When two trusted mixologists both agree on a bar, there’s little doubt that your next move should be to go there. That’s what happened two weeks ago when Copa d’Oro bartender Vincenzo Marianella and Absinthe manager Jeff Hollinger both suggested Rickhouse, the latest bar from Bourbon & Branch co-owners Doug Dalton and Brian Sheehy.
Since a rickhouse is where distilleries age their bourbon, the owners decided to craft their impressive bar using bourbon barrels. The eerie backlit ceiling is lined with staggered barrel staves, the second-floor railing is crafted from more staves, and barrels are decoratively stacked along the wood walls.
The website touts “fresh juices, natural sugars and local produce” and shuns “”high fructose corn syrup or artificial flavors.” After all, “A city with such a wonderful cocktail history and imbibing culture as San Francisco is entitled to great libations.” No doubt.
Rickhouse’s massive 28-page menu was consistent with Hollinger’s view that the bar has one of the most ambitious cocktail programs in the city. The menu features categories for Seasonal Coolers; Swizzles, Cobblers and Juleps; Sours, Crustas and Daisies; Slings; Stirred and Spiritous; Punch, Bucks, Collins and Highballs; Flips and Fizzes; Sparkling; Beer; Execptional Wines; Wine to Take Away; American Whiskey; Scotch Malts; Other Malts; Irish Whiskey; Agave; Gin; and Vodka. It would take months if not years to explore the breadth and depth of Rickhouse’s menu.
We probably should have ordered bourbon, but since there were seven of us (and before long, 11), we shared Sao Paolo Punch ($34), a heavy white bowl filled with Sagatiba cachaca, St. Germain elderflower, passion fruit nectar, fresh lemon juice, fresh lemon slices, sparkling wine and assorted berries. We ladled the aromatic and slightly sweet punch into dainty white tea cups.
Since the punch was such a good value, we ordered a second bowl. Pimm’s Berry Punch ($32) was probably even better than the Sao Paolo. It was an effervescent punch that dates to 1840 – “guaranteed to make the sailors bold and the maidens blush” – spiked with gin, loaded with berries and lemon slices and featuring a ginger kick.
By the time we left at 10:30, Rickhouse was packed, for good reason. Next time, it would be good to return earlier in the evening to sit at the bar, chat with the bartenders and explore the bourbon program.