Monday, 23 May 2011

Boggle Goes West: San Francisco

I love this city. Really, I do. It was the first place I headed when I started to visit the US. I loved the compactness, I loved the Bay, the green spaces and the buzz around the place. Heading to a bank one morning, I stood at an intersection as a tanned Californian couple passed me in a convertible and waved to me. Waved. Nobody waves at you while driving in London unless you're being pulled over for eating a kit-kat at traffic lights.

In 2008, I left regretting my all too brief time in the city. That year, we headed up to Sonoma County and I didn't have the days left to reacquaint myself with the place. This time, I promised myself, I'd do better...

Off the plane and out of the airport in record time, within an hour I'm meeting Mr & Mrs Snake at Rosamunde's in the Mission. If you've been to Toronado, chances are you've eaten sausage from the shop next door. That's the original shop. This place wasn't here last time I visited, but it's a fusion of both things, beer and sausage, and I wanted to see it.

It's a few steps from the 24th St & Mission BART station, opposite a taqueria called Chavo's (tee hee). My first beer on this trip is RRBC Blind Pig, washing down some lovely Nurnburger wurst. I meant to get back here for a proper exploration later in the trip. I didn't make it.

Next day, I was checking out Marin Brewing. The Giants were at home and the ballpark was emptying by the time I got back to the Ferry Building. I made my way to Toronado up on Haight St (& Fillmore), but so had a horde of fans, so I stopped in for a couple of beers (both Moonlight, one Death & Taxes, the other Twist Of Fate), but the crowd was being swelled by the after-work drinkers, so I made my way back towards Market St.

I was intending to visit 21st Amendment, a brewpub in SoMA not far from the ballpark. Local intelligence had warned me away, a new brewer of 6 months seemingly not having got to grips with the house beers so that it was a bit of a crapshoot drinking them. Instead, I headed for the Thirsty Bear on Howard St (between 2nd & 3rd) near SF MOMA.

Before I knew about good beer bars on my early trips to the US, I usually headed for brewpubs, and I spent quite a bit of time here in 2003. Back then, I quite enjoyed their ESB and Kozlov Stout, though the beers tended to be poured extremely cold. One of us has changed a lot in the intervening years - the beers were a bit underwhelming and the place was heaving with conventioneers from the Moscone Center across the street. I like the space a lot, that hadn't changed, but I guess I've moved on from brewpub house beers.

On Friday, a tweet informed me that Magnolia on Haight and Masonic was 'launching' Hanssens unblended lambic at 1pm. I like this place a lot, so thought I'd pop along, have some lunch and see how the launch went. Before that, I went to the Cartoon Art Museum on Mission between 2nd & 3rd. They had a Berkeley Breathed restrospective AND a behind-the-scenes look at Warner Bros' Looney Tunes, so I spent a happy hour wandering around chuckling at Bloom County and Outland, and laughing like a drain at the Daffy Duck cartoons on a loop.

So, lunch. The beers at Magnolia show a strong British influence, and there's usually a selection of cask-conditioned versions available. A beer called Landlady had been recommended, an interpretation of Timothy Taylors' Landlord. Sadly, the cask version only managed to remind me of how bad Landlord can be without proper care. This was loaded with diacetyl. I struggled manfully through 3/4 of my pint before admitting defeat. The house kolsch was just what I needed after that (pic, that's the buttery Landlady in the background). The food here is usually very good, and the bacon & eggs were spectacular. Belly pork slices on a bed of scrambled eggs, all set on top of an English muffin, in maple syrup.

Before I ate, the lambic was 'launched'. No fanfare, somebody poured a few tasters for the staff, pronounced it OK, and that was it. I wondered if the place would be besieged by local Hatebeerians or BAs, but there was no discernible geek presence (unless you count me). I had it in my mind that Hanssens were a lambic blender, not a brewer, but I could be wrong. This stuff was young, completely still, a deep amber and hazy, and very tart. A bloke next to me at the bar was curious, so I gave him a sip. He nodded and didn't pull a face, but steered clear of ordering one for himself. For me it had that same effect all lambics have on me, which is to mellow into the beer so it feels like time has stopped. I leaned back in my seat and savoured every drop. Even Lovibonds Sour Grapes can transport me. Lovely.

So, that was SF for me this trip. Despite best intentions and a quick visit back on my last day to buy souvenirs down on Pier 39, I'd managed just the best part of a day and a half in the city. Impressions? Market St between Powell and Civic Center looked much more rundown that I remembered, with lots of empty stores and a lot more street people around. Travelling around on public transport recently got joined up with the introduction of the Clipper Card, which can be used on all the MUNI services, BART, Golden Gate Transportation and in the East Bay. Tourists can use the cards if they buy them as 'cash', and you can get them and top them up at Walgreens or at stations.

Places I missed this time? For the benefit of Max at Pub Diaries:
Alembic along Haight St near the Panhandle between Cole & Shrader is a place you can go to admire mixology in action and also sip good beer;
Monk's Kettle (on 16th St in the Mission District) has a bit of a hipster vibe but they have a good selection of local beers;
City Beer (Folsom between 7th & 8th) for your retail needs and to kick back with something interesting;
Rogue Bar (on Union near Washington Sq) is a place I've never been. I crossed it off the list as the local talk was that beer condition is frequently poor;
Public House at AT&T Park (the ballpark) on Willie Mays Plaza. I had to choose between the East Bay and here on Friday evening, and wanted to check out more places in Berkeley and Rockridge. This place comes highly recommended, however.

I hope I don't have to wait another two and a half years before my next visit...


Mark Dredge said...

Ah, this brings back good memories! I'm already looking forward to my next trip to SF, whenever it may be.

Pub Diaries said...

Sir, I don't have a cap but if I did I would doff it... Have approximately three days in San Francisco before Grand Canyon, Vegas and LA... A very rushed trip but I will be shoehorning as many of these in as possible, not to mention the Cartoon Art Museum. Another demonstration that Beer People are Good People.