Everybody has a story. Consider Novela, the literary themed SoMa bar started by the powerhouse duo of Alex Smith (Gitane, Honor Bar) and Kate Bolton (Maven, Michael Mina). With Bolton no longer involved in the project and Smith focused on the punch program along with his duties as general manager, the story here appears to have entered its second act.
In a standard three-act narrative, the story begins by establishing the main characters, the setting, and the mood, but by the second, the character development begins. It is usually a turning point, and while there are changes at the bar with Christina Cabrera (Michael Mina, Bourbon Steak) and Suzanne Miller (Clock Bar, Dosa) now leading the cocktail program, perhaps things are less dramatic than they would be in a fictional piece.
The west wind that blew a Mary Poppins ($13, apple brandy, Maurin Quina, King's Ginger Liqueur, clove bitters, maple syrup, lemon, soda) cocktail in front of me was a lucky one. While it didn't take me on any magical trips around the world on a compass, it did keep me entertained and refreshed with the apple and cherry (from the Maurin Quina) flavors that fortified me enough to happily travel in any direction on a blustery day.
While Romeo and Juliet were an ill-fated pair, at Novela the Juliet Capulet ($13, pisco, Kina L'Avion d'Or, chamomile, prickly pear, old fashioned bitters, lemon) and Romeo Montague ($11, rye whiskey, root liqueur, coriander, Angostura Bitters, allspice) are as fascinating for their interpretations of characters as cocktails as they are delicious. The Juliet is floral and fruity drink, yet with enough depth to give her character. The Romeo in turn is an Old Fashioned with some spice intensity, the brawn of the whiskey tamed by the single large ice cube. It's worth ordering the pair of drinks to taste how Miller and Cabrera manifested each one in liquid form.
The punch drinks at Novela, while tied in to tradition more than the literary theme are also worth exploring. Dillon Lockwood and Alex Smith base their concoctions on traditional formulas for punch (alcohol, citrus and sugar as an oleo saccharum, water, and/or tea/spices) but give each a twist, like jalapeño in the tequila one or smoky lapsang souchong tea in the scotch variation. Even better, the flights ($14 for three) offer a rare chance to compare and contrast a drink that traditionally required a large group and big bowls.
Though the story at Novela may still be waiting for more acts to conclude, an evening there will usually end in a happy ending.
1 ½ oz. Apple brandy
¾ oz. Maurin Quina
½ oz. King's Ginger Liqueur
½ oz. Maple syrup
½ oz. Lemon juice
3 dashes Clove bitters
Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake to combine ingredients and pour into a Collins glass with fresh ice. Top with seltzer water and garnish with apple skin round.
Novela, 662 Mission (at 3rd), 896-6500