Union Square Cocktail Tour Departs near Union Square, (415) 355-4044. Sat 4-6pm & W 7-9pm. $64.
We sat in comfy chairs in the lobby of the Hotel Serrano while our guide, Zev, began this tour with a background lesson in everything cocktails. The 1860s to 1920s was the golden era for cocktails, but they are coming back, complete with fresh-pressed citrus juices, and I wasn’t surprised to learn that San Francisco is the epicenter of a cocktail revival, since I’ve been enjoying them here for quite a while. But--though it had to start somewhere--it was news to me that it was in S.F. that women first began sitting next to men in a bar. I also learned that it is cocktail-crazed S.F. along with New York and London that are the top three places in the world to drink a cocktail. Our tour took us to three bars I’d never before experienced. In fact, I rarely go to a bar for a cocktail, instead usually opting for one with a meal in a restaurant, so it was special fun to traipse through the Union Square area with a pack of new buddies to bars awaiting us with trays of cocktails and an owner or barkeep to educate us about what we were drinking.
At the Clock Bar in the Westin St. Francis, where central poles display the time around the world, we had a Chartreuse Swizzle topped with a sprig of mint. Made with peppery 110-proof Green Chartreuse containing 130 ingredients, this spirit is produced by French monks and is famous as both a cure-all and a hangover-producer.
In the vivacious, independent, dark and deep Cantina, which boasts having the country’s most complete selection of Latin spirits, we downed a pink Peruvian Pisco Punch with an aromatic slice of orange peel in the bottom—the quintessential S.F. cocktail, having been served here since the early 1800s.
And at chef Charlie Palmer’s brick-walled Burritt Room in the Mystic Hotel, by the Stockton Tunnel, we had a spicy Pequito Picante. It is interesting to know that the space was once a speakeasy as well as an insane asylum, but now, bartender Brian says, “We have fun here.” And the music is really good.
This tour takes about two hours. It is a flat route and covers about ½ mile. No food is served, so consider eating something before and/or after, and bring a bottle of water so you don’t get too hammered. Bars and drinks on a particular tour can vary. You must be age 21 or older to participate, and group size is limited to 12, which seemed perfect. Tips for the bar servers is included, but do tip your guide 10-15 % if you are happy with him/her.
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images ©2014 Carole Terwilliger Meyers