Classic Cocktails Get an East Bay Twist
Sometimes subtle, sometimes over the top, inventive updates on some old favorites give the classics a new edge and surprising flavor profiles.
We know the sound of the classics: Frank Sinatra’s “My Way,” Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World,” Ella Fitzgerald’s “Dream a Little Dream.” We know the look of classic films, like Gone With the Wind, Casablanca, and Some Like It Hot: They are timelessly enduring, transporting us after all these years. We even know the fragrance of classic perfumes such as Chanel No. 5 and Calvin Klein Eternity, still delicious after decades. But the taste of the classic cocktail, the magic of a flavor that never dies out and never loses its luster, is always a treasure to savor.
The Old Fashioned. The Gimlet. The Mojito. These are the classic cocktails that keep our bar world turning. Local bartenders are putting a creative twist on these favorites, bringing time-honored tastes with some unexpected additions. This may just be the beginning of a new era.
The Pomaretto, Pizzaiolo
Twist on an Old Fashioned
Ingredients: Bourbon, Bernard Barathier Liqueur, celery bitters, house-made fresh cayenne tincture
Is there anything more beautiful than a glass of bourbon after a long, hard day? It’s effortless and feels like a warm hug from an old friend. At Pizzaiolo, beverage director Todd McKean serves a spectacular cocktail called the Pomaretto that offers the always-welcome heat of bourbon mixed with Barathier, celery bitters, and house-made fresh cayenne tincture to create a celebratory play on an Old Fashioned. “I think this version will be interesting for drinkers who want a new take on the drink that’s not sweet and also who likes a kick in the pants with a bit of spice,” McKean said. “I think these days, sweet is what people are most looking for, and this cocktail will satisfy the whiskey need as well as the curiosity to try a new way of the classic.” Why is the Old Fashioned such a trusted, longtime standby? “It’s been around for years, and it’s a staple in every bar: dives and craft. It will always be one of the top 10 best drinks on the classics list. It’s well-balanced, slick but also rugged, and it can be made with many different whiskeys,” McKean said. Deliciously pleasing. When the time comes for a solid go-to cocktail, the Pomaretto is a short jaunt away on Telegraph Avenue.
5008 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, PizzaioloOakland.com.
Cocchi Rosa Parks, Starline Social Club
Twist on a Corpse Reviver No. 2
Ingredients: Bourbon, Cocchi Rosa, Amaro Meletti, lemon juice
A drink with the power to wake the dead, the Corpse Reviver No. 2 is a charging force in the cocktail game. Traditionally gin-based, the flavor is balanced but fierce and the Cocchi Rosa Parks does it perfect justice. Created by brand ambassador Alex Meynard, the well-balanced beverage brings the strength of the original mixed with the refreshing taste of citrus and bitter bliss of Cocchi Rosa. When asked what defines a classic cocktail, Meynard noted the importance of a great name, something that’s fun to say or is clever or witty. This is clearly the case with the Cocchi Rosa Parks. He also noted that there’s usually a rich backstory, and that is also absolutely true with this one. “It’s a twist on a Paper Plane, then a twist on the Last Word, which is a twist on the O.G. Corpse Reviver No. 2. The way I came up with it is how we got to the structure of a Corpse Reviver. There are four ingredients, all of which are three-quarter ounces, and that’s a fun thing to play with. It’s inspired by the Paper Plane, so I stuck with the bourbon and then played with it. Amaro Meletti is a little bit lighter in body than Amaro Nonino, much lighter than Aperol.”
It will definitely wake up your taste buds and probably even spark a new trend. “A classic is usually something someone made for someone else. That person loved it so much that they ordered it for their friends to try. Then their friends started ordering it,” Meynard said. The classics are constant crowd-pleasers, and this rendition can now be added to the list.
2236 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Oakland, StarlineSocialClub.com/StarlineSite.
Chile-Ginger Gimlet, Bar Cesar
Twist on the Gimlet
Ingredients: St. George Green Chile Vodka, lime, ginger shrub
Refreshing is just the beginning. Vibrant and entertaining, the Gimlet is a standard known for its citrus-forward flavor and simplicity. “It’s typically just lime, alcohol, and simple syrup,” said assistant general manager Johnny Quamina. “It’s almost limeade with alcohol.” Excellently balanced, the Gimlet is a guarantee for an afternoon pick-me-up or a dinner pairing. But at Bar Cesar, no matter what time you imbibe, you’re in for a heat-infused treat, because this one is prepared with the vivacious St. George Green Chile Vodka. Taking a turn away from traditional gin, this version brings a feisty bite while providing the true lime taste desired from a Gimlet. “We use spicy vodka and ginger to elevate the taste of the lime. The ginger neutralizes the heat of the spicy vodka,” said Quamina. Pair it with an order of duck confit tacos, and you’re set.
4039 Piedmont Ave., Oakland, BarCesar.com.
Gin and Tonic, Co Nam
Twist on a Gin and Tonic
Ingredients: Soju, Seedlip, basil, lime, coriander, peppercorns, Fever-Tree tonic
If you haven’t been to Co Nam, a chic, new Vietnamese restaurant on 40th Street and Telegraph Avenue, make sure to get acquainted. Look up when you get there so you don’t miss the overhead copper baskets filled with glass bottles and lights that set the stage for a unique and memorable experience. Then order the Gin and Tonic, a truly lovely cocktail garnished with peppercorns, coriander, and Thai basil created by owner and mixologist Trung Nguyen.
After a trip to Spain where he and his wife enjoyed traditional Gin and Tonics, Nguyen decided to introduce one in his new space, but without a full liquor license yet, he had to think outside the box. “We have a beer and wine license and wanted to do low-ABV drinks, and Soju forces you to be creative in sourcing and infusing.” His ingenuity paid off with this exquisite cocktail, and it manages to please multiple senses. Aesthetically, it’s stunning. Served in a wine glass, it’s an elegant-looking drink on par with a Martini. The taste is delicate and impossible to put down, and the fragrance is delectable. “It hits you in the nose in a refreshing way,” Nguyen said. “When you smell it, it bounces out. You can smell lavender and oregano just coming out of the glass.” It would be a feat to only have one.
3936 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, CoNamSF.com.
Lady Killer, The Cat House
Twist on a Paloma
Ingredients: Mezcal, house-made grapefruit syrup, lime juice, house-made extra spicy chili tincture, cucumber bitters, club soda
Yes, please. The Paloma is all the best parts of a lounging pool party set in Sayulita on a day when the sun is bronze-colored and the water is perfectly cool. Tequila and grapefruit mix like love and poetry, and The Cat House’s twist on this original favorite is just as memorable. Said co-owner Hana Hiyashi, “Although a standard Paloma is delicious, it’s relatively one dimensional, can dilute pretty quickly, and is more of a thirst-quencher-for-hot-weather drink. The Lady Killer is a smokier, stronger, more savory, more concentrated version that, while still refreshing enough for a 90-degree day, kicks enough of a punch to be appropriate for colder weather, too.” Rain or shine, we’ll be ordering one.
3255 Lakeshore Ave., Oakland, TheCatHouseBar.com.
Sassy Sailor, The Port Bar
Twist on a Mojito
Ingredients: Bacardi Dragon Berry Rum, St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur, mint, fresh lime, soda water
Fresh, minty, and packed with a floral-berry kick, this twist on a Mojito is a spectacular serving of all things delicious. The Sassy Sailor is a twist on an iconic drink enjoyed on hot summer nights everywhere, loved for its blend of fresh herbs and bright citrus. In this playful rendition, bar manager “Echo” put a spin on it with the addition of luscious dragon berry rum and elderflower liqueur that kicks it up a notch and has patrons coming back for more. “This new Mojito is flying out the door,” Echo said. “People’s eyes light up.”
Customers are not only delighted by the taste, but also the service behind it, because Echo is also an illustrious drag queen and someone who loves the flirtatious, lively monikers of Port Bar cocktails (which also offers the Gurl, Bai, and the Hung Like a Mule). In this case Echo said, “It’s ‘Sassy’ because of the sweet-but-tart smooth flavor, and it’s ‘Sailor’ for one story that traces back to 1586. It was known that the local South American Indians had remedies for various tropical illnesses, so a small boarding party went ashore on Cuba and came back with ingredients for an effective medicine. The ingredients were translated as burning water, a crude form of rum made from sugar cane, mixed with tropical ingredients: lime, sugar cane, and mint.” So, is it a cure? The Sassy Sailor is sure to remedy any night in need of a surefire cocktail and a dose of drag queen charm. Tell Echo we sent you.
2023 Broadway, Oakland, ThePortBarOakland.com.
Bloody Mary, Heinold’s First and Last Chance
Twist on a Bloody Mary
Ingredients: Vodka, house-made blend of spices and tomato juice, Worcestershire sauce, horseradish, fresh veggies
Who doesn’t yearn for a spicy tomato cocktail brimming with olives and peppery goodness at a lazy weekend brunch? The Bloody Mary is a fantastic choice whether you’re indulging on French toast and fried eggs or chilaquiles with pico de gallo. It’s a standby and at Heinold’s First and Last Chance in Jack London Square, and it’s better than it’s ever been before. Thanks to bartender Andrew Hutchinson, this updated, upgraded version of the traditional includes a carefully crafted house-made blend of spices and tomato juice that elevates the flavor to new heights. “It follows along the lines of Worcestershire sauce and horseradish,” said Hutchinson, who didn’t divulge the complete secret recipe.
But along with the aromatic tomato base, the real beauty and the twist on the classic is in the garnishes. Hutchinson visits the onsite farmers market every Sunday to get the best and freshest vegetables from local vendors. Your Bloody Mary may include carrots and bell peppers along with green onion. He also adds pickled green beans, which makes this beverage altogether amazing. Take a seat at one of the tables in Heinold’s 135-year-old bar and savor every sip of this Bloody Mary before taking a stroll on the waterfront. A perfect Sunday morning is just waiting for you.
48 Webster St., #3721, Oakland.
Honey Ryder, District
Twist on a Screwdriver
Ingredients: Hangar One Vodka, lavender honey, blood orange shrub, agave
You may have tried a Screwdriver in college that was a mix of supermarket orange juice and $10 vodka served in a red plastic cup. The Honey Ryder is not that. This is a beautiful, upscale cocktail elevated by premium ingredients and superior attention to detail. GM and bar manager John Marsh explained, “Vodka and citrus have always gone together well. Unlike other spirits like gin or whiskey that can be overpowering with certain other flavors, the vodka lends itself as more of the under card and not the main event in most cocktails. This helps to feature the blood orange and the lavender more. The vodka gives the cocktail structure while allowing the other ingredients to shine through.”
When asked how the distinctive drink was invented, Marsh said, “Our team set out to create a shrub cocktail, which has become an increasingly popular cocktail ingredient. We had several different shrub options, and we all liked blood orange shrub. Vodka was the first spirit that came to mind as the vodka and orange make a great pairing. We chose to feature locally made Hangar One Vodka since it is a very smooth and clean spirit. Since the shrub, which is made from vinegar, is such a concentrated ingredient, we needed something more subtle and aromatic to balance out the drink. We took some dry lavender and infused it with local honey to make our lavender honey. This brought a floral element that paired very well with the blood orange. We added half a fresh lemon to introduce citrus for brightness and a splash of agave for balance.” Named after James Bond’s first female love interest, the Honey Ryder is a blockbuster not to be missed.
827 Washington St., Oakland, DistrictOak.com.
Fool’s Gold, Ramen Shop
Twist on A Widow’s Kiss
Ingredients: Rittenhouse Rye, Yellow Chartreuse, Benedictine infused with turmeric and ginger, Dolin Dry Vermouth, Bitter Truth Orange Bitters
A superstar bartender knows how to combine flavors to create memorable cocktails that patrons will enjoy again and again. At Ramen Shop, a popular Rockridge restaurant serving spectacular dishes like shoyu beef ramen and shrimp dumplings, bar manager Lauren Steele does it with ease. Inspired by the classic A Widow’s Kiss, known for its herbaceous and sweet characteristics, Steele used her astute bar knowledge to design The Fool’s Gold, and the result is magical.
“I wanted to dry out the cocktail a bit by adding rye whiskey and dry vermouth in place of the brandy,” said Steele. “The ginger complements the spice and proof of the Rittenhouse Rye while the turmeric gives the cocktail a golden hue. The orange bitters took the place of Angostura bitters to add a citrus note.” This is a cocktail with a twist that’s pure gold.
5812 College Ave., Oakland, RamenShop.com.
Flying 75, Bar 41
Twist on a Paper Plane and French 75
Ingredients: Deadwood Rye, Cappelletti, lemon juice, simple syrup, sparkling rosé
A mix of two classics, one featuring the heat of bourbon and one highlighting the effervescence of Champagne, the Flying 75 is a decadent creation bringing the best of both. Bright apricot in color and garnished with a dehydrated lemon slice, it’s a delicious offered from a Temescal bar focused on serving creative, quality cocktails. Originally based on the Paper Plane, the drink began as a blend of rye, Cappelletti, lemon juice, and simple syrup. Owner and operator Christopher Parks called it the Flyer and customers adored it. He decided to continue playing with the ingredients and with inspiration from the French 75 ended up with this inventive combination.
Said Parks, “The French 75 original recipe was invented in 1915 at the New York bar in Paris, named after the 75 mm gun used in WWI. It’s as classic as it gets being a pre-Prohibition libation of gin, Champagne, lemon, and sugar. To make the Flying 75, I swapped out the gin for rye, added Cappelletti, another orange liqueur similar to Aperol but more perfume-like, kept the lemon, used simple syrup instead of granular sugar, and topped with sparkling rosé brut, instead of actual Champagne.” You’ll enjoy every drop.
308 41st St., Oakland, Bar41Oakland.com.
Kon-Tiki Zombie, Kon-Tiki
Twist on The Zombie
Ingredients: Jamaican rum, blended, aged, and filtered rum, Maraschino liqueur, 151 Demara rum, lime juice, grapefruit juice, pineapple juice, house-made Falernum, Grenadine, Angostura bitters, absinthe, almond extract
Paradise does come in beverage form, and it has arrived in Kon-Tiki’s marvelously flavored Kon-Tiki Zombie. Owner Christ Aivaliotis said, “Classic cocktails are the ones that a good bartender will never make badly,” and this one stands out as a winner every time. “It was first concocted, legend has it, as a hangover cure at Don the Beachcomber’s in LA,” said Aivaliotis. “He is said to have made it for a businessman who claimed that due to its potency, it turned him into a zombie.”
The twist on this favorite cocktail is in the details. “We use better ingredients than what has been used in the intervening years since Don first made the drink. Many bars have made Zombies, but most of them were terrible, just using whatever rums and fruit juices they had on hand.” As this is not the case at Kon-Tiki, a venerable addition to Downtown Oakland’s bar scene, sip your Zombie knowing you’re getting the elite of offerings.
347 14th St., Oakland, TheKon-TikiOakland.com.