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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Secrecy, Detectives, and Tinctures: The Wilson Owner Brian Sheehy Talks

Posted By on Wed, Jun 22, 2011 at 12:30 PM

This is not Brian Sheehy. But it is one of the Wilson's bartenders. - KIMBERLY SANDIE
  • Kimberly Sandie
  • This is not Brian Sheehy. But it is one of the Wilson's bartenders.

Brian Sheehy is owner with Doug Dalton of Bourbon & Branch, Mr. Lew's Win-Win Room, and the Wilson, which I reviewed this week. Just before finishing my review, I called Sheehy to ask him about the private eye thing, as well as why he decided to install a speakeasy within a speakeasy.

SFoodie: So how did the Wilson come about?

Sheehy: Bourbon & Branch started off as a single room at 501 Jones, and with the ABC's help over the years we've slowly expanded. We added the library, then the Russells Room, and finally the Wilson.

We always wanted to provide a superior level of service that came down to the interaction between the bartenders and the guests, whom we expected would be interested in cocktails and spirits. When we first opened, we had 50 cocktails on the menu. Bourbon & Branch was an immediate hit, and because we were reservations only we were sold out from 6 p.m. to closing. The challenge was that we had seating for 65 in the main room with only two bartenders. Between 6 and 6:15 they had to make drinks for all those customers. So there was no time for interactions with guests -- they just kept their heads down.

So we added the library, which was more of a traditional bar --

customers could come to Bourbon & Branch and have two hours of

service, and then if they wanted to stay they could go to the library,

which is more laid back than the front room. Again, with the library, we

have a more limited menu there -- 12 to 14 cocktails -- but no tableside


So the Wilson became the opportunity for us to do that. Since we limit

seating to 28 people at any one time, but have two bartenders, the

layout encourages complete interaction between people and bartenders.

And the bartenders there have been practicing the longest -- it gives

them a chance to investigate tinctures, bitters, and new concepts and

talk to customers about what they've learned.

How'd you come up with the private eye theme?

When we were working on the space, we were fortunate to uncover this

purse, belonging to Lorraine Adeline Wilson. The last date we could find mentioned in it was May 6, 1932, not long before Prohibition ended, and so we got the idea from that. We expect to have some of her descendants appear at the bar one of these days.

Are all of your nonspirit ingredients made in-house?

We have one full-time guy, Zach, whose entire role is to make bitters,

syrups, and tinctures. The bartenders are doing some crazy experiments

-- some work, some don't. If they do work, they'll get on to the menu as

limited-release flavors. Right now, for instance, we have tinctures with Turkish

rhubarb, sarsaparilla, pomelo -- their focus is on bringing a unique

vegetable or fruit back from the local farmers' market and experiment

with it, completely concentrate the flavor of it, and see what kind of

cocktail they could make using a couple of drops of it. That's their

whole focus.

Follow us on Twitter: @sfoodie, and like us on Facebook.
Follow me at @JonKauffman.

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