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Lolo: Fell in Love With a Bar 

Wednesday, Mar 5 2014
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Walking into Loló, three thoughts will cross your mind: The first and most immediate will be how improbable and fun the décor by Lorena Zertuche is. In the wrong hands, the space's vibrant colors and array of objects, photos, and suit jackets would feel haphazard and over the top, but here they radiate creativity, warmth, and charm.

Then after getting a drink from the bar like the Gold Digger ($11, mezcal, yellow chartreuse, tonic syrup, bitters) — a cocktail that drinks like the Negroni's lighter and brighter Mexican cousin — your second thought will be one of wonder. You'll ask yourself, "Why, in a town full of talented bartenders and knowledgeable patrons, has no one ever heard of the restaurant's barmen David Gallardo and Leon Vasquez before?" The answer is simple: For the Jalisco natives, Loló is their first big show in San Francisco.

Vasquez's home is primarily in Guadalajara, Mexico, where he manages the bars for Loló executive Chef Jorge Martínez's other restaurants, I Latina and Anita Li. Both are known for creative cocktails in a city most associated with colonial buildings, birria, and the tequila industry. Vasquez jumped behind the bar at I Latina merely to make extra cash, but the experience changed him. "I immediately fell in love with the craft, and a few months later I was the bar manager of Jorge's other restaurant, Anita Li," he says.

Gallardo is the bar manager and agave spirits expert. His flights offer an introduction to mezcal, tequila, and other lesser-known Mexican spirits like bacanora and sotol.

For him, the journey to the bar also started in Guadalajara, where he worked as a server and barista. "When I came to S.F., I started as a bar back, and spent every free moment trying to learn everything I could about to bartending," says Gallardo. "I quickly realized it was my passion."

You can see that in drinks like wonderfully savory El Benito ($11, mezcal, lemon verbena, Avezé Gentian Liqueur, yellow chartreuse) that has enough salt in it to even out the sweetness and herbaceousness of the liqueurs, giving it an almost tropical/pineapple quality.

And yes, Loló also offers great bar food, which will inspire your third thought: "How soon can I come back?"

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