Jonathan Beckhardt

San Francisco Whiskyfest


PREVIEW There’s a reason rich people are so productive: they don’t get hangovers. And it’s not the unlimited access they have to Tylenol PM–Ambien cocktails that keeps them good the morning after. No, it’s the unlimited access to rare and expensive whiskeys. Rich people tell me they can drink near a liquid ton of the handcrafted stuff and still wake up with a fresh-enough head to whip their servants. Yes, it’s true. The best hangover cure is to settle down with a pricey bottle of whiskey the night before.

For the past several months, under the cover of night and in back alleys, the wheels have been set in motion to bring an occasion of drinking such expensive whiskey to the masses. For the not-too-cheap price of $105, attendees of the San Francisco Whiskyfest can enjoy samples of 200 of the world’s finest, rarest, and most expensive single-malt and blended whiskies. Yes, this is supposedly America’s largest whiskey celebration, but there will be high-end rums, tequilas, and beer on hand for the more adventurous. That’s not to mention the expansive buffet and Fiji Water for tasters to clear their palettes. Of course, such an evening would go to waste if there were no knowledge to be gleaned. Besides conducting priceless and slurred give-and-takes with the whiskey vendors, festgoers can attend straight-up presentations from people like Fred Noe, the great-grandson of Jim Beam.

SAN FRANCISCO WHISKYFEST Tues/23, 6:30–10 p.m., $105. Hyatt Regency San Francisco, 5 Embarcadero Center, SF. (415) 788-1234,

Summer splashdown


Ra and I have never gotten along. As the sun god of the Egyptians, he says people should walk sideways with one hand up and the other down. I say people should walk forward, with hands by their sides. He says Jews should be slaves. I say Jews should be rich and powerful. He says door should be spelled soldier-falcon-cat … Things between us really came to a head over the whole Library of Alexandria fire mess, though. Words were exchanged, perhaps regrettably. Since then he hasn’t exactly been overly generous with his golden rays — to me or any other San Franciscan. It’s not that he’s completely shut us off. He teases us with just enough warmth, only to freeze us out once we thankfully shed our jackets. It’s his way of forcing us to be grateful to him. Jerk.

Now it’s June. Children are shrieking, lovers are lying, teenagers are doing drugs, and everyone and everything looks like a potential mate. It’s the time of year when I get the most fed up with Ra’s bait-and-switch shit. My psychologist suggests that the best way to deal with a bully is just to ignore him. I’m paying her to be right, and even if her tactic doesn’t get us more summer light, it may keep us from getting so flustered. Another thing that might help: a few drinks, ones that offer a little more than great flavor and good liquor. Even if we can’t have an actual summer, we can always down a few cocktails like those below, to which any eager marketing exec would attach the phrase "fun in the sun."


Polk-Nob bar Rye is well known for its Honey Delight, a cocktail that mixes gin and bitters with honey and tangerine and orange juices and that reportedly tastes like Sunny Delight. Putting so much effort into something that tastes like Sunny D makes little sense to me, so I opt for the similarly juicy, rum-laden Santiago Sun. This drink has the same gritty sweetness that makes mojitos and caipirinhas so popular. But some of us get a little embarrassed ordering post-trendy mos and caips aloud these days; this cocktail will help you save face. It’s crisp and strong, with a fair share of citrus to keep the rum humble. The pummeled kumquats nestled at the bottom of the drink are perfect for nibbling on while you sit in Rye’s ultra-urban lounge pretending you’re Ernest Hemingway during one of those tempestuous Cuban summers.

Rye, 688 Geary, SF. (415) 474-4448


Hit Potrero Hill’s Lingba Lounge on the right night, and you’re in for a dance treat. Hit it on the wrong one, and you’ll be stuck in an empty, sleeked-out bar with uncomfortable furniture. On either occasion, though, there’s no reason to get stumped by Lingba’s menu of neo-island cocktails. Simply dive into the Pat Pong Punch, a mixture of bourbon and fresh tamarind and pineapple juices. This cocktail is great for its simplicity: the bourbon gets soaked in the sweetness but isn’t taken under. When the juices have washed away, the oaky bourbon is left resting easily on the tongue. On nights when you require something a little tackier — a little tikier — order the Shipwreck, a drink that comes in a coconut, or the Bowl of Monkeys, a drink that’s served ablaze. The price of a Bowl of Monkeys includes a Polaroid of the experience, so you should probably wait until your friends from Burlingame arrive before ordering it.

Lingba Lounge, 1469 18th St., SF. (415) 355-0001,


Remember the part in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas where Hunter S. Thompson says he was "drinking Singapore Slings with mescal on the side"? You might think such a cool line would have led to a proliferation of this lovely traditional drink. Yet slings in this city are rare. When I ordered one at the Hotel Utah recently, the bartender said he couldn’t make one because he didn’t have simple syrup. This is not even a typical ingredient. I got a nice approximation there anyway, with gin, bitters, brandy, and Cointreau. Some may point out that this is not really the recipe for a Singapore Sling, but in my experience that doesn’t matter much. The drink has a history that goes back to the first part of the 20th century, and the original recipe is long lost. Subsequent attempts to reconstruct it have created a wide variety of Singapore Slings. The excitement of ordering one and seeing what kind of fruity gin cocktail arrives may be more pleasurable than the drink itself.

Hotel Utah, 500 Fourth St., SF. (415) 546-6300,


The flavor of this Lush Lounge concoction resembles cantaloupe as much as the drink resembles a martini: not much at all. The most straightforward way to achieve a cantaloupe-flavored martini would have been to infuse vodka with the fruit. The Lush, for whatever reason, has come up with an intriguingly complex work-around, mixing watermelon liqueur, orange juice, citrus vodka, and lime. Surprise — it’s good. I’m glad no one informed these lushes that cantaloupe is far less citrusy than most of the ingredients used here, because the drink ends up as a pleasantly tart ode to a Tropical Watermelon Starburst (the purple flavor in the green pack).

Lush Lounge, 1092 Post, SF. (415) 771-2022,


It’s possible to imagine that this little number, served at the Metro in the Castro, was born as a Cantaloupe Martini (see above), then evaporated down to its Starburst essence and reconstituted with liquor. It uses many of the same ingredients, but doesn’t taste like any particular kind of Starburst. It just has that sticky imitation-fruit feel going on that underlies all things Starburst. One of my favorite drinks in San Francisco is the cucumber gimlet at Bourbon and Branch, because it perfectly captures that soft but biting base flavor of cucumber. I find it equally remarkable that the Pink Pussy can so unerringly replicate an archetypal candy flavor (although it’s not too heavy and has enough alcohol to keep pace with its sweetness). But what’s in the drink may not be as important as what the drink’s in: a towering highball glass, a somewhat ironic play on the straitlaced aesthetic of early 20th-century modernism, considering the cocktail’s moniker.

Metro, 3600 16th St., SF. (415) 703-9750


Cocktails that taste like candy are fun, but after a couple sugar-rush headaches you start wanting something cleaner. The bourbon and ginger at Little Baobab isn’t your typical Jim Beam and ginger ale mixture — for one, it uses real ginger juice, which makes a world of difference. The juice’s lush tang stands up harder to the alcohol than any generous splash of Canada Dry could. The lack of carbonation is also surprisingly refreshing — the cocktail doesn’t taste watered down with air. It’s full and thick, with an insistent spiciness.

Little Baobab, 3388 19th St., SF. (415) 643-3558,


Along with tasty if pricey sushi and a beautiful — if perhaps similarly pricey — waitstaff, the eternally hip Blowfish Sushi to Die For also offers this wonderful drink, which has the taste and smoothness of a lychee-ice-cream shake. Unfortunately, it’s not very alcoholic; you’ll need two to get a buzz. However, it’s soft and easy enough to lead you gently into the Japanese version of Tipsyville. Soda water provides a touch of sparkle, and lemongrass syrup spices it up, keeping repeated sips from slipping into monochromaticism.

Blowfish Sushi to Die For, 2170 Bryant, SF. (415) 285-3848,


If I can get this by the maniacal Guardian censors, I’ll recommend the Starbucks Orange Crème Frappuccino — although somewhat altered from what its makers intended. It’s a regular Frappuccino with the addition of the citrus flavor you might find in those Dutch orange chocolates, but Disneyed up. Get a large to share with your companions on the way to your first bar and throw in some Irish whiskey and a few caffeine pills. You’ll probably have spent the first part of your day drinking beers at your cousin’s graduation party or your step-aunt’s trailer or the garden party for your niece’s communion. This is a nice way to commit yourself to the evening, should there be any doubt.

Starbucks, every-freakin’-where.

Building the bomb


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


The JonBenet Ramsey


REVIEW So magical it is to be a six-year-old beauty pageant starlet! Whether it’s vomiting backstage at Raven concerts, shooting free speed while having your nipples taped up, or getting "auditioned" on the hood of Tommy’s PowerWheel, the list of privileged moments seems to never end. The idolatrous adoration of your out-prettied first-grade class should be enough to coast on — but it never is.

For those of us who were never darling enough, the Argus Lounge presents a Wednesday night drink special, the JonBenet Ramsey, that reduces the pounding vigor of such a world into one neat drink. The cocktail’s base is Stoli Vanilla, which recalls the fussy sweetness of the pageant circuit. Ginger ale dilutes the vodka with a crispness that grabs at the throat.

But it’s the drink’s crushed cherry garnish that brings home the quiet heights of such an existence: Christmas days spent lounging in the cellar with friends for hours without being bothered by your family. It all comes together like a well-laid plan. (Jonathan Beckhardt)

ARGUS LOUNGE 187 Mission, SF. Mon.–Sat., 4 p.m.–2 a.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.–2 a.m. (415) 824-1447,