Posted on | October 2, 2012
Written by | Alia Akkam
Kristin Almy, Bar Manager, Grand Café, San Francisco
Just five years ago it would have been hard to imagine a bar serving cocktails on draft. Now we’ve entered an era where even green Chartreuse flows from a tap—at least at Grand Café at the Hotel Monaco in San Francisco, the first establishment in the country to do so. But a plethora of the circa-1700s herbal liqueur (available as a shot, paired with a Kronenbourg 1664, or in the form of a Grand Old Fashioned cocktail) isn’t the only intriguing specialty at Kristin Almy’s bar.
THE BEVERAGE NETWORK: Green Chartreuse on tap at Grand Café is certainly exciting. What inspired this idea?
KRISTIN ALMY: It was a collaboration. I was sitting down with staff and having a chat about things we like. Everyone was already doing Fernet Branca on tap, but we also loved Chartreuse. ‘How could no one have done this before?’ we asked.
TBN: And so you did. It’s wild to think that Chartreuse has become so sought-after among imbibers.
KA: People are excited about it. Funny, I’ve had some guests who had tried it before, like in the ’70s at their weird professor’s house, and didn’t realize it’s now a popular thing. Forgotten spirits are weaving their way back through cocktail snobs who started looking at old drink recipes. Think about Mad Men and how 1960s furniture is popular again. People are interested in the social aspect.
TBN: And it’s one way of staying competitive in a city that’s cluttered with fabulous cocktail bars.
KA: Everywhere you go here there is an amazing cocktail menu—even in dive bars.
TBN: Prior to coming to San Francisco and working at Bar Adagio and in Oakland at Miss Pearl’s Restaurant & Lounge, you plied your trade behind the stick in Las Vegas. That must have been a completely different experience. What did you learn there?
KA: Vegas is the complete opposite side of the coin. I worked at Agave, off the Strip, and that really piqued my interest in tequila. But I learned it’s really about what the guest wants. As much as I want everyone to drink small-batch, storied spirits, if that’s not what the guest wants, we don’t have to push them. You go to some cocktail bars and bartenders are just not nice. That’s not hospitality. Guests want a good time and I’m here to facilitate it.
TBN: Beyond the Chartreuse, you recently revamped the cocktail menu at Grand Café, and I know you’re making rhubarb-infused cachaça. What else can guests look forward to?
KA: Really, all the drinks go back to classic cocktails, but with a fresh California twist. In Northern California we have such amazing fresh ingredients for cocktails.
TBN: How important do you think seasonality has become?
KA: The question is what will you want to drink? You can’t do rich, fall cocktails here in October like you can in other cities. I don’t want a Whiskey Flip in 85 degrees. When I was working in Vegas there was lots of red sangria but it’s not refreshing. Walking into 110-degree heat after drinking it is an instant hangover.
TBN: What are you working on for autumn that you’re excited about?
KA: Really delicious, light, cold-pressed apple cider. I’m looking forward to using it with gin and then, as it gets progressively cooler, whiskey.
TBN: Drinking at brunch used to mean a mimosa or a bloody mary with your omelet. But that’s changing. What will your guests be sipping in the morning?
KA: Traditional daytime cocktails work well, so we have a Ramos gin fizz with fresh strawberries and absinthe. We also have grapefruit juice and cardamom with sparkling wine, nice and light with depth. You want drinks that aren’t too boozy, especially when you’re not feeling so great from the night before.