Legionnaire Black Derby Updates an Old Favorite

Sip a taste of spring in Zach Turner's whiskey wonder.


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Black Derby

LORI EANES

Zack Turner’s bar, the Legionnaire, on Telegraph between Grand Avenue and 23rd Street, is truly a brick-and-mortar extension of himself. It’s named in part for his long-running hip-hop crew, Foreign Legion, but also for the historically inclusive modus operandi of that French military service. “They come from all over; they don’t turn anyone away,” says Turner.

His bar is the same: An upstairs entertainment menu of everything from burlesque to open jams, and downstairs nights dedicated to honky-tonk and lesbians (understanding that the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive), all lend an air of welcoming eclecticism that reflects Oakland and Turner himself to a T. The San Jose native has been in The Town for 21 years, bartending and performing in bars and venues for almost all of that. He co-owned the Layover before opening the Legionnaire last March with his wife RaeAnne.

“I’ve been here longer than almost anyone I know,” Turner explains, “except for people who were born here. And I’ve seen the holes and what needed to be filled.” A bar with arms as open as Oakland’s was something that Turner found lacking; so he opened this one, occupying a space that has been, among other things, an Italian bar in the 1950s and the queer Telegraph staple Cabal’s Reef. The Legionnaire’s walls are covered with photos and ephemera from his own family history: The guitar above the bar belonged to his great-uncle, a touring musician with the U.S. Navy band in the 1940s; the pretty dancer pictured just below that is Turner’s mom, who owned two dance studios before becoming a Top 40 radio DJ in Crescent City. Evocations of Ireland pepper the décor, as well—more subtle references to Turner, who boasts a Celtic harp among his many tattoos. “We’re an Irish bar without calling ourselves that,” he explains. Many of the bar’s drink offerings bear an Irish air; many others are classics with a Legionnaire twist. One of the most popular offerings is Dickel and a Pickle, a shot of Tennessee whiskey accompanied by a whole, handmade garlic pickle instead of nameless well bourbon and pickle juice; the Fenian Pirata is a reimagined Old Fashioned with Trinidadian rum and peated single malt Irish whiskey instead of just bourbon. And this issue’s cocktail of the month is a fresh take on the LA classic Brown Derby—a Black Derby, a sophisticated spring sip with an extra ounce of fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice, a bracing touch of bitters, and blackstrap molasses instead of honey.

1 1/2 ounce whiskey

2 ounces fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice

1 teaspoon molasses

2 dashes Angostura bitters

Stir all ingredients together. Serve neat with a grapefruit twist.

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