Soused in SanFran – Part 4: SFO D2 Alembic

This here is Part Four of the Grand Caliventure of November 2011.
For Part 1, make the clicking to here.

Not your turn yet, Sissy. But soon.

Following our delicious lunch and tasty beers at Magnolia, the Lady Friend and I started heading down Haight Street towards our next destination, the legendary Alembic Bar. We were pointed straight into the vortex of hippie ground zero, strolling cautiously past Haight-Ashbury, the epicenter of the flower children. Yes, it was weird. We saw a man in his 60s, with gray hair and beard, wearing a short, Catholic school girl pleated skirt and knee socks. I don’t care, that’s just not ok. I kind of hate The Haight. I needed a protective suit like Cartman when he rescues Kyle before SF destroys itself.

My boy, we are pilgrims in an unholy land.

Then we saw it: The Alembic. A cocktail bar that has frequently landed on “best bar” lists throughout the country. It’s hard to tell what lurks behind the dark tinted “A”-embedded door amidst the wandering stoners shuffling by on the sidewalk. Sure, if we had more time, I would have liked to take a peek at Smuggler’s Cove, Bourbon and Branch, and Rickhouse, but there were other destinations that required some precious time allotment. We pulled the heavy door open and took a brief moment to let our eyes adjust to the dim light and muted tones of the interior, a welcome change from the blaring sun and psychedelic hues of Haight. The narrow space with high ceilings was dominated by a sturdy wooden length of bar, and three shelves overflowing with nearly every conceivable liquor and liqueur. A touch of light lazily drifted in through a yellow-tinted skylight towards the rear, and opened up the back seating area. Everything was wood, tan and dusty, and had an aged patina except for the glossy glass bottles that stretched for a great distance. The antithesis of pretension. This is exactly as it should be. This is what a cocktail bar needs to be. This is home.


Vintage light bulbs rappelled down from the ceiling provided more aesthetic quality than luminosity. Though there were a handful of patrons, conversation was light, and subdued, the loudest sounds coming from the jarring maraca rattle of ice in metal shaker. The Lady Friend lolled through the cocktail menu, while I marveled at the array of amaro, the wonderful whiskies, and the rows of rums. They have more types of rye than most bars have whiskey, rum, and gin combined. The cocktail list consisted of a double-sided sheet, one side old school and one nouveau. She eventually settled on a Blood and Sand, and was surprised to find that it was actually a known classic. She enjoyed it, but my home bar currently lacks the necessary cherry brandy (Heering) to recreate it. Though the recipe contains scotch, hers was made with Russell’s Reserve 6yo Rye. I availed myself of some of their Campari, requesting my new bar benchmark, the Negroni. Disappointed with the UTTER failure of a previous “cocktail” bar, I was confident that I wouldn’t have the same troubles here. When I requested Plymouth specifically, the heavily tattooed bartendress simply nodded and said “that’s what we use.” Beautiful. It also contained Carpano Antica vermouth, which lent a much spicier and vivacious note to the taste, bold enough to stand up to the brutish Campari, with little on the nose but fresh orange peel. Wonderful.

This. This is my goal. This is the bottle collection I want in my home bar.

I had been in touch once again with Ke$hia Ho, who agreed to meet up with us while we sipped our drinks. She and I chatted for a bit about various cocktail nonsense, and pointed out various unusual bottles to each other. When our glasses finally dried up, we steeled ourselves for the hippie horrors that lay outside, and ventured on. Happily, she brought her car, complete with MN plates, and we sped out of Peaceland, never to return. The next destination was another I had been looking forward to: the City Beer Store. Why was this a big deal? Stay tuned, and I’ll get to it.

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