Making the Rounds (II)
Part II of Scott and I’s visits to LCL bartenders in SF
Last week we decided to visit the Clock Bar in hopes of meeting Marco Dionysus and having a few of his signature cocktails. We arrived, found two seats at the moderately crowded bar and lo, there was Marco in front of us to take our drink order.
Before I go any further, I should mention a few things about the Clock Bar. First, this is the lobby bar in the very high-tone Westin St. Francis Hotel on Union Square. It’s neither very large nor very fancy. Despite its size, it is well stocked – a serious cocktailian will feel right at home with the selection of brands and bottlings on display. Also occupying a prominent place at the center of the bar is a industrial looking citrus press and a variety of fresh oranges, lemons, limes, etc. Everything is more or less squeezed fresh for each cocktail. Very nice.
The Clock Bar is also across the lobby from the world-famous Michael Mina restaurant (two Michelin stars). Until very recently, one could order a selection of small plates created by Michael Mina for the bar. For example, lobster corn dogs and tuna tartare, mixed to order. Unfortunately, there has been some sort of ‘food coup’ and about two months ago all the really nice menu items became part of the Michael Mina bar menu (at like 2x the price). You can still get the truffled popcorn and a few other more standard bar-type items at the Clock Bar.
OK, back to more serious things…
Of the several drinks we had Marco make for us, two were real standouts . First, the Wibble, invented by Dick Bradsell for Plymouth Gin. It uses Plymouth Gin, their sloe Gin, grapefruit juice and crème de mûre. Very pretty and refreshing – practically guzzlable. Though we had never heard of it before, Marco told us this is an extremely popular drink in the UK and that you find many variations for it in London bars. Some web research the following day proved this point. Now I just need to get Marco’s recipe!
Second was an original cocktail, the amazing English Breakfast made with Earl Grey infused gin (the bottle was from 209), Grand Mariner, orange marmalade and egg white. After it’s shaken and poured (Marco serves it in a wine glass), it’s given a final light spray of Qi Black Tea Liqueur from a Misto pump. This imbues it with an amazing smoky scent that totally complements the tea and orange flavors in the drink itself. I loved this one so much I found the recipe on-line the next day (yes!), made my own tea infused gin (I used Plymouth) and bought a Misto pump as well for the finishing Qi spray.
And, speaking of bar toys, Marco was using a Bonjour frother to get his egg whites to “stand up” in a head. (Many of the bartenders at Vessel in Seattle use these as well.) Because I am obsessed with learning how to dry shake reliably, we had some discussion about this. His perspective is that it’s simply a practical matter for him – he can turn egg white drinks around faster with the Bonjour than with a dry shake followed by a second shake over ice. Point taken. I noted that his Bonjour has a wavy metal disk on the end instead of a coiled spring. Everyone says this is the one to get for egg white frothing. However, I’ve looked around a bit and it seems as if Bonjour had discontinued the wavy metal disk model. I think there may still be some stock floating about but keep this in mind you decide to buy one.
One drink I didn’t have, by the way, was Marco’s signature Uptown Manhattan, made with Amaro Nonino and originally created for a Marker’s Mark competition in the late ’90s. (Note: this drink is rather buried, as are several of the drinks, in the lengthy bar menu). I actually had this several years ago when Marco was still working at Absinthe in Hayes Valley. At the time, Marco was the very first bartender I met who was reviving recipes for pre-prohibition cocktails from “the old books.” A lot’s happened since then.
Marco said his good-byes to us (taking his union-mandated break – nice working in a hotel like the St. Francis, I suppose) and we ambled on to finish the evening with a drink made by Duggan McDonnell at Cantina, just a few blocks away. We arrived at, or I should say, cautiously approached, Cantina only to find it packed with boisterous 20-something frat boys or the equivalent. A bouncer had just ejected someone without an ID who was now lurking about in front. The music was intensely loud, even outside. Scott and I looked at each other. After the genteel Clock Bar, no way were we going in there tonight!
We set off in search of a final cocktail elsewhere. Drinks by Duggan McDonnell, like the Laughing Buddha and The Misdemeanor, would have to wait for another (less busy, quieter) evening.