Comstock Saloon: Where the old is new again

San Francisco cocktailians have been all atwitter for months about the opening of Comstock Saloon, a new bar in North Beach that was opened by Jeff Hollinger and Jonny Raglin, both formerly of Absinthe. And tonight I got my first taste of this bar and restaurant that opened last week.

I had the pleasure of meeting both Jeff and Jonny a couple of years ago at a ridiculously debaucherous event that kicked off the first San Francisco Cocktail Week. Along with several bartenders and journalists, I hopped on a bus that took us on a bar crawl of many of the city’s best cocktail spots. There were six destinations, and each served two different specialty cocktails concocted especially for the event. I am proud to say that I kept my wits entirely about me. Well, at least I did until we reached the final destination, Bourbon and Branch, where, cruelly, both of their specialty cocktails were deadly martini variations.

But back to Comstock Saloon … When I entered I immediately saw Jonny, who is one of my favorites of San Francisco’s bartending superstars, not only because he’s one of the most talented guys with a cocktail shaker, but also because he’s a genuinely nice guy. He was working the floor rather than behind the stick, but he did me the favor of hopping behind the bar and making us one of the best Sidecars I’ve ever had (and I’ve had, ahem, a lot).  Once we were seated, we couldn’t help but order a few snacks, even though we had both eaten dinner already. The highlight were the potato fritters, and we vowed to return when we could order the beef shank and bone marrow pot pie from the dinner menu.

The cocktail menu is old-school. Nothing too fancy, but lots of delightful traditional cocktails you don’t often see elsewhere, like the Hop Toad Cocktail, with is made from Jamaican rum, lime, apricot brandy, and bitters. When I order the “Barkeep’s Whimsy,” letting the bartender decide what to make me, I got a perfectly made Hemingway Daquiri, a favorite of mine that includes rum, maraschino liqueur, lime, and grapefruit juice. When Jeff Hollinger sat down with us for a while, he told us that they wanted to maintain the integrity of the original space, which is a beautiful high-ceilinged spot that has an elaborately carved bar that dates back to 1907. And if there’s any justice in this world, this place is destined to take off with both the cocktail cognoscenti and the tourists who come to North Beach in droves.

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