Years ago, if you had asked about the cocktail scene in Marin County, nightlife know-it-alls would just point toward the City. But now, with more people leaving San Francisco for greener pastures, Marin’s bartenders say cocktails are making a comeback north of the Golden Gate Bridge — thanks to new establishments and appealing programs that seize Marinites’ interest in unique flavors and respect for the classic repertoire.
“I’ve seen people being so open. It reminds me of San Francisco in the heyday of my time,” says Isaac Shumway, former bar director of Tosca Café and Bear Vs. Bull. He’s now owner of new San Rafael cocktail spot California Gold. He describes refreshingly receptive and savvy Marin consumers, engrossed by back-shelf spirits and peculiar ingredients. The vibe surprised him: “Honestly, the clientele is cooler than San Francisco was.”
Like elsewhere in the Bay Area, an emphasis on fresh ingredients and global flavors reigns — fitting for the verdant, farmer’s-market-dotted suburbs that embrace a farm-to-table restaurant scene. “Staying up on seasonal fruits and herbs and keeping those in the mix is the way togo here,” says Jason Sims, managing partner of Bungalow 44 and beverage director of Buckeye Roadhouse.
Behold five suggestions for intriguing cocktails within Marin. Consider them on your next skip about Mount Tamor on your trek back from Stinson.
Golden Gate Strait, California Gold
At California Gold, find a program built on the serious cocktail classics in Charles H. Baker’s 1939 book The Gentleman’s Companion and a love for the Northern California melting pot. A pre-Gold Rush aura dominates. The amber-hued Golden Gate Strait, a playful riff on a sling and a tiki cocktail, is a fitting example. There’s a local tie. “It’s named for the ancient river mouth that opens up between San Francisco and Marin,” says owner Shumway, who also noted its role in ensuing commerce. This beguiling “seafaring grog,” served up over a heap of ice in a statuesque hurricane glass, blends Smith & Cross Navy Strength plantation rum, mezcal, pineapple gum, velvet Falernum and lime. There’s a splash of local staple Pliney the Elder IPA. A pineapple leaf finishes it. 848 B St., San Rafael californiagoldbar.com
The Beet Down, Buckeye Roadhouse
Conjured by Buckeye’s Sims, this lively libation reflects a growing trend he sees toward blending base spirits and harvest-forward beverages — fitting, as Sims’ light bulb moment for the concoction took root while eating a salad. It unites tequila, smoky mezcal, beet juice, grapefruit, lemon and effervescent ginger beer. The grapefruit, Sims notes, is the secret weapon for this vibrant tipple, rounding out the earthy beet flavor with an intriguing depth. It’s served on the rocks with a salt rim and cilantro stalk. 15 Shoreline Hwy., Mill Valley 415-331-2600, buckeyeroadhouse.com
Blood Orange Margarita, Marinitas
An apt example of this pan-Latin restaurant’s twin devotion to 100 percent blue agave tequila and seasonal produce, this blush-colored refreshment melds fresh-squeezed blood orange juice, housemade sweet-and-sour, Cointreau and tequila. “The fruit really complements the smokiness in the tequila,” says Patrick Coll, general managing partner. Other seasons see pomegranate, pineapple or prickly pear substituted for the blood orange. Imbibers seeking a peppery kick can request a spicy salt rim, crafted from a chili blend roasted onsite by the chef. 218 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., San Anselmo 415-454-8900, marinitas.com
Old-Fashioned, Bungalow 44
A toasted pecan-infused Buffalo Trace bourbon handcrafted by managing partner Sims is the nutty foundation for this subtle revamp of a cocktail classic. After Sims seasons the pecans with salt, pepper and a sprinkle of cayenne, he gently roasts them before their three-day bourbon soak. They imbue the dark spirit with a special mouthfeel. A dash of angostura bitters and a finishing orange-peel twist help this drink ring true to your traditional old-fashioned. 44 E. Blithedale Ave., Mill Valley 415-381-2500, bungalow44.com
The Beautiful Ones, Farley Bar
Named after the classic Prince song, this opulent cocktail relies on a harmony of cerulean house-crafted pea flower syrup, Alameda-made Hangar 1 rosé vodka, Luxardo maraschino, and Italian prosecco for its compelling violet hue and floral character. Bartender Sade Oyedeji developed this drink for Farley Bar, nestled within Cavallo Point lodge in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge. She also rims the glass with the pea flowers — pulverized into salt-sized granules — and tops it all with a riot of edible violas. Beautiful, indeed. 602 Murray Circle, Sausalito 415-339-4750, cavallopoint.com/dine/farley-bar