The neighborhood bar is the new frontier of bartending.
I wrote about the divide between dive bar and craft cocktails in last Sunday's Chronicle and how many dive bars suddenly find themselves in prime real estate. Their locations and liquor licenses worth more than their profits, they're being bought up to become new bars at an alarming speed. The dive bar is a place you can go and be yourself, have some cheap beers and shots, and not be judged regardless of who you are or what time of day it is. It is true democracy in action.
While these dives are not being replaced with new, sometime high-end spots, thankfully some of these bars are being replaced with neighborhood joints where you can get a cheap beer or a well-made cocktail in a no-bullshit atmosphere. Rock Bar in Bernal Heights is one of those bars.
Step inside the well-worn bar and you immediately feel relaxed, like sitting in a comfy old chair. The menu ranges from $3 beers, shot and beer combos like the Fire in the Hole ($9, shot of Four Roses Bourbon, bottle of Schlitz, piece of charcuterie), to cocktails like the fantastically refreshing ICHI Rock ($10, gin, yuzu, elderflower liqueur, grapefruit bitters).
The drink is named after ICHI Sushi, which is right down the street. Bar manager Brion Nuda Rosch had been playing with yuzu juice in a cocktail, but it wasn't until he was having a meal at Ichi when the drink came together. "Tim [Archuleta] served me sushi dressed with yuzu, that led to a conversation and refining my recipe which eventually made it onto the menu," says Rosch.
The drink is juicy without being too tart, exotic yet straightforward enough that you could easy have more than a few, and simple enough that the flavors each make their presence known.
Perhaps in part because the staff working at the bar, including Rosch, are all pursing creative or community service careers on the side, Rock Bar has a lack of seriousness that is refreshing. "Our roles behind the bar only define a portion of our passion," says Rosch.
Another great thing about the bar is that the owners Joesy White and Kevin Cline have placed a phone at the end of the bar so you can place an order of food from the Front Porch across the street (which they also own). As you chow down on your order of fried chicken while downing an ICHI Rock, you might find yourself coming here for dinner more often that the restaurant.
1 ½ oz. London dry gin
¾ oz. Yuzu citrus juice
¾ oz. Elderflower liqueur
4 Dashes grapefruit bitters
Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake and strain into an old fashioned glass with fresh ice.
The Rock Bar, 80 29th (at Tiffany), 550-6664