A huge part of what makes this blog fun to write is the folks I’m writing about. You can find some really great cocktails in San Diego, but it’s the bartenders whose charm, wit, and kindness never fail to impress me.
This past Monday night, a friend and I headed to The Smoking Gun, the new project from the Verant Group that features cocktails by Eric Johnson (Juniper & Ivy, Crack Shack, Sycamore Den, Noble Experiment). The restaurant / bar was holding a fundraiser to support Team Rubicon’s hurricane relief efforts in Puerto Rico, and with the bad news in Vegas—and looming bad news about Tom Petty—getting out of the house seemed like a good idea.
Of course the cocktails at Smoking Gun are fantastic—I’d expect nothing less from Johnson. The drink menu plays off the food menu’s barbecue theme with smokey cocktails—think mezcal, Scotch, toasted pecan bitters—and lighter, more refreshing offerings, like One in a Melon (gin, watermelon, aloe liqueur, lime). The vibe is a little Gaslamp-y (flat-screen TVs loom above the bar), but there’s also more intimate, candle-lit booth seating and clever touches, like menus tucked inside Pee-Chee folders.
But it was the service that really stood out. We never had to wait long for a bartender to ask how we were doing, or answer a question about the menu. Somehow, we got on the topic of cocktails inspired by words with one of the bartenders, Gareth. He challenged us to come up with four nouns that he’d use to make a cocktail on the fly, his treat. "Gravy," I said, because my friend had ordered the happy hour stuffing with gravy. The rest came from whatever I spotted nearby: "Sunglasses, plaid, window."
He jotted down the words and said he’d be back in a few minutes with a cocktail. He returned with a Collins glass filled with a rose-colored cocktail over pebbled ice that he garnished with mint and some freshly grated cinnamon.
Did it contain gravy? Yes. Because The Smoking Gun serves up an awesome gravy. He explained that he cut the gravy with some Paso Robles cabernet. "Sunglasses" inspired some tiki elements—orgeat and pineapple juice—and "plaid" made him think of bourbon. I’m sure "windows" was in there somehow, but I was too hung up on the fact I was about to try a cocktail that included gravy (and why not, really? Lots of great cocktails include savory ingredients).
Was it the best cocktail ever? No. Was it enjoyable? Totally. The tiki elements were there, without the sweetness that can overwhelm tiki cocktails. The richness of the gravy was subtle and the wine reminded me of a New York Sour. I finished the whole thing.
More important is we all had a good laugh: My friend, me, Gareth, the other bartenders, and some folks sitting around us. It was a much-appreciated moment of levity in an otherwise gloomy day. So, thanks for that, Gareth. And keep working on those gravy cocktails.
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