Few bars have endured as much turmoil in three years as the Burritt Room. Despite a parade of talented bartenders and bar managers moving through, in the time since it opened there have been many cocktail menu changes, a change in ownership when the bar was sold to restaurateur Charlie Palmer, a subsequent grand reopening, and the addition of a restaurant component, the Burritt Tavern. Throughout it all, the one thing you could always count on was a good drink.
Thanks to a new menu by lead bartender Josh Trabulsi, who transitioned into the bar when the space got a revamp last year, the Burritt Room's cocktails have become equal to some of the best in the Bay Area. This is due in part to Trabulsi's skills, but more importantly, the drinks just feel right for the Burritt, a small but bustling place that feels like a nightlife hideout even with a crowd with as many locals as tourists.
Trabulsi's take on the classic James Bond cocktail, the Vesper Lynd ($13, Leopold's Navy Strength Gin, cucumber-infused Dolin Blanc Vermouth), is named after the seductive double agent who stole James Bond's heart in Casino Royale. And it immediately stole ours. The two-ingredient cocktail seems simple, but a sip reveals the complexity of its personality, with lavender and juniper contrasting with fragrant and vegetal cucumber notes, all entwined with sweet herbal vermouth. Like the character in the movie and books, the Vesper Lynd is a classy and spirited companion, especially to chef Luke Knox's Lobster Risotto ($22, spring peas, pea tendrils, mint) — the green and floral cocktail components bloom with each bite of the fresh spring vegetables and creamy rice.
There is an appropriate level of elegance in all the cocktails Trabulsi serves, like the Berlinetta ($12, bourbon, Cynar, Carpano Antica, Price Blood Orange Bitters), a drink that twists bourbon into a beautifully spiced, pre-dinner sipper cooled by a single giant ice cube. It's as much fun to look at as it is to drink, and made our scrappy alt-weekly journalist go from thrifty to Prada just by holding the glass.
After getting his start barbacking in Boston in the '90s, Trabulsi moved to San Diego and transitioned into wine, working and learning his way into a sommelier position at the Hotel Coronado. Just like last call, the bar beckoned him again, and he got behind the bar working at Starwood and Preferred Hotels properties. This led him to San Francisco when the Crescent shifted to Mystic Hotel, home of the Burritt Room, and now to lead the bartending team.
While Trabulsi may not be a native to the Bay Area, he certainly tries to honor the drinking culture and glean knowledge from the drinking history here. The Knickerbocker à La Monsieur ($13, aged rhum agricole, orange curacao, raspberry, lemon) is a drink that famed bartender Jerry Thomas first created in 1862 at the Occidental Hotel at Bush and Montgomery, not too far from the Burritt Room. Using the original recipe, he adds a slight variation with fresh raspberries to work with grassy funk of the cane spirit.
150 years from now, Casino Royale may be about as exciting to future generations as silent movies are to us now, but hopefully the Vesper Lynd will be just as vibrant.