Penelope Bar & Lounge’s Better-for-You Cocktail Is Ahead of the Curve

What makes The Penelope different from any other cocktail — and better-for-you — is its key ingredient: freshly juiced beets.


Photo by Lori Eanes

One of the latest culinary trends — as evidenced by its ubiquity at this year’s Fancy Food Show, San Francisco’s annual confab for gourmet startups — is a new category called “better-for-you.” Having already earned its own proud acronym — BFY — better-for-you is not merely a reboot of what used to be termed “health food,” but instead is a transitional state between “indulgent” and “wholesome.” While the term good-for-you sounds austere and unpalatable, the more inviting better-for-you means “healthy, yet still tasty.”

What’s trendy in food is guaranteed to soon become trendy in drink as well, so BFY cocktails are sure to be on the upswing this year, whether or not they’re labeled as such.

Downtown Oakland hideaway Penelope Bar & Lounge is already ahead of the curve with its namesake cocktail The Penelope, which has been on the menu since owner Johnny Navarro opened the place in 2009. What makes The Penelope different from any other cocktail — and better-for-you, of course — is its key ingredient: freshly juiced beets.

“I grew up drinking beet juice quite a bit,” mused Navarro as he recalled the recipe’s inspiration. Serving him the juice was “something my mom would do. I developed a taste for it, especially blended with pear juice, which my mom used as a sweetener; so that’s in The Penelope as well, along with lime and tequila.” This is a cocktail, after all.

Beet juice is high in the essential vitamin B9 (also known as folate) and the mineral manganese, and it also mysteriously lowers blood pressure, though no one quite yet knows how.

“People order it at first because they want something healthy — then they’re surprised by the great flavor,” Navarro explained. “They say, ‘It feels like I’m drinking a smoothie’ — there’s a certain earthiness, especially with the tequila in there, too.” This being the East Bay, of course Navarro uses only local, fresh produce to make his juice blend.

“I just peel the best raw beets and juice ’em up.”

Health effects aside, what makes beet juice even more interesting is the fabulous color it imparts to drinks, including The Penelope: a deep garnet-hued magenta, glowing like a stained-glass window.

Bar Manager Myra Sanchez chimed in: “People fall in love with this cocktail. It’s always been one of the most popular on our menu.”

The Penelope tastes crisp, rich, a bit spicy — better-for-you means less guilt, but no sacrifice in pleasure.


Penelope Bar & Lounge, 1120 Clay St., Oakland, 510-834-0404,

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