Monday, October 22, 2007

Bourbon & Branch: Speakeasy and drink easy!

I've been wanting to share my experience at Bourbon & Branch for a long time...especially since they have my favorite black Ann Taylor shrug and have been impossible to reach. But that's all part of the allure of the place. To get in, you make a reservation (not an easy feat to get a good time) and then knock on a plain wooden door in the middle of a not-so-nice downtown area of SF. You say the password (ours was 20's inspired) and then they let you in.

It's like stepping into the Prohibition Era. Gorgeous cast iron ceilings, candeliers, soft candelight, cozy booths, and ornate pink velvet wallpaper adorn the place. It smells like a dusty, musty, wonderfully old attic, and is smaller than I expected. The bartenders are clearly pros, shaking and mixing like well-choreographed modern dancers. The crowd is mixed-- some young, some older, all hip and relaxed looking as they turn to look at the incomers.

The menu, to my delight, matched the stumbled-into-a-time-machine ambiance. It is lengthy and is LOADED with cocktails, almost all of them antique recipes. Also an amazing list of bourbons, whiskeys, and other spirits. The cocktails all have the list of ingredients, plus a comment on its historical context or origins (i.e., for the White Lady I had, below, "A favorite at Harry's New York Bar in Paris, 1929"). In other words, my perfect heaven-- a combination of history and cocktails, what bliss!!! What better way to see through the lens of a past era that many have pointed out is so similar to ours, as to sit in this jewel box of a bar and drink the same cocktails that were drunk nearly 100 years ago?! I ordered two of the cocktails over the course of our visit, and they were FABULOUS.

The first was the White Lady. It came shaken up hard in a sugared martini glass, frothy and foamy, light as a feather and with delicious, lemony cocktail flavor. It went down super-smoothly and was totally refreshing. It had only a simple few ingredients: gin, cointreau, sugar (I think), fresh lemon juice, and egg white. Yes, egg white, which lent it that fabulous foaminess. I looked it up later and it goes by other names such as the Delilah, Chelsea Side-Car, and Lillian Forever. It is basically a sidecar made with gin instead of brandy. So good I vowed to make it at home and pray the gin kills any potential salmonella.

The second I had was a Widow's Kiss, a favorite in the 1890's (for real!!!). It was wonderful and reminiscent of a crisp fall day by the fire-- golden in color, warm in flavor and effect. It contained calvados brandy, Yellow Chartreuse, Benedictine and angostura bitters, and I believe it was stirred. Not a cocktail I would ever think of making myself, although now I would. Yellow chartreuse is a liquor originally made by monks in France, and is a bright yellow true to its name. Benedictine is also monk-y. It's a type of cognac with many herbs and spices in it, believed to be the oldest liquor ever made according to Wikipedia. I did a little research and found some interesting articles on the drink. Here's a good one. Fabulous, fabulous.

B&B was a wonderful experience and the drinks and ambiance were both absolutely charming. I can't wait to go back. In the meantime, I am excited to explore some of the old-time cocktails that I saw on the menu there for a little taste of the past.


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