Thursday, January 1, 2009

Bourbon and Branch- Revisiting the Speakeasy

It was the night of New Years Day and our last night in San Francisco. Feeling truly adventurous, David and I headed out for the streets in search of the bar, Bourbon and Branch after reading about it in the New York Times. Our love for a good libation and for nostalgia made our choice an obvious one.

The night was cold and the thickness of the San Francisco fog blurred the lines of the buildings and streets which added an air of mystery to the adventure that we were embarking upon. At the corner of Jones and O Farrell there is an unmarked, discreet door made of oak and with a traditional peep hole at eye level. We knew that we were in the right place when we saw a small group of people huddled outside the door. The door opened every couple of minutes allowing the people in front of us to enter in groups. After a few minutes we were greeted at the door by a pretty, and very friendly young lady who promptly asked us for our password. (To obtain the password of the night you must visit the Bourbon and Branch web site).

As we passed through the door I immediately felt as if we were stepping back in time. Soft overhead lighting and numerous candles left the room in a dark and moody glow. The walls were covered in a dark, damask patterned, raspberry flocked wallpaper and the fluted pilasters were painted black. The lack of windows made one feel as if you were insulated from the hectic, modern world outside where you could truly appreciate the mood of the space with little intrusion. Period music of the twenties and thirties played softly as we sat down at the bar and my mind was immediately swept away with images of the past. People smoking cigarettes would have completed the scene.

We had the bar to ourselves while everyone else was tucked away in discreet little booths behind us and in the back. Others had slipped away through a blind door disguised as liquor cabinet to a secret room beyond.

Our bartender was appropriately dressed in a long sleeve dress shirt with a period sleeve garter. While surveying the extensive libations menu it felt as if we were reading a history book dedicated to cocktails- what a dream come true! Branch water was a term that was first used in the 1800's referring to a small stream of pure and clean water called a "branch". To order a "Bourbon and Branch" is a nostalgic term for ordering a bourbon and water. The speakeasy is most popularly connected with the prohibition era in America from 1920 to 1933 but the term actually predates prohibition by thirty years. Legend has it that an old Irish lady bartender from Pittsburgh, PA sold her liquor without a license and therefore asked her patrons to "spake-aisy".

Bourbon and Branch requests that their patrons follow tradition and speak easy upon entering and exiting the bar.

For our first round I decided on a vanilla mimosa topped with a thin layer of egg whites and s few decorative drops of bitters. The champagne was delicately hinted with the scent of vanilla and the egg whites added a luxurious richness to the drink. It will be hard to go back to the traditional mimosa with orange juice, which I now realize is can be too sweet.Although the name escapes us, David ordered a gin mixed with a splash of champagne. Who would have known that the combination could be so delicious. The herbal qualities of the gin shined through and were complimented by the champagne.

Four our next round I ordered a "Pisco Sour" and David ordered a traditional Manhattan. You could compare the pisco sour to a Caipirina and the Manhattan defined the concoction.

It was hard to pull ourselves away from the bar but we had 7:30 dinner reservations at Town Hall so off we went but we decided to go back for a nightcap afterwards.

Despite our true enjoyment of our dinner I think we were both secretly longing to get back to Bourbon and Branch and to continue our adventure to the past. So without further ado after dinner we set off in a taxi.

For our nightcaps I had a Manhattan and for our second round we both had a marmalade whiskey sour, which elevated the art of libations to a whole new level. Our bartender was a true artisan and I thanked him for keeping such a beautiful and tasty tradition alive.

Neither of us wanted to leave but reality and a morning flight back to DC pulled us out of the twenties and straight back into the reality of the hectic world just outside the door.

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