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The Fairmont Hotel's Modern Approach to Classic Cocktails 

Tuesday, Feb 2 2016

There's a reason why the classics become classics. They're timeless, and they're damn good. In the realm of cocktails, familiar names like Martini, Old Fashioned, Boulevardier, and Manhattan immediately come to mind. If you're going to tinker with drinks like these, you'd best be careful lest you unleash an uproar. Recently, the Fairmont hotel took on the precarious task with the introduction of its "Classics, Perfected" menu of eight simple standards, tweaked ever so slightly to reflect a modern approach. Here are the standouts worth heading up the hill for.

If you've never been to the Polynesian-themed Tonga Room in the lower terrace level of the Fairmont, you're missing out on a serious segment of local cocktail lore. It's cheesy, touristy, kitschy, and undeniably awesome. It's also a setting destined for Mai Tais and tropical punch bowls.

Although you can find the Fairmont's new drinks down here, they're better suited to the elegant lobby bar, Laurel Court, just upstairs. Settle in between the large marble pillars, and have the barkeep fire up a Right Word, a floral variation on the venerable Final Word. With Bombay Sapphire Gin as its base, the ensemble of Lillet Blanc and St. Germain liqueur sculpts juniper berry into a calming symphony of herbaceousness. Invented in San Francisco, the Martinez is a play on the Martini, introducing maraschino cherry liqueur into the fold, for an added layer of sweetness. At the Laurel Court, they've opted to replace cherry with orange liqueur — Cointreau, to be precise. Poking through the saccharine cloud is a dry gin from The Botanist, along with multiple types of vermouth. It's a balanced, if somewhat light-handed approach. To plumb bolder depths of flavor, seek out the VSOP Boulevardier, uniting Remy Martin Cognac with the time-tested combination of whiskey, Campari, and fortified red wine. Bitterness, herbal tones, oak, and grape are the main actors competing for attention here. Served in a rocks glass with a lemon garnish, the elegant sipper is unnervingly drinkable given its exclusively alcoholic list of ingredients.

An Old Fashioned, as its very name implies, is an ode to a bygone era. It's bedrock. And while it sounds like permanence personified in a glass, the Fairmont puts its own spin on it. What was once a straightforward synthesis of American whiskey, sugar, and Angostura has been reimagined with Mount Gay Black Barrel Rum to unexpectedly wondrous results. It's certainly not your father's Old Fashioned, but the oak-heavy notes of Woodford Reserve bourbon, alongside a vanilla-rich rum — aged in bourbon barrels — resonate harmoniously. A lengthy, spice-filled finish solidifies the drink's alluring complexity. It's expectedly blasphemous to some, but purists be damned. This is a tasty tipple, one worthy of repeated encounters.

Slated as a permanent shift to the menu, the updated drinks debuted in December. Timeless cocktails in a peerless setting should, theoretically, be priceless. Back in reality, all eight of the entries will set you back $16. You've got to pay to play in Nob Hill.

About The Author

Brad Japhe

Brad Japhe

I enjoy my whiskey neat, my beer hoppy, and my meat medium rare. I have been covering craft spirits, suds, and gourmet cuisine for a decade, with work published from New York, across Montana, and up and down the Pacific Coast.


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