"Twenty years ago, bars were these weird appendages that chefs had no knowledge of," says Thad Vogler, owner of Bar Agricole. Vogler has spent his career changing that situation in the Bay Area, serving as a bar manager and consultant at a slew of restaurants, encouraging them to take the same ingredient-driven approach that they use for their food to improve their cocktails.
With Bar Agricole, Vogler has created a place where the drinks are as central to the restaurant's identity as the food. Diners seem to stop at the bar in this modern, LEED-certified tavern as a destination, not merely as a spot to wait before dinner. The James Beard Foundation counts itself among these enthusiastic sippers, and chose Bar Agricole as one of the five finalists for this year's inaugural Outstanding Bar Program award, alongside Chicago's Violet Hour and The Aviary, and New York's PDT and Pegu Club.
Bar Agricole concentrates on mixing classic drinks rather than originals. Vogler describes the cocktail menu at Bar Agricole as, "Simple, real traditional drinks, with good ingredients." When he asked Craig Lane, Bar Agricole's head bartender, to show off a few of his favorite drinks on the menu, it was the story behind each of the ingredients that seemed to get Lane most excited. Click through the slideshow to see what he made when forced to choose just five top drinks.