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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Bourbon & Branch Alum Joel Baker Takes Over at Burritt Room

Posted By on Thu, Jul 14, 2011 at 8:02 AM

click to enlarge The Burritt Room in its past, and soon in its future?
  • The Burritt Room in its past, and soon in its future?

There's no doubt that bar manager Kevin Diedrich's departure from the Burritt Room was devastating. Fresh from winning a series of awards, including SF Weekly's Best of San Francisco and the Chronicle's Bar Stars of 2011, the first anniversary of the bar should have been a time of celebration. Instead, desperation reigned as most of the staff left with Diedrich to Jasper's Corner Tap, including general manager Matthew Meidinger and barman Brian MacGregor.

Now, a month later, the Burritt Room is getting ready to rebuild with Joel Baker, formerly bar manager at Bourbon & Branch, at the helm.

Baker told SFoodie, "I took over at Bourbon & Branch for Todd [Smith] after he left. It's like deja vu."

But the situation is different at the Burritt Room, and not in a good way. At the Branch, the program was in place and he didn't have to start from the ground up. "With the situation I'm coming into with everyone gone and no staff, it's a little daunting. I was looking for a challenge, and I certainly have it," Baker says.

He started from the beginning, taking inventory of what remains in the bar -- staff, spirits, and glassware -- and increasingly building up. He has been working on cocktail recipes and will feature five shaken and five stirred drinks. The plan is to keep it small and focused, and change the cocktail list about every six weeks.

The plan for the space includes adding food-focused events in the back room, possibly pop-up dining, though there are no solid plans yet beyond the monthly afternoon tea service from Kettle Whistle.

The drinks themselves might not be a big departure from Diedrich's bar menu, because they both started at Bourbon & Branch around the same time. Baker's plans are for classics with modern ingredients and slight twists. He plans to use farm-sourced ingredients and liquor from local distilleries and brewers. For example, the Lucia Bosé (Bols Genever, Campari, still rosé, strawberry gomme syrup, lemon juice) is designed to showcase the summer berry bounty.

Baker sees the challenge as a lesson in what is really involved in opening his own bar. "Having to rebuild a program from the ground up is not easy," he says. "Kevin left a huge void with being named a bar star this year and having put his heart and soul into this place. I've got some big shoes to fill."

We are excited to see how things develop.

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

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