I've lived in San Francisco for the past four years, a period of time which I fondly refer to as my prime drinking years. I don't say this to give the impression that I'm some drunken party animal, at least not all the time. I'm pointing this out because when you think about it, there's a pretty large drinking evolution that takes places from your early to mid-twenties. For example, I used to call Blondies and Beauty Bar my favorite bars in the City. I also used to pre-party, down shots, and not know what the hell a "well drink" was. But like most people, my appreciation for good wine, thoughtful cocktails, and bars where you can move without getting mauled by some sweaty, drunk chick, has grown. Not just grown, it's blossomed. After four years of trying the majority of this City's most respected bars, I'm happy to say that I have a go-to spot where the cocktails are crafted and the people are adults. That bar is none other but Bar Agricole.
Within a month of opening I was hooked. With enough space to find a spot at the bar, an amazing and sizable outdoor seating area, and bathrooms that feel like palaces, it's easy to become a fan right off the bat. Actually, before ever meeting owner/cocktail god Thad Vogler, I was already a huge fan of the various cocktail menus he had crafted for other notable bars (Beretta, Heavens Dog). After 18 months of recommending Agricole to anyone and everyone, I'm almost embarrassed that I'm only just now writing about my favorite bar in the City. So embarrassed, in fact, that the last time I visited I made a promise to myself and to Craig, Agricole's lead bartender, that I wouldn't allow myself to return until I had completed the task. Well damnit, I want to get a drink!
Bar Agricole represents the quintessential San Francisco bar: a stylish yet casual atmosphere (one which actually won a Beard award for best design), a solid menu focused on local, sustainable ingredients, and of course, sophisticated cocktails. While I enjoy the food, I'd be lying if I said I didn't go there primarily for the cocktails, which is why in this article I'm only focusing on their incredible bar program.
These aren't just your standard cocktails served by run-of-the-mill bartenders just tryin to scrape by. These are cocktails that have been carefully designed by some of the finest bartenders in the industry, which is why Bar Agricole was selected as a 2012 James Beard finalist for Outstanding Bar Program. Rather than trying to recreate the wheel on every drink, bartenders here generally look towards the past for inspiration. Updating classic cocktails, or bringing forgotten ones back to life, is the backbone of many of their selections. The end result? Cocktails that are potent yet drinkable, unique in taste, and give the customer the feeling that they're drinking something that has been crafted by an expert.
I consider this "modern urban tavern" (as they put it) part of a new breed of bars that have started to take over San Francisco – a breed that has spoiled me with such well-balanced thoughtful drinks that it's now impossible to return to the good ol' days when a vodka cranberry would suffice. And unlike many other notable bars, Agricole doesn't just have a solid, but stagnant, cocktail menu. Instead, they are continually creating and testing out new drinks and often changing the menu, thereby constantly putting something different and interesting into the public's hands. In fact, while signature cocktails like the Presidente or Ti Punch never leave the menu, every time I've dropped by there's always been something new to try.
Being a gin kinda gal, my go-to cocktail of late has been the Monkey Gland. I mean, with a name that sexy who wouldn't want it? It's made with gin, citrus, absinthe, and grenadine and served the cutest darn tulip goblet you've ever seen! But don't let the size fool you, this drink is small but powerful. Other favorites include the Long Rhum Buck and a classic Manhattan.
Cocktails of this caliber always help remind me that even with the same, simple ingredients, making amazing cocktails is a difficult thing to get right, and that it's places like Bar Agricole that are raising the bar on quality cocktails at a national level.
355 11th Street
San Francisco, CA 94103