Bourbon and Branch, Wilson and Wilson, Rickhouse... I've frequented (and written about) each since they opened. Though some tire of the speakeasy concept, Bourbon and Branch led that trend, remaining one of the more transporting places to drink anywhere. I value owner Future Bars' emphasis on setting and will always adore a setting from another era or place, whether you call it speakeasy or not. Taste and quality is crucial, but I'm grateful for that rare bar I can escape to, to feel as if I'm in another time or world, preferably with an excellent drink.
Future Bars' brand new bar, Local Edition, opened yesterday off bustling Market Street near Third (in what was the Manhattan Lounge), full of retro spirit. I visited a couple days before opening to check out the space, and again opening day for drinks, when the line to get in wrapped around the block (hopefully not a sign of things to come?) The underground space has a 1950s-era jazz club feel and is surprisingly large (over 5000 square feet), so even after the throngs entered, it was not full. The bar is sexy and candlit with a stage, restored vintage chairs surrounding low tables, and red bench seats lining the walls.
Heading downstairs at the entrance of the historic Hearst Building, a key theme becomes apparent: classic newspapers and printing operations. The space was once The Examiner and The Call's printing floor. The first part of the room feels like a museum, an ode to historical SF newspapers. Pre-1970s papers, from The Chronicle to an early 1966 issue of my own employer, the Guardian, line cases and walls, with a range of vintage typewriters scattered around the room.
Owners Brian Sheehy and Doug Dalton (reporters run in Dalton's family: father and grandfather) honor history in countless details -- even the marble on the bar top and some of the tables is from Hearst Castle, thanks to Steve Hearst who has been involved in this project from the beginning (it's in the Hearst Building, after all).
Behind the bar, you might recognize general manager Joe Alessandroni, who has been the GM at Rickhouse, while Ian Scalzo (GM at Bourbon and Branch) is Opening GM here, creating the menu. Scalzo is slight twists of '50s/'60s era cocktail classics like the Gibson or a Bloody Mary, and their version of bottle service: decanter service, delivering bottles on a silver platter with a bucket of ice and soda. It's expensive ($88-$200 per bottle) but the choices are the likes of Del Maguey Chichicapa and George T. Stagg. Tableside cart service should soon be in play, and there's a handful of beers like Napa Smith Bonfire and Mission Kolsch.
Scalzo is also bottling cocktails (a rising trend I write about in the Guardian's Spring FEAST issue, on stands next Wednesday). Unlike many, however, he is not carbonating them, rather utilizing house syrups to drive flavor profiles. Instead of individual-sized bottles, Scalzo opts for 750-ml bottles they cork and seal in-house. At $48 per bottle, it serves a glass to 5-6 people. The two current offers are The Evening Journal (rye, orangue curacao, lime, house yerba maté syrup with sparkling wine on the side) and The Daily News (Rhum Clement VSOP, orange peel syrup, mezcal, Cheery Heering, Benedictine, lime with soda water on the side).
Opening night I tasted five of the 11 cocktails listed on the front of the menu (ideally printed like a newspaper). Granted, the place was slammed though I was the first in with bar industry friends and we got our order in right away, but my initial disappointment was that cocktails were not keeping step with the sexy space. The Enchanted Hill ($9) intrigued most with pisco, lemon, aji pepper syrup, Firelit Coffee Liqueur, egg white and aromatic bitters. Coffee notes add a fascinating layer to the bright drink and aji pepper finishes pleasingly hot, but the egg white was a little flat and full of air pockets (not fully shaken or frothed?), while overall the separate elements seemed unintegrated, each ingredient standing out on its own rather than harmonizing together.
Yellow Kid ($9) arrived looking like merely soda water in a tall glass: despite gin, lemon, dill syrup, Velvet Falernum, and Vya Dry Vermouth, it tasted almost entirely of its other ingredient, ginger beer. Dill was barely a whisper - an intense dose of dill and more texture from nutty, spiced falernum could make this one interesting.
In the end, both drinks on the rocks I tasted (the other is The Eagle: bourbon, house root beer syrup, soda water), seemed watered down and one-note. This could easily be opening night execution issues and hopefully is, but even with obnoxious crowds at Rickhouse, or lack of bartender interaction at Bourbon and Branch, drinks tend to be consistently strong - I'm hoping Local Edition's drinks will match its special space. The best integrated sip of the night was Rosebud: resposado tequila, lemon, Cocchi, vanilla syrup, black pepper, sea salt, and a bit of basil. All elements were subtle but melded into an elegant whole.
Brian Sheehy tells me that as the bar get its entertainment permit in the next couple months, there will be 5-8pm and 9pm-to-close music sets. A mellow spirit (possibly jazz and other styles) will take hold early evenings, while later evenings will be bands like The Silent Comedy and Fierce Creatures, which they hope to have perform regularly. Best of all, this is a bar first and foremost, not a club or music venue, so there won't be any cover charge.
Reservations are up and running on the site, but walk-ins are welcome. Hopefully lines will die down but this is a space that can actually accommodate a crowd and groups of friends.
LOCAL EDITION 691 Market, (415) 795-1375, www.localeditionsf.com
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