knew my lax pacing was a mistake. When the cocktail’s drunk slowly, all the flavors that once sailed off hand in hand became boorish. It tasted like a way-too-fruity beer. Throw this one down quickly.

Mauna Loa Club, 3009 Fillmore, SF. (415) 563-5137


(Soju in champagne)

In Korea business deals are consummated over a drink called Poktanju ("alcohol bomb," or "bomb shot"), which is whiskey or the less expensive Soju dropped into beer. Seeing as we don’t have the same thirst for beer as Koreans, I wouldn’t feel comfortable completely copying them. It’s better we go our own way with this sprightly and slightly tangy bomb. Hitherto, I’ve only been able to chug champagne in those moments when I recognize how boring my friends are and start daring myself to see how many gulps of bubbly I can take in a row. On this occasion, at Bar 821, after the clank of the shot glass and the fizz of the drink, I just got caught up in the bliss of it.

Bar 821, 821 Divisadero, SF.


(Red Bull in Jägermeister)

What tonnage! The Suicide Bomb will definitely lead you into some mischief. Pops Bar doesn’t regularly serve this cocktail — I found it while screwing around on Wikipedia, and Pops was willing to serve it to me at a reasonable price. You could probably ask for a shot of Red Bull to drop into a half glass of Jäger almost anywhere. Just as a grain of vermouth does wonders to bury the edges of gin in a martini, the Red Bull brings precisely enough luster to this drink. That’s not to say it tastes good. But with a little Red Bull, you at least have something else to focus on while you pour flat, heavy, extremely alcoholic goop down the hatch.

Pops Bar, 2800 24th St., SF. (415) 401-7677