Top 10 Cocktails of the Month

From mid-June to mid-July, here are the standout cocktails and new menus I’ve been tasting around the Bay Area, including a number of favorites pulled from my July 6 Zagat article on top summer cocktails.

Saison's Milk Punch

Saison’s Milk Punch

1. Saison’s Milk Punch – and Gardens of Plymouth

Gardens of Plymouth

Gardens of Plymouth

[From my July 6 Zagat Summer Cocktails article]: With pricey tasting menus and a fantastic (hidden) Japanese/sushi pop-up restaurant, it’s easy to forget that one can stop in at the Saison bar for cocktails, bites and wine. Alongside a spectacular wine cellar (ask for recommends from head sommelier Max Coane), bar manager Anthony Keels crafts exquisite, world-class cocktails. Try the Saison Milk Punch, a clarified (think clear and creamy), classic milk punch with the contrasting peat, funk and sweet spice of Hakushu Japanese Whiskey, Smith & Cross rum and Batavia Arrack with subtle pineapple and coconut. It’s a sophisticated alternative to a typical tropical drink.

In addition, I’m also quite a fan of Keels’ Gardens of Plymouth, a summery, vegetal beauty of Plymouth Gin, Kina, Strega (Italian herbal liqueur), snap peas and lime/lemon.

Oddjob's Golden Ratio

Oddjob’s Golden Ratio

2. Oddjob’s Golden Ratio – and Young Gun

Oddjob Young Guns-Virginia Miller

Oddjob’s Young Gun

[From my July 6 Zagat Summer Cocktails article]: Talented bartender Joey Picchi (who also mans Oddjob‘s menu-less, hidden back room bar, SRO) just created a new, wide-ranging, 12-cocktail menu this June at Oddjob, crafting house ingredients like grape soda reduction or toasted pistachio falernum. The Golden Ratio is an immediate standout, made with marigold-infused pisco and dry vermouth, mixed with a golden raisin and cardamom solution, perked up with lemon and white pepper.

Another standout on the current menu is the Young Gun, a toasted coconut brandy cocktail that manages to be toasty with coconut, tasting of the holidays, but not too sweet. It’s balanced by Amaro Nonino, floral Moscato grappa and San Francisco-based Bitter Queens toasted walnut and cocoa nib bitters.


Cafe du Nord’s Stern Grove

3. Cafe Du Nord’s Stern Grove

[From my July 6 Zagat Summer Cocktails article]: The legendary, 100-year-old Cafe Du Nord just reopened June 17, completely remodeled with a new food-and-drink menu from Ne Timeas Restaurant Group and The Bon Vivants. The atmospheric basement space is still dim and relaxed, sporting tables, a long bar and more corners for lingering over lovely drinks from Morgan Schick, the mastermind behind Trick Dog‘s cocktails. Named after one of our great parks (and the site of famed and free summer concerts), the easy-to-drink Stern Grove starts with Appleton Rum and Tariquet VS Armagnac, and layers in caraway flavor from Kummel, java-tinged notes from the coffee tincture and tart, smoky fruit from smoked pineapple and lime.

Double Standard's

Double Standard’s Rabbit Hole

4. The Double Standard’s Rabbit Hole

[From my July 6 Zagat Summer Cocktails article]: Veteran Bay Area bartender Ali Tahsini opened The Double Standard in Oakland in March, building out much of it himself, with plans for local artists to paint murals in and outside the space. With a roomy back patio under giant redwoods, he has plans for food pop-ups, while this week he launches Vol. 1 of a cocktail menu series inspired by record albums, including eight house cocktails and another four on tap (classics like a Moscow Mule and a Whiskey Buck). But our favorite tap cocktail is The Rabbit’s Hole, a refreshing, tart mix of Suerte Blanco Tequila, Spirit Works Sloe Gin, pineapple, lemon, agave syrup and Angostura bitters.

Barrel Room's

Barrel Room’s Hacienda

5. The Barrel Room’s Flor Vodka


Flor Vodka

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[From my July 6 Zagat Summer Cocktails article]: Opening their Financial District location this May (with the original location in Oakland’s Rockridge neighborhood), The Barrel Room is both restaurant (try the hearty burger or fried chicken sandwich for lunch) and wine shop, with rotating menus focused on various parts of the world. Currently, it’s Central and South American wines from Mexico to Chile, as well as bar manager Nick Palm’s Latin American cocktails showcasing spirits from cachaça to mezcal. Try the delicate Flor Vodka (pictured), bright with passion fruit and orange flower water.

But my favorite ended up being a subtle but complex Hacienda, mixing agave spirit sotol with dry vermouth, elderflower and bitters. It’s light, elegant and refreshing.

Tsk Tsk's Beet Down

Tsk Tsk’s Beet Down

6. Tsk Tsk’s Beet Down

[From my July 6 Zagat Summer Cocktails article]: As Justin Lew and Ian Scalzo (formerly Future Bars) ready to open Horsefeather later this fall in the former Ziryab space, on July 17th, they will open a temporary pop-up bar in the same space for 3–4 months. With the cheeky name, Tsk Tsk, think casual neighborhood fun in the form of waffle fries in smoked nacho dust (yep, ground Doritos) and burgers on King’s Hawaiian bread paired with canned beers and boilermakers. Four slushie machines pump boozy slushie cocktails like barman Mitchell Lagneaux’s Beet Down, an icy-cool blend of gin, fresh strawberry and beet purée and lemon under a mountain of rosemary and St. George absinthe–infused whipped cream.

The European's Smoke Without Fire

The European’s Smoke Without Fire

7. The European’s Smoke Without Fire

With a recent return to Aveline for new executive chef Kaley Laird’s menu (her asparagus hummus was one of my top 10 dishes last month), I also took in a drink on the current menu at The European, the bar across the hotel lobby from Aveline. Smoke Without Fire ($10) is a bracing, boozy beauty of gin, Amaro Lucano, Laphroaig 10 year Scotch and rosemary served over a large rock. Everything was in harmony: just enough peat from the Scotch — but not too much — and the right amount of herbaceous green from the gin and amaro.

Plaj's Jordgubbe

Plaj’s Jordgubbe

8. Plaj’s Jordgubbe

Jordgubbe ($12), which is Swedish for strawberry, is a summer delight currently on the menu at my favorite Scandinavian restaurant, Plaj, in Hayes Valley. Tasting only subtly of strawberry — giving the drink a rosy hue — it’s an herb-laden, aromatic sipper, thanks to gin, balanced by the tart of lemon and rhubarb bitters, a bit like a walk through a summer garden.


Starlight Room’s 4th & Broadway

9. Starlight Room’s 4th & Broadway

[From my July 6 Zagat Summer Cocktails article]: In early June, Ryan Hall (who recently moved here from Savannah, GA, and places like Local 11ten, Pacci) took over as bar manager of the venerable Harry Denton’s Starlight Room with its city views and plush, red-velvet booths. Honoring cocktail classics and drinks created by many of the legendary barstaff who have worked at Starlight Room over the decades, Hall’s initial menu offers a little something for everyone.

While I talked about the soft, refreshing East Bay Collins (strawberry-infused vodka, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, pineapple and lemon juice, soda and mint) in my Zagat feature, I especially liked the stirred, spirituous side of the menu, like the 4th & Broadway ($15) — Bulleit Rye, Carpano Antica, Cynar, Fernet Branca and house bitters — resulting in a classic profile with a strong-but-subtly bitter backbone.


Tigerlily’s Northern Swizzle

10. Tigerlily’s Northern Swizzle

Berkeley’s Tigerlily offered one of my top 10 dishes last month on its playful, Indian-influenced menu, while on the cocktail side, I was quenched on a warm summer night with their Northside Swizzle ($11), a blend of El Dorado 5 year rum, Campari, coconut cream, cinnamon bark syrup and lime. It plays like a classic Swizzle and Tiki cocktail in keeping with restraint of the best tropical cocktail bars in the world, like Smuggler’s Cove.