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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Ice Cream Bar Owner Juliet Pries on eBay, Tinctures, and Coca Leaves

Posted By on Wed, Mar 28, 2012 at 1:30 PM

An Ice Cream Bar soda jerk measures out the ingredients for a Peche #3, seen at right. - LARA HATA
  • Lara Hata
  • An Ice Cream Bar soda jerk measures out the ingredients for a Peche #3, seen at right.
​Thanks to byzantine S.F. permitting processes, it took Juliet Pries almost two years to open the Ice Cream Bar in Cole Valley, the subject of this week's restaurant review. But the delay gave her time to change the focus of the shop, expanding from ice cream into its most distinctive feature: pre-Prohibition sodas. I talked to Pries last week just before filing my review:

SFoodie: So how did the Ice Cream Bar come about?

Pries: Well, it's a long story. I had been in the bar business (as part-owner of the Kezar Pub in the Haight), but did pastry before. So I planned on making ice cream. Ice cream's big here. I found a space that was fairly large, and, while waiting for the city, I found a 1930s back bar and soda fountain on eBay. The guy I bought if from in Michigan, his family had owned a dairy. But he now deals in restaurant equipment. He told me about American Soda Fountain, a company in Chicago that restores soda fountains. The guy I bought it from drove the bar to Chicago -- a seven-hour drive -- and American Soda Fountain refurbished the entire thing. New carbonator, new refrigerator compressor, everything. It works great.

Then I found Fix the Pumps, written by a mixologist and chemist who wants to bring back the soda fountain. That fit in with all the 1930s stuff that I love. I love the idea of making everything from scratch, including all the soda syrups, so it just evolved into that. Then I found Russell Davis and brought him on as a consultant. He took the soda fountain to the level that I wanted but had no idea how to do myself.

I didn't want the Ice Cream Bar to be a kiddie ice cream parlor. I wanted something more serious. The soda fountain replaced the bar during Prohibition. And I wanted it to be an adult place, especially in the evenings, though not unfriendly toward kids.

Is Davis still working for you?

He's still involved, mostly because he wants to be. He's great. He's going to keep coming up and change the menu -- he can't really walk away from it now, because he's really into it.

How did you end up with more than 70 tinctures? I was reading Fix the Pumps while researching this article, and it seemed to involve some complex distillation processes.

Well, that's one of the modern twists. It's a new technique that the French Culinary Institute developed very recently called "nitrogen cavitation." You grind herbs or spices and place them [with alcohol] in a soda siphon, then charge it. The siphon breaks the cell walls of the herbs and produces an instant infusion. You don't have to let it sit for weeks.

I heard that your permit specifies that you have to serve hot food.

I have to be a full-service restaurant, which means I have to have table service and hot dishes. I'm working on that right now. The menu will include hot dogs with homemade brioche buns, egg salad, green vegetables -- things from the 1930s. I don't have a fryer and I won't have burgers or fries. There'll be a few new twists, but it'll be traditional lunch-counter food. More like home cooking. Everything else we make is done in-house. All the ice creams, all the baked goods, all candies -- everything.

Any other projects you're working on?

We already have a root beer, but we want to make our own cola. However, it's difficult to source some of the ingredients, including de-cocaineized coca leaves. They're legal, but Coca-Cola pretty much has the monopoly on them.

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