It took Rickhouse winning "Best High Volume Cocktail Bar" at this summer's Tales of the Cocktail to remind us that we hadn't been to the bar in about a year. With a handful of key players from the crew gone, most notably opening bar manager Erick Castro, we were curious to find out how the bar had evolved. More importantly, was Rickhouse still the cocktail powerhouse it was when it opened?
After a High-Plains Drifter ($8, rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, Amaro Nonino, celery bitters), we were pretty sure. By the time we finished talking to bar manager Joe Alessandroni, who guided us to our next drink, the Dutch Honey ($9, Bols Genever, yellow chartreuse, honey), we knew the acclaim was deserved. With a packed bar, Joe took our meager description of the drink we wanted (juicy, but not citrusy), and banged out the perfect cocktail.
"We spend a lot of time thinking about what people should drink so they don't have to," said Alessandroni. "Our massive selection of spirits on the wall and lengthy cocktail menu can be intimidating and drive someone to just order a vodka soda rather then risking embarrassment or condescension." Alessandroni and his crew like to guide unsure patrons with a series of questions to narrow down and select the best options pulled from their menu perfect for you. They're like the cocktail matchmakers.
So what's the secret to maintaining quality in a fast-paced setting? "De-emphasizing house-made tinctures, bitters and infusions and relying instead on a deep selection of spirits and an array of independent artisan mixers and bitters," explained Alessandroni. Doing that, he said, lets them make high quality cocktails quickly, using proper techniques in a fast-paced environment.
Alessandroni described how he and his crew try to balance speed and customer satisfaction: "My influence has been mostly behind the scenes, but has had a great impact on improving the guest experience by streamlining and tightening up our back of house operations and instilling an attitude of patience, respect, and fun in our staff... Ultimately it doesn't matter how great your drinks are if the process of getting one in your hand is frustrating and time consuming."
Rickhouse, 246 Kearny (at Sutter), 398-2827