Drinking and Dining at Press Club San Francisco

Press Club is a place I’ve passed by dozens of times without going in. Though it’s centrally located in San Francisco’s downtown district, the dark glass and mysterious design never really invited me indoors.

Press Club used to be a tasting room. Six or so wineries each had their own bar space downstairs, and patrons could use a “press card” to sample vino from each. That format didn’t work out, and a year ago Press Club evolved into a more ambitious lounge, with a standard wine-by-the-glass list and a highly touted list of more than 30 beers from all over the world. A large menu of small plates is also offered, courtesy of local catering company Taste.

Recently I was invited to check out the new Press Club, and I didn’t leave disappointed. General Manager Kristian Cosentino and Wine Director Mauro Cirilli generously led us through five courses of variously-sized bites, each paired with a wine (and one beer). This summer Cirilli – who’d only been on the job for two weeks when we visited – is revamping the wine list, so it doesn’t make a lot of sense to take a deep dive into the current list, which is heavy on the wines offered by the old tasting room partners. However I have every faith that Cirilli will continue to come up with great pairings like the 24 Hour Painted Hills Beef Short Rib with twice-baked potatoes, paired with fruit-forward Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon, and the Duo of Wild Caught White Shrimp wrapped with Prosciutto, paired with a meaty Miner Viognier.

The crowd at Press Club is a hipster-heavy collection of after-work get-togethers and gossipy twentysomethings. A DJ starts at 7pm. The space, completely underground, is vast, with three large bars to choose from. The design is clean, modern, and comfortable – with a heavy focus on high barstools and tallboy tables.

Keep an eye on this space as Press Club’s wine list grows up under Cirilli’s leadership.


Please, Tip Your Waitresses

Ever wonder how much you should tip your bartender? Here comes the science, courtesy of Sailor Jerry rum and in honor of Bartender Appreciation Day, which apparently exists.

NEW YORK, December 1, 2011 – – December 9 is Bartender Appreciation Day (www.bartendersday.com) and, to celebrate the hard work and graft of bartenders across the country, Sailor Jerry, the iconic spiced Rum, has commissioned a survey to gauge the tipping habits of Americans, revealing some very interesting facts.  The survey, conducted online by Harris Interactive on behalf of Sailor Jerry Rum from November 18-22, 2011 among 2,078 adults aged 21 and older, found that the majority of Americans (76%) value a good bartender more than a trendy or stylish décor in a bar, reflecting the important role bartenders play in today’s society.

As the holiday season approaches, bartenders are gearing up for their busiest time of the year and to commemorate the contributions made by bartenders across the country, Sailor Jerry conducted the survey to coincide with the first ever Bartender Appreciation Day on December 9.  The survey’s findings included:

  • The majority of Americans think a bartender is more important than the décor: 76% of U.S. adults agree that a good bartender is more important than how trendy or stylish the décor of the bar is, showing how crucial the role of a bartender is to a customer’s experience.
  • Americans are good tippers: 74% of U.S. adults who drink or visit bars tip a bartender 15% or more, reflecting America’s reputation as a nation of tippers.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, 74% of U.S. adults also believe that the better they tip, the better service they will receive.
  • The South has the best tippers, while residents of the Northeast are the stingiest: Those who live in the South and drink or visit bars (23%) are significantly more likely to tip a bartender over 20%, than those who live in the Northeast (13%).
  • Tipping is Sexy: 63% of U.S. female adults find people who leave good tips for bartenders more appealing, while 60% of U.S. men do.
  • Being a good tipper can be a dating deal breaker: 44% of U.S. adults agree that they would never go out on another date with a person if they did not tip the bartender.  Of this, women lead the pack, with 51% saying they would not go on another date, which was significantly higher than the 37% of men who agreed.
  • Young People are more likely to be higher tippers: Of all U.S. adults, those between the ages of 21-34 (34%) are significantly more likely to tip over 20% than those aged 35-44 (20%), 45-54 (10%) and those aged 55+ (7%).

“Bartenders serve a hugely important role in society, and we want to encourage Americans to take the time to appreciate that.” said Daniel Deephouse, Brand Manager for Sailor Jerry Rum.  “Bartenders can be friends, confidants and pillars of the community and, as the survey says, their expertise can help hugely improve the experience of being in a bar.  The time between Thanksgiving and New Years Eve is the busiest time for bartenders and with that in mind, on December 9th, we hope to see people across America digging a little deeper to show their appreciation!”

In addition to staging a series of events across the country on December 9 to celebrate bartenders, Sailor Jerry is also running an online contest, where bartenders are encouraged to amass virtual tips from customers for the chance to win a cash prize.

For more information, visit www.bartendersday.com.

Pisco 101 with Duggan McDonnell

I can safely say now that I know more about Pisco than I ever thought I would. More than I ever thought there was to know, actually. And yet, I’m still little more than a novice.

Pisco is, put simply, unaged, grape-based brandy from Peru (or Chile, which we’ll discuss later). Peru puts strict controls over its national spirit: Eight grape varieties may be used to make it, the wine made from those grapes may be distilled only once, it must be rested for three months in neutral vats (commonly steel or plastic, no wood), and no water can be added to dilute it before bottling. Because it can’t be altered in any way, Pisco’s alcohol content typically varies in the 75 to 90 proof range.

It sounds simple, but there is a startling variety of Pisco being made today, and more and more of it is making its way into the U.S.

Recently I sat down for a Pisco primer with Duggan McDonnell, proprietor of San Francisco’s Cantina, and a partner in the new Encanto Pisco project, which we’ll talk about in a bit.

To call McDonnell a Pisco enthusiast would be a vast understatement. He knows Pisco the way Robert Parker knows wine, and in an hour plus of lectures and tasting with him, my mind (and notebook) overflowed with wisdom about the spirit and about Peru, where McDonnell travels frequently to oversee everything from grape harvesting to vat blending for Encanto.

So without further ado, here’s a look at some of the most common Pisco varieties on the market, all of which we tasted (brands tasted are noted parenthetically).

Pure/Single Grape – Quebranta – About 78% of grapes grown for Pisco are Quebranta, making this the most common (by far) type of Pisco sold worldwide. A red grape originally from Spain, this is what anyone who’s had Pisco before has likely tried and will remember: A nose of petrol is most telling, with a musky, coconut husk character that’s hard to miss. But there is sweetness in the mid-palate, a nougat-like character, which doesn’t so much balance the spirit as it does temper it. (Conqueror / $22)

Pure/Single Grape – Torontel – As far away from Quebranta as it gets, this aromatic grape is reminiscent of Riesling or Muscat, making the Pisco thick with perfume on the nose and flowery, lemony notes in the body. That characteristic Pisco funk is still there, but it’s tempered by all those aromatics. Powerful and memorable, but a little goes a long way. (Vinas de Oro / $32)

Pure/Single Grape – Italia – The “most beloved grape in all of Peru” leads to this gentle expression of Pisco, one which lands somewhere between Quebranta and Torontel. It shares more of its DNA with the latter, offering mild aromatics, but still has a semblance of wood, like Quebranta — not of lumber or barrels but rather of tree bark. Hard to pin down its myriad undertones, but overall quite enjoyable. (Vinas de Oro / $32)

Acholado – Put simply, a blend of grapes. The “meritage” of Pisco, if you will. Acholado style gives the producer the most flexibility of all the Pisco styles, but it requires more effort since blending is involved. Encanto (McDonnell’s Pisco) uses three grapes and a solera style of blending, where one season’s distillate is carried over in part to the next, waterfall style, essentially forever, so that all Encantos from here on out will have at least a little of the original Encanto inside. The result? Funky up front, then a distinct sweet, butterscotch finish. Some flower essence is notable, too. This is a journeyman’s Pisco, more complicated than its brethren, but still honest and sincere. (Encanto, $36)

Mosto Verde – The most complicated form of Pisco. I brought this bottle (reviewed here), as it’s one of few Mosto Verdes available in the U.S. Mosto Verde is produced by halting wine fermentation before it’s complete: You get a low-alcohol wine (about 8%) with lots of sweet grape juice leftover. The result is, of course, a sweeter distillate with more acidity to it. It’s a very nice style in comparison to the musty, richer traditional versions, something with more crispness and “snap” to it. Great, but more of a before-dinner drink, due to the sweetness. (Porton, $TBD)

Chilean – Another that I brought. Generally considered lesser Pisco by those in the know, Chile also claims to be the originator of the spirit, though few today go along with this assertion. This Pisco features caramel notes due to barrel aging, is smoother thanks to a second distillation process, and has had water added to level out the proof. Duggan said he tasted glycerin, feeling it was “doctored.” I find that reasonable. This is pleasant to drink, but it bears minimal resemblance to the real stuff from Peru. (Bauza, $19)

How do these work in cocktails? We finally tried Encanto and Porton in the exact same recipes (right down to the amount of ice), side by side, for both a classic Pisco Sour (below) and a Cuzco Mule (like a Moscow Mule, but with Pisco), and I was surprised. I had thought the sweeter Porton would make for a better cocktail, but in both cases it was overpowering, providing a huge amount of spice and too much astrigency, making it hard to drink more than a few sips. The milder Encanto made for a much more balanced cocktail in both cases. While sipping straight I might have preferred Porton, few people are drinking Pisco without extra ingredients… and I wouldn’t blame them. Encanto was the clear winner in both concoctions. Congrats to Duggan and crew for thinking this through and coming up with a recipe that works in a cocktail.

Where the Bar Meets Wall Street

Not content with the prices on the drinks menu? New York’s Exchange turns drink prices into a trader’s delight.

After a brief conversational detour to boast about the size of his manhood, Sean explains how he and his friend from rival bank Citigroup come to have six drinks lined up in front of them. “We’ve been buying Coors Light HARD,” he shouts. “It’s selling at UNPRECEDENTED LEVELS.” The pair started the night on Stella Artois, but switched when the price of the Belgian beer got too racy.

At Exchange, the bar prices scroll along a digital ticker above the bar staff’s heads. Guinness is a bargain, $5 (£3.28) and on the way down. Ketel One vodka has just ticked 75 cents higher, a group down the other end of the bar clearly having gone crazy. The bar food looks pretty stable at the moment, but you’ll not want to take your eye off the market.

“We want the atmosphere to be like the stock market,” says Levent Cakar, one of the owners. “Except, unlike the stock market, nobody is going to have any stress or lose any money.”

Sounds… er, like a really stressful way to spend a night out.

Three Ways to Spend 10 Grand and Get Engaged

Valentine’s Day approaches, and that means bartenders and home mixologists galore will be breaking out the Chambord to create V-Day cocktails.

Or perhaps you’d like to find a way to get drunk and get engaged at the same time. It will cost you, of course — at least $10,000.

The funny thing is this is a bit of a trend. At least three different bars are offering “proposal cocktails” that include jewelry. It’s one-stop shopping for lush lotharios. And here they are.

My favorite recipe (which doesn’t actually include a ring but rather a necklace and some cuff links): Louis XIII Black Pearl cognac, 4 ounces Charles Heidsieck 1981 Champagne Charlie, fresh-squeezed orange juice, apricot puree, Sence rose nectar, two ice cubes, 18-carat gold necklace with Tahitian black pearl, 18-carat gold and stingray-leather Mont Blanc cuff links.

Sounds delish… but after that outlay, we’ll have to elope.

Humphry Slocombe’s Ice Cream For Adults

It’s called a “Secret Breakfast,” but tens of thousands of people seem to know about it: Ice cream from San Francisco’s Humphry Slocombe, which operates a tiny Mission shop with about 10 daily concoctions ranging from Blue Bottle Vietnamese Coffee (better than actual Blue Bottle coffee, IMHO) to Peanut Butter Curry to Pumpkin 5-Spice.

But the real draw here, for many it would seem, is Secret Breakfast, flavored with real whiskey and cut with corn flakes. Get it? Creamy and sweet yet almost overloaded with bourbon flavor (Jim Beam, maybe?), this is the real deal. In fact, it’s so boozy that, unlike Humphry’s other offerings, this one remains a little slushy out of the freezer, since the alcohol stays liquid at that temperature.

But God it’s good. Although I might suggest Rice Krispies in lieu of the corn flakes (and perhaps more of them), this is a whiskey-drinker’s dessert through and through. I enjoyed all of the ice creams I tried (the staff will let you sample them all if you’d like), but this one clearly takes the cake. (I’ve also got a soft spot for the Chocolate Malted Milk, I have to admit.)

It’s also not the only boozy ice cream in the freezer: Slocombe has another confection made with wort, or “pre-beer,” which was unusual and delicious. Also on the menu: Tiny ice cream sandwiches made with foie gras ice cream. Decadent? You better believe it.

Worth the trip, especially if you don’t have to try to spell it!


humphry slocombe secret breakfast

Thoughts on Clock Bar, San Francisco

Clock Bar is a hotel bar, yes. But you know what? I like hotel bars — good ones, anyway. They’re not as loud. Not as crowded. And the drinks that get made are often top notch. Plus you get to talk to random tourists, not just jaded locals. Good times.

After passing by many times, I finally hit Clock Bar last night, in the Westin St. Francis in San Francisco’s Union Square. Have to say, I wasn’t disappointed. The drinks — a grapefruit-tangy-tart Nevada and the San Francisco Sensation, which approximates an Aviation but with the addition of mint — were both inspired.

The liquor selection isn’t huge, but it’s solid (though while I was there two people were turned away because Clock inexplicably doesn’t carry Grey Goose). I finished the evening with hard-to-find 15-year-old Springbank single malt, a perfect whisky that I’d love to have more of.

The snacks are good — the truffled popcorn is legendary; could have done without the cheese popcorn in favor of a double dose of the truffled version — but I longed for a more extensive menu. Still, in San Francisco’s nosh-malnourished bar scene, anything is good.

Yeah, it’s a hotel bar. But it’s a solid one. Go.


What Does a $20 Bloody Mary Look Like?

Like this.

San Francisco’s Waterbar serves this $20 “Ultimate” Bloody Mary, which largely speaks for itself. The garnishes — bacon and two jumbo boiled shrimp — steal the show, but the Bloody itself is darn good, too. Belevedere Vodka — not my favorite on its own — works fine with this superb blend of tomato juice and spices, and the ratio is spot-on. Drink through the straw or get an extra pepper kick by sipping from the glass, which is rimmed with more spicy goodness.

Be warned: That’s a whole pint of Bloody Mary, and it packs a serious wallop that had me napping for most of the afternoon. Awesome concoction.