Call It the Sazerockridge

The Graduate updates the Sazerac.


Brijean Murphy graduated two years ago from Cal with a degree in peace and conflict studies. “Totally applicable,” she says of how her bachelor’s degree relates to her current gig. Murphy is assistant manager of venerable student watering hole The Graduate, which has long catered to Berkeley students, though it technically sits on the Oakland side of Rockridge. “I learned a lot about direct communication,” she says, which comes in handy with rowdy weekend patrons taking advantage of the student rate that’s existed—with adjustments for inflation—since owner Javad Parsa took over the bar in 1997. Students get happy-hour prices no matter the time, which right now are $3.50 for well drinks, $2 for a pint of PBR, and $7 for a pitcher, $3.25 for a pint of Sierra Nevada, and $11.75 for a pitcher of the same.

But it’s not all Jäger bombs and Sriracha popcorn with undergrads here (the lower-level room known colloquially as The Undergraduate shut down a few years ago due to issues with the fire code, anyway). Marine biology grad students celebrate work getting published in the New York Times in the slanted natural light of The Graduate; couples waiting for tables at nearby Wood Tavern order spirit-forward pours like gimlets, martinis, and vodka presses; and assorted local regulars get friendly over beers and picklebacks starting at 12:30 p.m. Murphy learned on the job and works with whatever the bar has on hand at any given time. She started in restaurants as a teen in LA, but really cut her bartending teeth as a kid at parties thrown by her dad, a conguero who played with Tito Puente and “other cool jazz dudes.” Unsurprisingly, Murphy herself is a musician, playing congas, timbales, keyboards, and singing in an Afrobeat band, a Latin jazz one, and one Radiohead-meets-Cuban-roots outfit called Waterstrider.

The first cocktail Murphy learned to make was a screwdriver with Skyy vodka, chilled in the freezer, for her father’s friends—an early lesson in using what you’ve got to work with behind the bar. It’s a skill that comes in handy at The Graduate, which occupies the liminal space between student and local, foodie and barfly, Oakland and Berkeley. Appropriately, November’s cocktail of the month, The Old Sass, is a quick-and-tasty bathtub version of a Sazerac, a classic drink gone trendy. Murphy’s version eschews all that showy sugar-cube-muddling and absinthe-glass-coating in favor of ingredients that most bars stock. And it’s $7 for the month of November.

The Old Sass

1.5 ounces Bulleit rye
1 dash Angostura bitters
3 bar spoons yellow chartreuse
1 teaspoon (or less) of sugar

Shake all ingredients, strain into a chilled highball, and garnish with orange twist.

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