Thad Vogler

This is the Sixth in an ongoing series of bartender features on the Underhill-Lounge.

Previously, I had experimented by asking the bartender at Montgomery Place to make me a Bombay Cocktail No. 2, but this just seemed to result in a grumpy bartender.

To make it less of a shock, I thought I would contact some local bartenders and give them a choice of the dozen or so Savoy Cocktails that might be coming up in the book.

Surprisingly, some actually were game.

Note: After a bicycle injury which broke his collar bone, Mr. Vogler moved on from Beretta.  After some recuperation, he opened the bar at Camino in Oakland.  According to Tablehopper, he is currently working on his own place south of market called BAR AGRICOLE.

In regards Beretta, it has found its own successful cocktail groove with Ryan Fitgerald now running the bar.

When I met up with Erik Adkins at Flora, another bartender who was working that night was Thad Vogler. We talked about getting together and making some Savoy Cocktails. A few months later, I ran into Mr. Vogler again, and he told me he was working on reopening a restaurant for the owners of the space that used to be The Last Supper Club, (not to mention Radio Valencia, for those oldsters among the audience). The relaunch of this restaurant with a cocktail program composed of modern and classic drinks seemed like an auspicious time to get together and make some Savoy Cocktails.

The concept for Beretta is a casual place with cocktails, Italian Food, and Pizza.

Interestingly, like a few new restaurants I’ve been to in San Francisco and Portland, much of the dining room is taken up the bar and a large table for shared seating. They do have a few tables at the back for proper seated dining, and a large room downstairs for groups and possibly overflow.

The drink menu is based primarily around New World Spirits and Citrus. Agave and Cane Spirits, Pisco, Whiskey. A very good selection of these spirits, some that I’ve never seen before. In addition, the roster of bartenders Mr. Vogler has assembled nearly reads like a who’s who of San Francisco’s advanced mixologists.

Thad Vogler is a Santa Cruz native who has been bartending for almost 20 years.  He has worked in the industry in Paris, Ireland, Tokyo, Guatemala, Cuba, Belize and San Francisco where he worked on the opening team of seven restaurants.  Most notably he helped design, open and then managed the bars at the Slanted Door in the Ferry Building, Coco 500, the Presidio Social Club, and the Lounge at the newly remodeled Jardinière.  Currently, he is helping to design the bar at Camino restaurant with Russel Moore, from Chez Panisse, as well as designing and reopening the bar at Beretta Restaurant in the Mission.  He has worked at Bourbon and Branch, one of the more famous bars in the country, and teaches a rum course for the Bourbon and Branch Beverage Academy.  A graduate in Literature from Yale University, Thad has always loved a good story.  The history of liquor in this world tells many beautiful stories, none richer than the history of rum in the Caribbean, the Americas and all over the world.

Holland House Cocktail

The Juice of 1/4 Lemon.
1 Slice Pineapple. (handful sliced pineapple pieces)
1/3 French Vermouth. (3/4 Vya Dry Vermouth)
2/3 Dry Gin. (1 1/2 oz Plymouth Gin)
4 Dashes Maraschino. (barspoon Luxardo Maraschino)

Shake well and strain into cocktail glass.

We had high hopes for this one, which were pretty much dashed immediately. It tastes pretty much like a flat Aviation. Thad tried a couple variations and neither were much good. The funky and unpleasant side of the Luxardo was definitely the dominant element in the cocktail. I have to admit the “1 Slice Pineapple” still puzzles me. Even being generous, it contributed not much at all to the cocktail. Maybe, if you did a whole, fresh, horizontal slice and muddled it? Or infused the Gin with Pineapple for an hour or two?

Q: How important are menus?

A: The real importance of the menu is to guarantee the quality of service and drinks for the customer.  You want 90% of your drink orders to come off the menu.  The fact then that your staff has been trained to make most of the drinks the customer then orders will allow you to attain a level of quality you otherwise can’t.

I found this pretty interesting. It was an aspect of presenting a menu to the customer that I had never considered. Sure, I knew menus were often used to drive sales of certain spirits or highlight the creativity of the mixologist. But the idea that the menu was in the service of the restaurant and the customer was a philosophy I hadn’t considered.

Honey-Moon Cocktail

The Juice of 1/2 Lemon*
3 Dashes Curacao. (Scant barspoon Cointreau)
1/2 Benedictine. (1 oz Benedictine)
1/2 Apple Brandy. (1 oz Occidental Road Gravenstein Brandy)

Shake well and strain into cocktail glass.

*Some sensitive bartenders think it more tactful to substitute orange juice.

Licking our wounds after that first cocktail, this one seemed like a sure thing. Indeed, this is a pretty fantastic cocktail. I hadn’t been familiar with this particular Apple Brandy, but I guess it was a contract distillation by St. George for some folks that own a Gravenstein Apple Orchard in Sonoma. Tasty stuff. Embarrassingly, I was having such a great time chatting with Thad, that I totally spaced taking a picture of this cocktail and the next one.

Q: Do you think bar menus should change periodically?

A: I do, but you have to weigh the importance of creativity against catering to repeat customers who expect to see the same drinks on the menu every time they come in.  To me, making the same menu for a month is a long time.  But not everyone who comes through the door is a cocktail geek.  You also have to consider the fact that a restaurant or bar is considered a new restaurant or bar for the first year it is open.

“Hoots Mon” Cocktail

1/4 Kina Lillet. (1/2 oz Cocchi Americano)
1/4 Italian Vermouth. (1/2 oz Carpano Antica)
1/2 Scotch Whisky. (1 oz Famous Grouse)

Stir well in ice and strain.

This might have been my favorite cocktail of the evening. Just an all around fantastic brown liquor cocktail. The quinine in the Americano combines fabulously with the Grouse. If someone could guarantee a proper supply of Kina Lillet, or something like it, I think this cocktail would take its place with the Bobby Burns, Rob Roy, and Affinity.

Recipe from Mr. Vogler:

Improved Whiskey Cocktail

2 oz high-proof rye (I use Wild Turkey)
3/4 oz Dubonnet
1/4 oz maraschino
2 dashes Peychaud’s
3 dashes St. George Absinthe

Stir well, strain into a coupe.  Garnish with broad zest of lemon.

I almost feel like I should recuse myself from commenting on Beretta. Not only is most of the bar staff either an acquaintance or a friend, but I am also very biased towards wishing the restaurant continued success. It is the nearest outpost of advanced cocktail artistry to my house. The 67 MUNI Bus goes nearly directly from my front door to Beretta. In fact, I think it may be the only cocktail bar, I don’t have to get a transfer to travel to. So, obviously, I really hope it succeeds!

Well, don’t take my word for it, check out mkayahara’s writeup over in the eGullet San Francisco Lounges Topic: “Beretta blew me away…”  Or perhaps Michael Bauer’s review from the San Francisco Chronicle: Beretta’s perfect storm of pizza, drinks and service.