Finally I got a chance to visit the “big boy” room at Bourbon & Branch, after two trips to the Library for private events.
Night and day, folks.
Literally, night: It’s pitch dark inside B&B. We went in at 6 and came out around 8:15 while it was still light out and felt like zombies walking into the sun. Lighted exclusively with dim bulbs and candles, the place is a true speakeasy in feel. The fact that there’s no air conditioning (or ventilation of any sort, really) adds to both the mystique and the intense discomfort on a hot day like yesterday.
So, the cocktails: What other bar offers you an amuse bouche upon arrival? This champagne cocktail (I don’t remember the ingredients our lovely waitress mentioned) in a pony glass was a great way to kick off our exploration of the 36-plus page menu, heavy with classic cocktails and straight liquors, particularly a deep, deep library of whiskeys of all varieties.
My colleague and I stuck with the cocktails for six rounds total. This is cocktail week in SF, so lots of interesting libations were served. I started with the Marked Man, which features blackberry-infused Maker’s Mark, dry vermouth, Benedictine, and peach bitters and comes off a bit like an upscale Manhattan. My pal Alexei had the Austrian, a surprisingly good mix of gin, Lillet Blanc, grapefruit, lemon, ginger syrup, Angostura, and a dust of white pepper on the rim. Shockingly summery, and good on a hot day like that. A later libation called The Last Word, which was basically a Casino with the addition of Green Chartreuse, was possibly my favorite of the night.
A bit further down the list of “loved it” fell Alexei’s Democrat: Mainly rye whiskey and honey, which was a bit too sweet for me and felt overwhelmed by crushed ice. I finished with the Blue Bonnet, a gin, lemon, honey, blueberries, and tarragon item served on the rocks, but I have to admit to being pretty far gone by then. But really, it was the amount of tarragon that ended up in my teeth no matter how much I rammed it down in the glass that was a shock.
We greatly enjoyed the personal attention given by our server, the quiet setting, the atmosphere, and the retro music. And of course, the cocktail craftsmanship is top notch. Cons: It’s too hot, the reservation business is a bit overdone, and having to wait outside amongst the crack addicts until the place opens at six (SIX!?) is a letdown. A lot of that would be forgiven if B&B would just suck it up and offer some bar snacks — even pretzels, for Pete’s sake — but in the absence of anything to chew on, I’m upgrading my rating to a solid A-.