I'll admit that I had flashbacks of my younger days when I was walking into Waiheke Island Yacht Club, the temporary New Zealand restaurant inside Pier 29. The restaurant occupies a small corner of the cavernous space that once housed other businesses attached to the America's Cup Park.
As someone who spent much of his youth chasing warehouse dance parties, it was hard not feel like this was one of those events, but with much nicer furniture, drinks, and food. Perhaps this explains the appeal that the trippy Nek Minnit ($12, Pere Magloire Calvados or Lepanto PX Spanish Brandy, Luxardo Limoncello, hibiscus gel, sauvignon blanc verjus) had on me.
While I've seen my share of creative ingredients on the rims of cocktail glasses, I've never experienced a gel. Bar manager Needham Woodward combines agar with a lightly sweetened hibiscus tea to create a thick gel that adds an unusual, but fun texture to each sip. The drink is nicely balanced, not too sweet with nice tartness from the verju.
As for the name, Woodward explained that it refers to the potency of the drink. Because it's so easy to drink, you'll try having more than a few -- then the "next minute" you're wasted.
There are some fun twists to other drinks at the bar, like the Yeah Nah ($12, Monkey Shoulder Whiskey, Creme Yvette, PX Sherry, smoked apple), and you can tell Woodward spends time in the kitchen as well. "I originally wanted to be a chef and planned to get a job as a kitchen hand and go upwards," says Woodward. "The job fell through but my girlfriend made me help out her brother who needed a barback. I ended up working that bar for four years and never looked back."
Interestingly enough, his first night working at the bar was at the Americas Cup final in 1999 and Tony Stewart, who owns and runs Waiheke Island Yacht Club along with four other restaurants in New Zealand including Clooney, was the bar manager.
These next two weeks mark the swan song for the temporary restaurant, ending in a final blowout with a New Year's celebration. In order to "get rid of the goon" as Woodward put it, the event will be open bar with EVERYTHING behind the bar (wine, spirits, sparkling wine) available to drink like a drunk fancy pants.
The restaurant might be leaving, but you might continue to see Woodward at other bars in San Francisco. The experience was intense, having to learn the employment regulations and business operations in a different country, along with 90-hour weeks during the height of the America's Cup race. But like many folks who end up here, its hard not to love San Francisco.