Serious Eats: Drinks
First Look: Cocktails at The Alchemist in San Francisco
The team at The Alchemist was in good spirits, if a little exhausted, after a successful opening weekend. Following a packed soft launch, an opening party, and the loss of an hour courtesy of daylight savings, managing partner Kinson Lau (most recently of Gitane) and bartender Seth Laufman (of Gitane, Comstock Saloon, and the Burritt Room, among others), were both pleased with the bar's kickoff, despite their lack of sleep.
The first weekend crowds bode well for the group's goal, which is to bring the laid-back-cool vibe of a Mission bar to SOMA. Considering the area is better known for its club scene than its craft cocktails, they feel they have a decided niche to fill. And, a whole different kind of crowd to appeal to.
Laufman kept the implications of The Alchemist's location, particularly its proximity to AT&T Park, very carefully in mind when designing the the bar's menu.
"I wanted a list that wouldn't scare away people who aren't cocktail-savvy, but would lure in the nerds, the people I hang out with, too," Laufman said of the opening menu, offering me a whiff of fennel bitters and a taste of dry sherry. "I wanted to work with good spirits, with people who know what they're doing. But I want it to be approachable."
This approachability is reflected in the cocktail names—from the Beez Nuts, a riff on a Bee's Knees, to the Campfire Fizz, which features smoky mezcal and Lagunitas IPA—and in the space itself. Large, high ceilinged, and decorated in an industrial-chic-cum-cozy style, the upstairs bar features couches sourced from Craigslist and a statue made of gears affectionately named "Art." Silent movies are projected on the walls, and bar snacks are available from the Thai restaurant downstairs, Root.
But playful attitude aside, this is a bar that is putting the drinks front and center. Lau plans on introducing one or two new drinks a week, with specials featuring Chinese herbalist tinctures. Right now, he's experimenting with a ginseng-infused rosemary syrup, and a ginseng-infused gin. The specials will appear on a large chalkboard flanking the bar, and will have the potential to become more permanent features if they're a hit with customers.
"Eventually, I want to bring in bartenders from around the city to do a drink on the board," Lau says. "I want to give the great bartenders we know to try things they maybe couldn't do in their bar or restaurant."
Other plans include beer-and-a-shot deals on Sundays (to appeal to the industry crowd), a possible late-night food program from the guys at Gung Ho, movie nights, and game-day specials.
"I want people to have fun with it," Laufman said of the cocktails, and the bar itself. "It's booze, it's nothing that should be taken too seriously."
About the author: Lauren Sloss is a bicoastal food-lover who is based in San Francisco. Some of her favorite things include The Black Keys, goat gouda, and guacamole. You can follow her on Twitter @laurensloss.