First Look: All the Cocktails at Duende, Oakland, CA
Note: First Looks give previews of new drinks and menus we're curious about. Since they are arranged photo shoots and interviews with bars and restaurants, we do not make critical evaluations or recommendations.
Chef Paul Canales' new Oakland restaurant/music venue/cafe/wine shop has a striking location across the street from the gorgeous Fox Theater—but the interior of the space is just as striking, high-ceilinged and crisscrossed with industrial beams, layered with murals created by local artists. There will be live music in the mezzanine—this week they'll be featuring the Nels Cline Singers—but our focus, as usual, was to check out the drinks.
Duende's head bartender Troy Bayless walked us through each one—the list takes advantage of the restaurant's extensive sherry selection, though not every cocktail is a sherry drink. Bayless reminded us that sherry cocktails aren't some new trend—instead, they're a nod toward classicism. "With sherry, we're harkening back to traditional 19th century cocktails and punches." (In addition to the cocktail list, there's large-format punch on the way, promises Bayless.)
He's eager to feature distinctive spirits and mixers—local Sutton Cellars vermouth and nocino, bacanora and artisanal mezcal from Mexico, as well as a range of sherries. There's a tart calvados sour made with local hard cider and flavored with sage syrup. The sage was foraged up in Point Reyes, but Bayless doesn't boast about it on the menu. "I don't want to be heavy handed about this stuff. Many of these things, they're just traditional, just how cocktails were made in the past."