Crystal Sykes



COCKTAIL HOUR Yes, the rest of the country is sipping piña coladas and pink lemonade margaritas, while we shiver and pour whiskey into our hot tea. No problem: this is a primo time to ditch the sickly sweet and explore some solid bellywarmers in the cocktail category.



Let’s start with this classic — Buena Vista claims that it was invented here, why not, and the Fisherman’s Wharf-adjacent cafe’s gotten a rep for being a tourist magnet. Don’t let that detour you, it’s all super-charming. Served piping hot with coffee, whiskey and topped with whipped cream, the Buena’s Irish Coffee ($8) is pretty perfect for sipping as you imagine knitting little sweaters for the seagulls darting over the frigid bay.

2765 Hyde, SF.



Coffee not your thing? Pop over to Tradition in the Tenderloin and see if you can handle its version of Mexican Hot Chocolate ($10). Rich in vitamin agave (this drink contains both mezcal and tequila), a few sips of this will thaw you out in no time. It’s usually on radition’s winter menu, but asking for it at the bar is well worth a try: even if they can’t whip one up, the bartenders will steer you in a warm direction.

441 Jones, SF.



The easy-to-make hot toddy cocktail is a staple during cold weather. But the lovely Brasserie S&P in the Mandarin Oriental kicks it up a notch on the serenity scale by replacing the traditional bourbon with gin — and adding a pour of chamomile tea ($12). All that’s missing is the purr of a cat and a good hardcover book.

222 Sansome, SF.



There’s nothing like a milkshake on a warm day, but yeah, about that…. This thick, rich Manhattan Shake ($10) is a nice compromise with SF weather. A cold concoction with the kick of a well-made Manhattan, the Corner Store’s treat will booze you up to the point that you’ll forget you’re drinking it in the fog.

5 masonic, SF.



When the clouds part and we are blessed with hot day, Elixir has the perfect summer, fruit-filled cocktail menu. I originally visited in search of another warm drink for this list, but was instantly swayed by the bartender’s suggestion: a Whatamelon ($11). A tequila drink with watermelon juice, elderflower liqueur, agave nectar, and mint, it was light, tasty, and refreshing. Perfect for summer, even if just the summer in your mind.

3200 16th St., SF.


Phone home


COCKTAIL HOUR I’m not sure whether it was completely unintended, but after my night at new SoMa gastropub the Willows, one thing was clear: I need to call my mother.

A sister bar to the Mission’s Sycamore, the Willows opened a few weeks ago on the corner of Folsom and 12th, in one of those cursed spots that’s seen a lot of turnover ever since Hamburger Mary’s decamped a decade ago. (Here’s hoping the Willows breaks the curse and settles in.) It’s walking distance from my job, and at 6pm I had a serious case of the Mondays and was ready to drink.

The place is divided into two parts: a main bar room and a smaller, cozier room dedicated to serving craft beers. The main room is huge with large windows letting in lots of natural light. There were couples sitting at tables doing whatever couples do, people playing pool near the door, and arcade games in the back of the bar. Just a nice open space.

As befits the Willows’ arboreal name, the craft beer room has wooden walls and a few wooden tables out in the open, with a couple of intimate booths as well. Relieved by the emptiness, I took a seat in the smaller room and ordered a malt beer. I chatted with the bartender — a friendly young man who looked like a lost member of Vampire Weekend — and waited for my friends to arrive.

When they showed up, we all dove into the menu. This is when you get a bit of nostalgia for home. The food menu takes you right back to your childhood: burgers, roast beef, sloppy Joes (“Just like Mom’s” was the caption on the menu), and the aptly titled “Mom’s Meatloaf.” Just reading it makes you feel like a kid waiting anxiously at the dinner table. Unfortunately, we weren’t too hungry at the time. But we decided to order the pork-belly donuts anyway. I mean, how could you not?

They were delicious. And then came the drinks. Most of the cocktail menu consists of traditional classics with a tiny twist — but I think what we enjoyed most was the menu itself. Filled with fun names (Oh, Trisha!, Mom’s Mai Tai, Donkey Show) and captions (“A distinctive drink for a discerning drinker” for the 007 Perfect Martini), we had a blast reading it. There was even had a drink called Fuck You, Grandpa!, which is something my mom would totally say.

My buds and I all ordered a couple each. They were pretty good for the most part, but the hands-down winner was the Willows’ version of a sidecar. At $12, it was the most expensive drink on the menu and worth every penny — and having ordered about four, there were a lot of pennies. When ordering the last of these, the bartender told me rather candidly that she hadn’t memorized the bar’s recipe yet.

“This is just how my mom likes it,” she shrugged. I should have asked if her mom was a bartender.

So, to recap: The Willows may not be the place to take your mom — but if you want to feel right at home, here you go.

THE WILLOWS 1582 Folsom, SF. (415) 529-2039,


‘A’ for effort?


COCKTAILS Novela, the new literary-themed lounge in SoMa, is undoubtedly beautiful: plenty of window light pours in during the evening, highlighting tall black shelves packed full of color-coordinated books. The space, a collaboration between acclaimed bar stars Alex Smith and Kate Bolton, is littered with huge, cozy reading chairs as well as low comfy couches.

But my friend and I just somehow felt out of place.

Perhaps this was a case of misplaced expectations: this wasn’t the bar atmosphere I envisioned at all. With dance music (“Is this MGMT?” my friend asked as we sat down) blaring at around 7pm on a Tuesday, and an all-female service staff dressed in tight black clothing with gold jewelry accents and very high heels, it’s fair to say this place lacked the unshowy intimacy I associate with reading.

Despite our unease in the party environment, we decided to stay and give the libations a try. Novela has several “Cocktails with Character” on its menu, named for famous literary figures (duh). But it prides itself in its punches — six on tap, all made with fresh seasonal ingredients. Since the cognac punch was unavailable, I settled for a glass of the “Tequilla” (as spelled on the menu) punch while my friend, Michelle, tasted the gin one. Both weren’t anything to write home about. Tequilla was just not my cup of tea — the tequila, mezcal, hibiscus, grapefruit, and lime failed to gel — while I don’t remember much about the gin punch. Maybe it had too much rhubarb. Michelle and I pondered the thought of a book-themed bar having a typo on the menu, however deliberate, and realized that it perfectly encapsulated our thoughts of the place so far.

Once the after-work crowd poured out, we settled into some reading chairs near the back of the bar and ordered more drinks. This is when we found ourselves in the middle of a light show — the lights behind the book-filled walls started flashing, as did those along glass and metal liquor shelves. Disco time!

And with that, I suddenly felt like Novela was the one out of place. I can appreciate wanting to expand the notion of the “library bar,” of which our city has many examples, from the library at Bourbon and Branch to Two Sisters in Hayes Valley. But with Novela, I just plain could not see the purpose. San Francisco is a city rich with culture and character, and none of that is reflected here. It felt artificial: all flash and no substance, right down to the cocktail menu (every high school sophomore knows a drink named after Jay Gatsby should be based on gin, not bourbon) and the forced sorority-esque look of the staff.

Back to the drinks: Michelle ordered the Atticus Finch with bourbon, earl grey honey, and bitters — she originally ordered the pisco-based Sherlock Holmes but the birch beer was too overwhelming — while I ordered that Jay Gatsby, with bourbon, scotch, amaretto, calisaya, and nocino. They were both nice but, again, didn’t quite make the grade. In the end, Michelle and I walked out into the night with more questions than answers — a mark of great literature, perhaps, but not of great bars.

NOVELA 662 Mission, SF. (415) 896-6500,


Foggy holiday


COCKTAILS Having worked in retail for the past five years, I’ve had Memorial Day off precisely zero times in the past half-decade. That means never enjoying the pleasure of spending the unofficial start of Summer barbecuing in the park, leisurely sipping ice cold beers with friends as the sun gets higher and the shorts get shorter. So when I got the email from the CEO of my new gig telling us all to go out and enjoy the holiday, I was delighted. That is until, in pure San Francisco fashion, the fog rolled in and all my visions of patios, grills, and parks misted over. What to do? My friend. Danielle and I didn’t take too long to figure it out: um, bar crawl.

We started at the Blarney Stone (5625 Geary, SF. (415) 386-9914) in the Outer Richmond. Along with some guys aching to watch a baseball game, I found myself waiting promptly at 2pm for the doors to open. Yes, that’s dedication. After taking my seat, Nathan behind the bar mixed me me a Paloma with freshly squeezed grapefruit juice, and I pulled out my book, waiting for my habitually late partner to arrive.

I’m a Blarney regular (I live a couple blocks away) and over the past four years of frequent Stoning, I’ve gotten to know the bartenders, who have gladly introduced me to some new spirits. And friendly fellow patrons have creatively helped me dodge uncomfortable encounters with any creepy visitors, all while enjoying said spirits. Can’t complain with that.

After several Palomas (at $7 each) and an Irish coffee (which was paid for by a gentleman who was probably a might too caffeinated by Irish coffees himself) — and after Danielle finally showed up — we hit the road and headed for Trick Dog (3010 20th St., SF. in the Mission. I’ve been longing to hit up the Dog for some time now. If you’re a cocktail enthusiast, you already know why. Owned by Josh Harris and Scott Baird, otherwise known as swashbuckling bar-consulting duo the Bon Vivants, it’s been the hot spot ever since it opened this January.

Although all the seats were taken, we were lucky enough to be able to grab a standing spot by the window immediately after walking in. Danielle shifted through the cocktail menu made to look like a paint color swatch, while I ordered the mezcal-based Polar Bear ($11). Along with the mezcal, the Polar Bear is made with dry vermouth and Creme de Menthe. It’s a bit like a Glacier mint served up in a stemmed cocktail glass: minty and clear, instantly refreshing and smoky at the same time. I loved it. Danielle ordered the Straw Hat ($11), a Calvados (French apple brandy) drink with chestnut honey, hard cider, vermouth, rosemary, and lime served on the rocks, and I could tell in an instant she was into it. I moved on to a Baby Turtle: reposado tequila, Compari, cinnamon, grapefruit, and egg white (a weakness of mine in cocktails). It was frothy, pink, and lovely.

Blackbird (2124 Market, SF. at Church and Market, has been one of my favorite bars for a while now. Here’s hoping it remains popular but doesn’t get too crowded once the new tenants of all the condos being constructed on Market move in.

I love that the artwork inside changes as much as the drink menu (although I’m longing for the day the amazing Grape Drink returns). But nothing can beat the happy hour special. $5 sours? Yes, please.

Already floating a heavy buzz, we strolled in and easily sat at the bar. Whiskey sours would top off our night just right. Even better, more egg whites topped the yummy sours. I believe I had about three of these frothy treats before our Sidecar arrived to take us home.

After squeezing 10 drinks into six hours, I don’t remember much about the ride home (and I don’t dare look at my bank statement). But a Memorial Day filled with new drinks and new friends — cheers to that.



DINING “Never judge a book by its cover” — if ever there was a place that warranted that old saw, it’s KronnerBurger. Standing across from the Mission burger joint’s ramshackle facade, its name spelled out on the marquee atop a grungy window display, beneath an unlit “Tonight” neon sign, it was hard to believe this was the same place I’ve been practically begging my friends to attend with me. As we inched closer to the entrance, we noticed a little old-fashioned TV in the window displaying the restaurant’s logo on a background of static. My friend and I looked at each other warily and stepped inside chef Chris Kronner’s joint.

Even around 8pm on a rather sunny evening, light inside Kronnerburger was practically nonexistent. Besides the wooden, almost -’70s inspired light fixtures at the bar in the corner of the restaurant, sources of illumination are few and far between, with only a couple of other lights scattered throughout the dining area and a Mexican-style devotional candle at every table. It took my eyes a while to adjust but once I did, I was pleased to see walls of exposed brick and ample seating. Before long, the hostess emerged from the darkness and, despite the absence of a member of our party, seated us at a table anyway.

Once our party was complete, we ordered drinks. I must say that half of the reason I wanted to eat at Kronnerburger was to try its Carbonated Motherfucking Margarita ($10, $54 pitcher). But after looking over the paper menu — which included curiosity-spikers like scotchocolate milk and sasparilla Old Fashioned — I was torn between my original choice and the mysterious Stranger Juice ($9, $50 pitcher). A friend went for the Stranger, so I was able to get a taste of both.

As for food, both of my friends decided to get the eponymous KronnerBurger burger with a single patty ($11, $18 double), one with a $4 side of bone marrow, and the other with the addition of bacon ($3). I decided on getting a crispy Crabburger ($14, also available grilled). For sides, we got some onion rings ($6) and fries ($4).

Naturally, our drinks came out first and while both the margarita and Stranger Juice were perfect choices on an unusally hot day in the city, if I had the option to reconsider, I would have ordered the Stranger Juice for myself. Loaded with gin, Aperol and I’m guessing (they’re secretive) sweet vermouth, the Stranger Juice was surprisingly fresh, light, and floral. The Carbonated Motherfucking Margarita was tasty and bubbly, but a little bit too sour for me.

While waiting, my tablemates and I peered through the darkness to see what the other guests were ordering. We saw the burgers we couldn’t wait to sink our teeth into and a delicious plate full of marrow and fries — a twist on French Canadian poutine, also with cheese curds and beef cheek gravy.

Once it came out (not long) it took a while to dig in, because it really was too dark to get a good look at what was on our plate. As we waved our Jesus candles over our food, everything looked small but tasty. Small but decadent-looking patties on our burgers, a small but crispy portion of fries. We were, however, given an absolutely huge portion of onion rings. A little bit too much for the humble amount of delicious dipping sauce that accompanied it, alas. As for the taste, what can I say? The burger was moist and solid — and isn’t that everything a burger should be?

For dessert, we got the only item on the menu: strawberry bread pudding. Topped with chocolate ice cream, the warm dish was so gooey and flavorful that even though we had three people sharing the small portion, we couldn’t finish it.

After throwing in the towel on the dessert, we ordered a round of beers, talked some shop, and then asked for the check. When we stepped out of the restaurant around 10pm, the night was nice and warm. And while the “Tonight” sign still hadn’t been lit, we wondered if it would be when we returned.

2379 Mission, SF. (415) 656-9871,



DINING When you name your restaurant Coqueta, Spanish for “flirt,” you’re really putting it all out there in terms of your food and atmosphere — playful yet unwavering, open but with a hint of mystery, and definitely attentive. After visiting Coqueta during its opening week, I’m confident celebrity chef Michael Chiarello’s new venture will score.

Opened April 13th, Coqueta is seductive on every level. Located on Pier 5, the restaurant is intimate: 60 leather seats in the buzzing main room, wooden tables, stone walls, flickering candles. Nearly every seat has a view of the kitchen — nothing to hide here. On the left side of the restaurant is Bar 5, a glass-enclosed terrace that seats an additional 30 people in rows of long, wooden, family-style tables.

Chiarello’s garnered an exciting following from his days running Napa’s Tra Vigne restaurant and stints on TV, so it was no surprise that there was a wait to get seated. Just a 15-minute delay past our reservation time, though — my friend and I were kindly invited by staff onto the terrace for a drink. (In fact service all round was abundantly attentive; I was even lead to the restroom.)

Immediately, the drink menu swept me off my feet. Created by bar director Joe Cleveland, it ranges from modern classics to San Francisco-inspired creations, solid Spanish gin and tonics to sherry cocktails (all $9–$14 each), plus pitchers of sangria and other Spanish party classics for groups. My friend started out the evening with the El Cazador, a bright sherry cocktail with lime, honey, and Campari. My first choice was the San Francisco-inspired Engine Co #5, a bourbon drink with tobacco-infused cream sherry, lemon, and zurracapote (red wine mixed with fruit, sangria-like but steeped for several days). By the time our drinks were finished, we were seated.

The menu consists of lovely, rustic-looking tapas-sized dishes ($9–$14 each), both hot and cold, along with cheese plates, bite-sized skewers, cured meats, mini open-faced sandwiches, and larger family style dishes. After being offered some sparkling water in beautiful hammered brass tumblers, we decided to start our night with a couple of bite-sized skewers, Chiarello’s light-hearted take on Basque-country pintxos, at $2.50 each. Quail egg with mustard seed and serrano? Why not. Jamon serrano with manchego cheese and apricot? Oh, I couldn’t possibly. Chorizo with artichokes and peppers? Two, please. All tiny bits of deliciousness. Enamored, we ended up ordering two more, the baby beets with spring onions and citrus fruit with more spicy chorizo.

Narrowing down our main dishes was a challenge. We settled on four plates: three hot tapas and one cold one. We first dug into the cold tapa, a cured cod crudo with tomato fresco, hearts of palm, arugula, and citrus dressing. It was a refreshing way to begin our foray. Our next dish was Gambas de Negro, whole prawns grilled with chili and black garlic. The most savory and comforting dish, though, was a sunny side up egg presented with shrimp, crispy potatoes, and a chorizo dressing. Finally came the “Tattas” Bravas, a spin on tater tots — and that classic Spanish bar standard, patatas bravas — with an array of jambon and potato nuggets served with salsa and aioli. Those popped right into our mouths.

While eating, we also ordered a couple tequila drinks. The first was the Castro, a unique tipple consisting of tequila blanco, fruity curaçao liqueur, pepper and lime. The second was The Sun Never Sets, creamy and scrumptious with tequila anejo, Licor 43, lime, fresh pineapple juice, and pineapple espuma brulee. As he made it, Cleveland told me this was his personal favorite.

Although we passed on the desserts, two of them were generously given to us by a guest at the next table — was this flirting? We were definitely beguiled by the sangria pop-rocksicles, tasty and mischievous adult treats, and the cool berry gazpacho, which floated us into the night.

I left the restaurant nearly vowing to Chiarello, who introduced himself to our table (there’s that attentiveness again), that I would return. I probably should have teased it out a little.

Pier 5, Embarcadero, SF. (415) 704-8866,


Spring breakers


DRINK San Francisco: the best bars, mixologists, and produce — not to mention drinkers — in the country. And once the weather warms up (fingers crossed), can a bloom of excellent fruity cocktails be far behind? In honor of the lengthening sunlight, here’s a full day’s selection of spring drinks picks.



This bustling bar nestled in the FiDi — and brought to us by the contemporary speakeasy minds behind Bourbon and Branch and Tradition (see below) — gets a lot of attention. In fact, I couldn’t stop hearing about its cocktails (most $10–$12) made with fresh fruit and local produce. And when I stepped inside early one sunny afternoon, I wasn’t disappointed. The bar was stocked with vibrantly colored jars of berries, citrus, and mint leaves. Joined by a friend, I quickly dived in.

Our first round of drinks consisted of the Kentucky Buck and the Paloma, a Mexican classic. The Buck, served with soda, is a combination of Bourbon infused with organic strawberries, fresh lemon juice, ginger beer, and bitters. It’s a smooth drink that still packs a punch, so don’t be deceived. The Paloma, a fizzy mix of tequila and grapefruit soda (in Mexico, usually Jarritos or Fresca; here housemade, of course), could be considered a more refreshing version of a margarita. True to the meaning of its name (“dove”), it’s light and floaty.

(Perhaps inspired by our fruit journey, our friendly bartender next treated us to his own invention, consisting of strawberries, cinnamon, and whiskey. It wasn’t named or even perfected yet — but when it’s on the house, I’ll gladly take it.)

Next round: the Pleasant Evening and my personal favorite, the Berry Bramble. With sparkling wine, crème de cassis, peach bitters, and grapefruit juice, plus a beautiful lemon twist garnish, The Pleasant Evening is also perfect for a warm and boozy afternoon. But the Berry Bramble topped my spring-quest list. Crushed berries and gin with crushed ice yields an invigorating but not overly sweet cocktail, uncloyingly fun, tropical without all the cheesiness.

246 Kearny, SF. (415) 398-2827,



I’d been dying to go to lovely Mission outpost Nihon for its expansive, Japanese-leaning whiskey collection — and its selection of half-off happy hour drinks (many of them $6) provided the perfect opportunity. When I looked at the impressive cocktail menu, I knew I wasn’t ordering anything neat.

I asked our waitress for her recommendation for a nice springtime cocktail and she came back with the California Love, a pretty bourbon cocktail with orange juice, yellow chartreuse liquor, and orange oil. The citrus snaps the bourbon to life, but the drink is a bit too strong for early afternoons: you’ll want to sip this one after work while watching the sun set through Nihon’s windows. (Warning: it does get a bit crowded). If you want my advice, though, grab the Luxury Mojito instead. Topping off silver rum, nigori sake, mint, lime, and sugar with a dash of champagne turns this summer favorite into a bubbly springtime joy.

1779 Folsom, SF. (415) 552-4400



With its emphasis on presenting a global selection of cocktail favorites, there isn’t really a season you shouldn’t drink at Tenderloin hotspot Tradition. But I have a great cocktail for you to try during a cool spring night: the Paper Plane ($10). Made with bourbon, Aperol, bittersweet Amaro Nonino, and fresh lemon juice, its zing will launch you skyward. (The drink isn’t on the regular walk-in menu, but appears on the extended menu offered with table reservations, so call ahead.) A variation with honey, adding a level of smoothness, is also amazing. Before you know it, you’ve downed several of this babies, and left any lingering winter blues far behind.

441 Jones, SF. (415) 474-2284,


Home for brews


BEER My cab pulled up to an unassuming house on a quiet street in the Mission. An etched sign on the front porch bearing the words “Brewlab San Francisco” was my first greeting to the space. I entered, and after checking me in, a man in a green vintage Adidas tracksuit handed me a customized Mason jar and said, “Enjoy.” It was time for a tasting at Brewlab (

This wasn’t my first time at the quickly growing hackerspace for homebrewers. What brings me back is not the brew found at its invite-only tasting events, but the community that produces those pints. It’s a community that is thriving with Brewlab as its hub.

The mission behind Brewlab is very simple: to create a space for home beer makers to gather together, share their creations, and get feedback from each other and beer enthusiasts. Brewlab will soon offer classes, and currently provides equipment-sharing opportunities for aspiring home brewers. It hosts tasting events and competitions where ale makers gain feedback on their work from their community.

“There wasn’t an organization supporting homebrewers at the time, so I decided to start one with my friend Emily Ford,” Sam Gilbert says via email. As Brewlab’s co-founder, he operates the organization with Matt Smith, who joined up when Ford left the group early on in its existence.

“At the time, I was really inspired by what ForageSF was doing for people making food at home, and so [I] wanted to try to do the same thing for home brewers,” Gilbert explains.

In a move that sprang from his interest in cooking, Gilbert started brewing about five years ago while living in Boston. Enticed by the complexities of hops and fermentation, he hasn’t looked back since: “There’s a lot of biology and chemistry to learn about, as well as equipment to build and maintain.” He came to San Francisco to work in the tech industry and started Brewlab soon after, in the spring of 2011.

“I quickly started craving that feeling of community you get from making stuff with like-minded people,” he says. “Home-brewing tends to attract people who are really passionate about the craft, but who also like to have fun. Drinking is built right into the hobby, after all.”

To say that Gilbert’s project has become a presence in the brewing community would be an understatement. Every time I’ve set foot in the Brewlab headquarters, I’ve been bowled over by the sense of friendliness and camaraderie — not to mention by the plain ol’ good times to be had there. People know my face, they know my name, they remember our last conversations — and I don’t even make beer. “There’s nothing like being in the middle of a growing community,” Gilbert writes, and surely he’s in a good position to judge.

“It’s been the most thrilling, exhausting, nerve-wracking, inspiring thing I’ve ever done,” he continues. “Brewlab sits at the intersection of what are probably San Francisco’s three favorite things: beer, tech, and local craftsmanship. So from a very early stage it felt like we had hit a nerve.”

Now in its second year of operation, Brewlab is working on ways to serve the homebrew community. From what I can see, the future is very exciting. At its last tasting event, sensors were placed at the bottom of each taster’s glass. They recorded how many times each beer was ordered. iPad stations in Brewlab’s garage allowed visitors to submit detailed feedback on the flavor profiles of the various pours.

In addition to its tasting events (which are now invite-only to deal with the unexpectedly high level of demand for these rad happenings) Brewlab is currently collaborating with nearly a dozen brewers to make a Belgian tripel that will age for six months in a wine barrel.

Perhaps most exciting of all, the group will be offering basic classes for people like me: wannabes who observe and admire the homebrewing craft but have no idea how to start making their own beer. The classes will be free to the public. No experience is necessary, and Brewlab’s equipment sharing program can help ease you into brewerdom on the cheap.

Throughout my conversations with Gilbert and Smith, it seemed clear that while they’re excited about expanding the Brewlab community and continuing to expand its programming, their primary goal is to nurture a small and strong community that stays true to the craft.

“So many awesome people have come through our doors, tasted our beers, and worked hard to support the organization at this point,” Gilbert writes. Thanks to Brewlab, it’s a good time to be a little guy in the brewing game in San Francisco.