A Summer Alcoholic Mixtape
Nights are still long, temperatures are still rising, and people are still thirsty, so drink up: 10 cocktails for summer.
Trabocco in Alameda, above, gets kudos for cocktails.
Top photo by Lori Eanes; all other photos by Paul Haggard
We seem to be living in a cocktail renaissance, a time when bartenders are throwing their Savoy Cocktail Books out the window, stepping into the kitchen, and emerging with armfuls of ingredients more traditionally suited to dinner than drinks. Rosemary, marjoram, beet juice, and rooibos tea have all found their way onto the drink menus at some of the East Bay’s most beloved bars and restaurants, and intrepid mixologists continue to test their customers’ palates and push the limits of what a cocktail can be.
We’ve gathered 10 current libational favorites, with an eye toward refreshing drinks perfect for toasting the end of summer. Consider it an alcoholic mixtape. And like any great mixtape, the selections tell a story, beginning on a perfect summer night when the air is warm and anything is possible and ending as many Bay Area nights do — the fog surging east and leaving those in its wake shivering on a street corner as they wait for a ride.
Some of the cocktails featured have surprising flavor profiles while others are twists on familiar classics, and pairing notes are suggested where appropriate. So let’s put on our sandals and sun hats one last time and say cheers to another golden summer as we pretend we can’t feel the chill breath of autumn blowing gently at our necks.
The signature drink, Wolfhound, at Wolfhound Bar is a perfect beginning to an auspicious night. It’s a contemporary twist on the French 75, a classic cocktail created in Paris during World War I and named for the powerful 75mm field gun then in use. Whereas the traditional French 75 is gin, lemon juice, sugar, and Champagne, the Wolfhound uses Plymouth Gin, elderflower liqueur, fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice, and is topped with ice-cold prosecco. Best enjoyed while wearing pearls and/or spats, the Wolfhound is a refined drink for those who love Edith Piaf and the films of Douglas Fairbanks, or who have ever referred to a leg as a “gam.”
5516 San Pablo Ave., Oakland, 510-338-3023, TheWolfhoundBar.com.
Another Kind of Tea
Before the sun sets, snag a Mr. Palmer at The Hob Nob in Alameda. A mix of Seagram’s sweet tea vodka and lemonade, this boozy version of the Arnold Palmer is a lovely finish to a leisurely day. Mr. Palmer pairs well with plaid caps, knickers, and argyle socks — and is known to be fond of Tim Conway.
1313 Park St., Alameda, 510-769-1011, TheHobnobAlameda.com.
Just Beet It
When thinking about a good mixer for tequila, beet juice is not usually at the top of anyone’s list. And yet the Mexi-Pali at Dyafa combines both, along with lemon, marjoram, and tamarind, resulting in something unexpected and delicious. Served in a hurricane glass (a type of stemware invented for the famous New Orleans cocktail and associated with tropical drinks), the bright red cocktail is capped with a ball of shaved ice and garnished with a sprig of marjoram. Savory, sweet, and absolutely refreshing, it’s perfect for sipping while watching the sun set over Jack London Square.
44 Webster St., Oakland, 510-250-9491, DyafaOakland.com.
Blurring State Lines
Fun fact: Georgia and Kentucky do not border one another. But geographical truths notwithstanding, the Kentucky-Georgia Border at Blind Tiger is an inventive and tasty cocktail bringing together the best of both states, which makes one wonder if they shouldn’t just rewrite the map. Rooibos tea-infused bourbon is blended with sweet peach, lemon, and honey for a taste that’s a little bit country, a little bit rock ’n’ roll, and a little bit awesome.
2600 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, 510-899-9694, BlindTigerOakland.com.
Before the night cools down, grab an Oaktown Heat at Penelope, Oakland’s only bar named for Spanish actress Penelope Cruz. Featuring Alameda’s Hangar 1 Mandarin Blossom vodka, Oaktown Heat is long on flavor with muddled ginger, lime, and a swift kick of habanero vodka. Spicy cocktails are often made with tequila and/or mezcal, and so Oaktown Heat stands out as a vodka-based drink. Hot and cool and everything in between, it’s an excellent palate cleanser and after-dinner drink that gives just enough heat to make things interesting.
555 12th St. (at Clay and 11th streets), Oakland, 510-834-0404, PenelopeOakland.com.
Taste the Adriatic
A trabocco is a small pier with a complex architectural fishing hut at its end, typically found along the Adriatic coast of Abruzzo, east of Rome. The cuisine at Trabocco in Alameda’s South Shore Center celebrates the best of the Abruzzo region—seafood, cheeses, and several varieties of coastal citrus. The Citronella at Trabocco is a zesty concoction made of Hangar 1 Buddha’s Hand Citron, limoncello, rosemary, egg white, and house-made orange bitters. It harkens back to sun-kissed hills, white-washed villas, and the scent of orange blossoms and pairs well with a Vespa scooter and an Elena Ferrante novel.
2213 South Shore Center, Alameda, 510-521-1152, Trabocco.com.
While on the subject of fruit-inspired drinks in Alameda, Just Picked Me a Plum at East End is a divine marriage of rum, lemon, lime, ume plum, honey, and lavender bitters served tall, over ice. Technically an apricot, the ume plum hails from China and is the main ingredient in plum wine and umeboshi, salty pickled plums. Ume plums are unpleasant to eat raw but can be preserved and enjoyed long after their season has ended. Just Picked Me a Plum is sweet and refreshing, not overly alcoholic, and tastes as good as a juicy plum eaten in the shade. You may have to wait until next season, however — at press time, East End launched a new array of smashing drinks, so follow your mixologist’s lead. East End, by the way, is the lone Alameda restaurant included in Carolyn Jung’s just-released East Bay Cooks: Signature Recipes from the Best Restaurants, Bars, and Bakeries.
1650 Park St., Alameda, 510-263-9630, EastEndAlameda.com.
12 Ounces of Paradise
“Real Men Drink Chi-Chis.” Or so says Magnum P.I. on the T-shirts hanging over the bar at Kona Club. And it’s true. Come in on a Saturday night, and you’ll see men, women, young and old, clutching the frosty coconut drinks. A Chi-Chi is vodka, macadamia nut liqueur, crème de coconut, and pineapple juice blended into icy tropical perfection. The drink is sweet and creamy and tastes like 12 ounces of paradise. The Chi-Chi’s only flaw is that it goes down far too easily. Something that delicious should probably come with a warning label.
4401 Piedmont Ave, Oakland, 510-654-7100, KonaClub.net.
Appeasing Volcano Gods
The drinks at The Kon Tiki in downtown Oakland are seemingly named to warn you about their potency. Last Rites, Virgin’s Downfall, and Dick Smithereens all conjure a sense of impending doom, as though the fruity drinks were meant to be administered prior to someone being led to the mouth of a hungry volcano. The spicy/sweet Virgin’s Sacrifice evokes a similar foreboding. Made from tequila, mezcal, lime, passion fruit, pineapple gum syrup, and chili, it may not soften you up for ritual sacrifice, but it’ll at least get you out on the dance floor.
347 14th St., Oakland, 510-823-2332, TheKon-TikiOakland.com.
Wax & Wane at Ramen Shop might suggest by its name that the drink gets alternately better and worse, but it doesn’t. It just stays delicious. Served up, Wax & Wane contains blanco tequila, granny smith apple juice, spicy ginger, lemon, falernum (a Caribbean syrup tasting of cloves or allspice), yellow chartreuse, and clove, and is garnished with an apple slice. Its sour notes will make you pine for hot summer nights, while the clove and ginger will remind you of mulled wine. A perfect finale to our cocktail mixtape, this one complements any weather, from a sweltering day to a foggy Oakland night.
5812 College Ave., Oakland, 510-640-5034, RamenShop.com.