Thursday, April 28, 2005

As the Bar Flies...

Hi Dive - 21st Amendment - Hotel Utah - Annies Bar

Just when you thought the Food Blogging community couldn't handle another meme, along comes Sarah with a new one. Her brainwave is that those food bloggers, like me, who like to review restaurants, should all critique one, following a given subject, on the same day. The first edition, published today, is on the theme "Bar Fly"

photograph picture of Hi Dive Bar on the Embarcadero, San Francisco

Not one to do thing by halves, I am actually able to present to you a full-on San Francisco bar crawl, as organised by one of my colleagues, in the SoMa district, at about this time every year. This was my, and Fred's, second year of attending. We had so much fun in 2004, accepting this year's invite was a no brainer. Each year, the route is mixed up to keep things fresh. We started, at 8pm, at the Hi-Dive Bar at Pier 28 on the Embarcadero, almost underneath the end span of the Bay Bridge. The bar tender was very funny, teasing me when I ordered a white wine spritzer (something I would never normally drink) instead of the Scotch he was trying to persuade everyone to imbibe. Hey - I knew it was going to be a long night, I needed to pace myself. The drink was served in a wine glass, straight up, no ice and tasted inoffensive. Good start.

photograph picture of 21st Ammendment Bar on Second Street, SoMa, San Francisco

At 9pm we took a brisk hike slightly up hill to Second Street and the 21st Amendment (pictured above). This is a modern, large and welcoming bar with a solid reputation, near to the Ballpark. Fred and I had good memories of eating here in the past, so we decided this would be the perfect spot for a quick dinner to line our stomachs.

First, drinks. I ordered another spritzer. Ugh! This time it was served with mountains of ice in a tall beer glass using an obnoxious white wine. After my first taste I didn't even want another sip. Then I saw it. It was a a slice of pretty, pink watermelon, adorning a glass of beer. It triggered a distant memory of a post I read last year on Fatemeh's blog, Gastronomie, in which she described her love of 21A's Watermelon Wheat. I was sold. As beers go, this was a glass full of amber nectar, so summery, so subtle, so lip-smackingly good, even to an irregular beer drinker like me. I am sure macho, real ale drinkers would have looked down their noses at me in disbelief as I enjoyed a beer with a pink fruit aftertaste.
photograph picture of watermelon wheatbeer 21st Ammendment Bar on Second Street, SoMa, San Francisco

Although they have a blackboard outlining daily specials, both Fred and I decided to order from the regular menu. I went for the Classic Burger "21A" with grilled onions and tomato 8.95 plus swiss 1.00 plus mushrooms 1.50 and a side of their house made kettle chips.

photograph picture of pizza and classic burger 21st Ammendment Bar on Second Street, SoMa, San Francisco

This wasn't a life-changing burger but it sure was good. The meat was tasty and cooked perfectly to my medium rare specification. The bread was fine and the generous pile of plump, juicy, delicious mushrooms added to my enjoyment of the dish. The onions were gently cooked which was another bonus. The kettle chips - a great idea, were less consistent. Here and there I found one that was perfectly light and crisp but too many of them were overloaded with oil making them a greasy and less appealing option as a side.

Fred wasn't keen on his Pizza Margherita, 7.95, on first taste, but by the time he'd finished his pie (which they had smothered in extra parmesan cheese for him, at his request) he was raving about it. I am not quite sure what this suggests about his taste in food, except that he likes to chew on a question before making up his mind.

photograph picture of Hotel Utah, SoMa, San Francisco

The next bar on our itinerary was mysteriously boarded up. Just as well, by this time we were behind schedule. So we soldiered on to the next rendezvous, The Hotel Utah. Here, a live band was playing which meant a cover was being charged at the door. We managed to persuade the doorman that we weren't interested in listening to the music, so he let us in without paying an admission and we all had another drink. This time, it was a refreshing campari and soda for me. And another one... I have to admit, Hotel Utah is not my favourite spot in town. There is nowhere to sit down (apart from a few stools in the narrow bar) for a chat and, well, I am getting old, I need to rest my weary pins these days. (Bring out the violins.)

The long and short of rest of the evening follows. A sobering walk to a friend's SoMa loft on 7th Street left us revived and ready for more. Our host had prepared a home bar for our arrival and we made dirty martinis with sweet and sour pickled carrots as stirrers. We had so much fun at his house, our eventual journey to the final bar, Annie's, was a little later than planned. This was a big shame. Annie's was where I was expecting to sing my best Karaoke in the key 'D-flat'. We were just seconds too late to make it onto the Karaoke list. Despite pleading and begging, the evil karaoke mistress would not budge. Hmmph. Annie's loss. It's now going to be at least another year before my work colleagues thrill at hearing me scream my own sorry version of the Sex Pistols' 'Anarchy in the UK'.

Never mind. We ended up, instead, at another friend's SoMa pad where I drowned my sorrows until three in the morning. Good night!

Hi Dive Pier 28 1/2 @ Bryant, San Francisco, CA 94105, 415-977-0170
21st Amendment 21st Amendment, 563 2nd Street, San Francisco, CA 94107, 415-369-0900
Hotel Utah 500 Fourth Street, San Francisco, California 94107, Bar: (415) 546-6300
Annie's Bar, 20 Annie Street,San Francisco, CA, (415)777-1102

posted in and and and and
As the Bar Flies...


  • At 28/4/05 09:41, Blogger Owen said…

    Sam - as a 'real ale drinker' and a beer snob - I can tell you that there is nothing whatsoever wrong with watermelon wheat - it is a great idea and you are now the third recommendation I have had for it and about the fifth for 21A.

    Watermelon wheat is a real beer - someone lovingly crafted it and came up with the recipe and makes it in small batches with care and love - what more could you want? I know it would not be allowed to be a beer in Germany but...

    The reason beer people get upset about beers like this is that it is all too easy to use lighter side ingredients as a crutch to make an insipid drink with no character at low cost (Budweiser anyone? - made mostly with cheap crappy rice)

    Interestingly even the big breweries are developing consciences. There had been a news story going the rounds on food blogs about putting human DNA in rice in order to grow drug-producing crops. In fact this stuff has been around for seven years. Annhaeser-Busch (sp?) recently sued to stop the practice because of concerns from cross-pollination and contamination getting into its rice for beer-making. There's a bill in California right now to make the producers of genetically modified crops pay for the costs associated with accidental cross-pollination and contamination (ie organic farmers who can't sell corn because pollen from a GMO blew into their field and ruined their crops). This is a really important bill and we should all call and support it.

    (steps off soapbox)

  • At 28/4/05 11:27, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Nice to see a mention of Annie's. She's an old friend, actually grew up where I live now (though I didn't know her then) and her mom still lives up here. She grudgingly comes up here once a year or so.

    I never stop and see her when I'm in town though so I shouldn't complain.

    Something about a bar that close to a major police center though....

  • At 29/4/05 10:43, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Pshaw. I consider myself a macho ale drinker (in a girly sort of way) and I love a good fruity beer. Haven't tried Watermelon wheat, but I'm sure it would be up there with the Ruby (raspberry) that I love from McMenemins.

    For my wedding last year, we (to borrow Owen's phrase) "lovingly crafted" a beer that used tarragon and lavender instead of hops. Sounds foofy, but it was darned good! :-)

    Oh, and Owen: ::applause for soapbox::

  • At 29/4/05 11:08, Blogger Owen said…

    Wow! lavender and tarragon eh...
    I had wanted to mention in my original post that many people don't realise that you can get many of the tastes and aromas of fruits and spices and so on purely from the right yeast/malt combinations. But that getting to that level of brewing control is beyond me.

    My current batch of beer is still sitting in the fermenter waiting on me to have time to bottle it - I am trusting to the alcohol and the hops (which are still in it) to keep it good. On the other hand, the preliminary taste is overpoweringly of hops since I not only overhopped it but have left the hops to sit with it thoughout fermentation and now for another 4 weeks(!)

    I am aware that this batch may go off - in fact I assumed it had until I checked and discovered that it was pretty darn good (but very hoppy).

    My next two brewing projects both involve ginger and lemon. First up is the kids project - home-brewed ginger beer (non-alcoholic) made with fresh ginger, meyer lemon and molasses for the sweetener. I had planned to do it for SHF but I have no time anymore. I will do it anyway because the kids will love it during the summer. As I write this I realise that I may abandon the ginger beer (alcoholic) that I had also planned (an ale flavored with ginger and lemon) since I may just make a nice fresh ale and mix it half-and-half with the kids ginger beer for ginger beer shandys. For those who don't know, a shandy is half-and-half beer and lemonade (english pub lemonade is like 7-up but a bit less sweet and a bit more lemony) and is a superb refresher in the summer. But even better is a ginger beer shandy - half and half beer and ginger beer. You can try one for yourself by getting a bottle of really good ginger beer (the Jamaican stuff is fine) and a bottle of a good plainish beer and then just carefully blending them.

  • At 29/4/05 22:45, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    dear sam,
    thanks so much! here's the entire DINE N DISH session...i had fun and hope you did too. i'm thinking over some of the stuff you suggested, too ;)


    dear owen,
    i can't believe you brew your own beer. please send sample. thanks. :)


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