This week in the paper, Virginia Miller reviewed menu-less wonderbar Rio Grande. Below, her review of a second custom drink haven.
Big's name is somewhat of an oxymoron. This cozy space from the crew behind Jones is a mere few seats and when the bar is full at around 20-25 people, be prepared to wait at the door until space clears (they will text you when it does). After multiple visits, I continue to find the bar staffed by the talented Brian Felley (previously at Fleur de Lys and Garcon), a barback and one other bartender, Mo, who is recently here from burgeoning cocktail town Denver, having worked at the Squeaky Bean. Similar to the aforementioned Library Bar, there's a small herb and produce spread here, while both bartenders are quite adept at assessing preferences, taking time to craft you "just the thing."
Vintage glassware makes sipping a pleasure, the bar lined with a thoughtful selection of spirits and bitter beauties I adore like Bittermens Amère Sauvage, even one I wasn't familiar with: Salers Gentiane Apéritif. One warm night, fresh beet juice was radiant with Hirsch corn whiskey, habanero shrub for a gentle heat-vinegar accent, lemon, half a rim of paprika, salt, and black pepper. A real stunner of a cocktail utilized their tart, lively rhubarb syrup, mixing it with Plymouth gin, Aperol, Bitter Truth Creole bitters, Vya Whisper Dry Vermouth and a hint of fresh fennel juice. Refreshing as it was, the best part of the cocktail was that its layers unfold with one sip: tart, bitter, spice, floral, etc... Each as pleasing and subtle as the last.
During another visit they concocted a bright mix of Fidencio mezcal, reposado tequila, grapefruit, lime, dry vermouth and a fascinating mirepoix (celery, onions, carrot) syrup. I'd just tried the syrup earlier in the week as Felley's first experimental batch, the onion hitting too strong (though I'm crazy about savory, funky cocktails), while a few nights later Mo added it to the aforementioned cocktail for delicate savory notes. I value their experimentation, hunting for the right match for each ingredient.
I'd been on the elusive hunt for their sweet corn fizzes which they recently tweeted about but are only available when sweet corn is in the house. My third visit was the charm. Mo mixed the subtle sweet corn (fresh off the stalk, blended into a liquid) with essentially a Cognac fortified wine, apple, lemon, a dreamy basil milk, a touch of Lebanese liqueur Arak Razzouk and Zirbenz pine liqueur, shaken with egg whites and topped with Peychaud's bitters. Soft and frothy, this refreshing imbibement hits subtly with sweet corn, then whispers of pine forest and anise from the Arak. Thankfully here I know I can expect something unique, complex, rewarding but without attitude or fussiness. Naturally, it takes a few minutes to craft each drink, and be prepared for cash only and $13 per cocktail, which adds up quickly.
They've only recently expanded from being open merely Thursdays through Saturdays to adding on Tuesdays and Wednesdays (opening at 6pm). If you are a cocktail aficionado, this bar offers a special experience. If you are not, don't visit Big to try the same old thing (there's plenty of nearby bars for that - please leave the minimal seats to the rest of us) - rather, be open and ready to have your whim of the moment met with fresh style. Big is just the sort of bar I fall in love with: romantic, welcoming, intimate, mellow - one where I can converse comfortably with bartenders and my companions while sipping a beautiful custom drink.
761 Post, SF
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