Book Review: Drinking the Devil’s Acre

920x920Duggan McDonnell’s Drinking the Devil’s Acre isn’t so much a bar book as it is a love letter to San Francisco, hardbound. Which, it turns out, is basically the subtitle of the book. McDonnell is one of my favorite SF bartenders and interesting characters in general, so I’m inclined to meet anything he does with general approval.

There aren’t a whole lot of cocktails in this 250-plus page tome, with just 25 featured recipes. I have little doubt that I’ve had every single one of them during my time in SF. And while McDonnell’s recipes for a French 75, Pisco Punch, or Mojito seem right on target, you may initially be asking yourself why you need another book the regurgitates recipes for cocktails you probably know how to make from memory.

Well, again, this isn’t a book about the cocktails, it’s a book about stories. Some are about cocktailing history, some are about McDonnell, and all of them are about San Francisco, from the Barbary Coast days to the gay ’80s to modern times. The centerpiece is the so-called Devil’s Acre, a block in SF which was notorious in the late 1800s but which is now considerably less so, despite the proximity of strip clubs and a new bar called, of course, The Devil’s Acre. Probably not a lot of high-class mixology came out of there, but it was assuredly the origin of the San Francisco attitude.

So check out Drinking the Devil’s Acre not (necessarily) for the recipes — though don’t miss the black inserts within each chapter for numerous bonus recipes that may be less familiar to you — and enjoy McDonnell’s storytelling, which comes across both with wit and straightforward prose. Whether you’re a San Francisco lifer or just planning to visit our ‘hood, it’s definitely worth your time. (Especially bookmark McDonnell’s ultimate bar crawl in the back for a real look at the past and present of SF drinking palaces.)


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