What to Drink at Kindred Right Now
Two years in, bar manager David Kinsey is keeping the cocktail menu ‘classy and thrashy'
David Kinsey behind the bar at Kindred. | Photo: Beers & Cameras
There’s always been a certain gestalt — an overall aesthetic harmony — to South Park bar/restaurant Kindred, from the menu to the decor to the cocktails. It’s edgy yet friendly, unconventional yet familiar. The restaurant’s background music might be death metal, but once you’re there, you can’t imagine a more perfect soundtrack — regardless of how you’ve felt about death metal in the past.
The "badass cocktail bar that serves vegan food,” as owner Kory Stetina described Kindred shortly before it opened in 2015, celebrates its second year this week with four days of festivities. Things kick off Thursday, January 18, with a special edition of Permanent Vacation, Kindred’s monthly tiki cocktail event. Chad Austin from Bootlegger Tiki in Palm Springs will be joining the bar staff to produce a one-off, eight-cocktail menu. Friday night will be “merch-o-mania” featuring Kindred swag for sale. Saturday is a Modern Times tap takeover, and if you show up for brunch Sunday, you can help take down “doughnut mountain” — literally a mountain of 500 vegan doughnuts.
I recently sat down with bar manager David Kinsey, who’s been with Kindred since the beginning, to chat about the bar/restaurant’s cool vibe, highlights on the current cocktail menu, and how Oaxacan rum figures into his future plans.
The first time I came here, the cocktail list felt like such a perfect fit with the menu. Some places will have a great cocktail list — but it’s just a great cocktail list. Here it’s part of the whole picture, like a well put together outfit.
The menu-writing process here, I’m heavily involved in it, but Kory is, too. The whole bar team is really involved in it. So, there’s a lot more hands-on shaping of the menu at a higher level. It’s more or less like a shotgun blast from the staff. I don’t really give them any parameters — just bring me your two best cocktails. We take that and filter it through the aesthetic lens of Kindred to make sure it’s consistent with what we want to be putting out. It feels like every single time we write a menu, it’s always, we have a date and then two weeks ahead of that date, it’s, like, we’d feel a lot more comfortable with one more week. I’ve always said that last week is when all that fine-tuning comes into it to make it less of a cocktail menu and more of a coherent aesthetic for the restaurant.
How would you describe that aesthetic?
Classy and thrashy. [Laughs.] We’ve had cocktails where we’ll put Midori together with gentian liqueurs. We’ve taken these goofy, sometimes disregarded products and put them together, because we’re all, technically, we see ourselves as a bunch of misfits from the San Diego music scene. So, it’s kind of like the scraps coming together to make something better than each of its parts.
When you guys first opened, every cocktail was $9 and that got a lot of attention. Now there’s $9, there’s $10, there’s $11 cocktails. Is that the market or the ingredients you’re using?
A lot of it was hitting a creative wall. I hit a point where I said, I can keep cocktails at $9, but I’m going to be recycling the same ingredients over and over again. If we could increase that price point, then I could bring in some new, more interesting products. We’re still going to be priced more competitively than many cocktail bars in town, and we’re going to be able to use a lot more stuff that we actually get excited about. Adding $2 to a cocktail, we can use so many more ingredients to do so many more things.
What’s been the most popular cocktail on the current menu?
Palace of Certainty (vodka, elderflower liqueur, Aperol, lemon, Thai basil, winter melon bitters, cucumber) is the first exclusively vodka cocktail we’ve had on the menu, and it’s far and away been our bestseller. It reads exactly how it tastes. It’s approachable. I first started bartending in town at Craft & Commerce, so I came from that very aggressive, 2010, We don’t have vodka to Sycamore Den where it was, like, Why am I telling my guests no? It got really frustrating having to take cocktails on the menu that use a different ingredient, and then rebalance them on the fly for guests. “Oh that’s gin. Can you make it with vodka?” It’s, like, why don’t we just have a vodka cocktail on the menu that we already know is balanced, that we can be proud to serve as opposed to working backwards to turn a gin cocktail into something that we’re not necessarily as excited about? What’s awesome about this cocktail is that it’s a great gateway for people. People will get this one and they like that and the next thing I know, I have somebody who went from elderflower and Aperol to drinking some pretty heavy Campari cocktails and loving it. That’s always nice to see.
What’s hibiscus rice nectar (an ingredient in The Great Red Shark)?
We use rice nectar as a honey substitute, then infuse it with hibiscus.
I forgot honey isn’t considered vegan.
It’s on the cusp, but we decided, let’s just not use it. Rice nectar is just as good flavor-wise. It smells like honey, it reacts like honey, it works like honey in cocktails.
What’s your favorite cocktail on this menu?
I really, really like the Born of Fire (Bruichladdich Classic Laddie Single Malt Scotch, Applejack, biscotti liqueur, Xocolatl mole bitters). That’s more of how I drink — direct on the rocks. That’s probably, flavor-wise, my favorite on the menu. And then the one I really like making for people is the Ultraviolent Light (light rum, falernum, Batavia Arrack, pineapple, lime, butterfly pea tincture, absinthe, aquafaba, fennel dust). It’s like a tiki fizz. The aquafaba is an egg-white replacer. And because we’re using the butterfly pea tincture, the cocktail comes out a really bright purple with a white head on top. It has this great visual to it and it has a lot of aggressive ingredients in it. Batavia Arrack has a grassy, funky rum flavor going on. It’s really neat to serve to people and have them really love something they maybe never would have tried before if I didn’t steer them in that direction.
I sent a couple friends here recently and one wasn’t drinking, so he ordered the [non-alcoholic] Miracle Cure (pineapple, lime, coconut, cashew gardenia, passionfruit, Thai basil, lemongrass, charcoal) and he couldn’t stop talking about it.
The Miracle Cure was supposed to be a one-off drink for a one-night event [for an artist who doesn’t drink]. So I was, like, I’m going to make this non-alcoholic cocktail and I’m going to just go hog-wild on this. It was received so well, we had to put it on the menu. It’s funny because I think I’m terrible at making non-alcoholic cocktails. It’s the biggest struggle for me — not having that alcohol backbone really throws off my balance. Making these has been exceptionally tricky, but they get a lot of praise. The things where I just throw my hands up, people are, like, “These are amazing.”
In the future, is there any spirit or liqueur you’re looking forward to using?
We recently used a Oaxacan rum, Paranubes. Going back to the Batavia Arrack, it has that same funkiness to it. I use it the same as I would use a cachaça or rhum agricole. I like it because it has a good story behind it. It’s positioned itself to maybe blow up a bit more, especially in Southern California. Most people in California, drinkers, are familiar with mezcal, or at least know it comes from Oaxaca — they have this perception, so, to be able to offer them something else from the region is a nice little sidestep. And it’s always interesting to see a spirit I’ve never seen before — it’s a rum from Oaxaca.
David Kinsey will be the guest bartender at the January 29, 2018 edition of George's at the Cove's Craft at the Cove event. From 5:30 to 9:30 p.m., Kinsey and George's lead barman Stephen Kurpinsky will be creating a special menu of inventive rum cocktails.