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Monday, February 28, 2011

Bartenders to Watch: Gitane's Alex Smith

Posted By on Mon, Feb 28, 2011 at 5:54 PM

click to enlarge Gitane bar manager Alex Smith. - LOU BUSTAMANTE
  • Lou Bustamante
  • Gitane bar manager Alex Smith.

In the bad old days, the general notion of a gypsy was somewhere between wizard and outlaw. That pretty much describes Alex Smith, who's bringing his own brand of alchemy as bar manager at Gitane (French for "gypsy"), which is currently making some of the most interesting cocktails in San Francisco.

As you'd expect from the amazing selection established by opening bar manager Dominic Venegas, sherry plays a large part in most cocktails here, conjuring lightness with a touch of the exotic. The fortified wine has been enjoying a resurgence in popularity in cocktails, thanks to Venegas, now by Smith and his staff. And sherries are available by the glass from a nicely curated list of 19, from finos and manzanillas to olorosos.

Gitane's cozy, caravanlike bar has been getting a lot of attention lately thanks to Smith's use of house-made chorizo bitters in La Convivencia, a play on the Manhattan. Sure, it has that meat-in-the-glass shock value, but what gets overlooked is the delicious complexity of the drink, which has spiced, sweet, and savory elements that don't require a dare to enjoy.

Smith weaves together a cocktail list that incorporates his time at Smuggler's Cove, an affinity for the savory, and a hands-on approach to creating bar syrups. Smith makes a syrup he calls mermelada gitana that incorporates the tiki tradition of Don the Beachcomber, though transported to the beaches of the Costa del Sol. The mixture of ginger, citrus, spices, and secret ingredients adds a sexy gloss to El Medano, Cala Carbon, and Media Luna, drinks all named after nude beaches in Spain. Don't be alarmed if after enjoying El Medano ― a mixture of chinchon (a Spanish anise spirit), tequila, mezcal, lime juice, and the mermelada gitana ― you feel like getting naked.

By combining old and new, knowledge gained from travel, and savory surprises, Smith manages to be one the most exciting bartenders in the city right now.

Gitane: 6 Claude (at Bush), 788-6620.

Lou Bustamante tweets at @thevillagedrunk. Follow SFoodie at @sfoodie, and like us on Facebook.

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