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Distillations: The Liberties 


Cocktails on draught are becoming increasingly popular at the kind of bars that want to keep ahead of — or at least in the vicinity of — the cocktail curve. The Liberties, an Irish pub on the edge of the Mission, does it one better, having a selection of "barrel-aged" cocktails on draught, each batch-aged for two months in American oak casks.

I couldn't help myself. I had to try a barrel-aged Grouse Hunter (Black Grouse Scotch, Antika, and walnut bitters).

I was pleased and disappointed at once. Pleased because it was a very tasty drink, and you can absolutely detect the barrel-aging, and disappointed because it wasn't all that special. A good drink, but not one worth hyping.

I was at The Liberties with Michael, who had just come back from a large weekend party in the woods that I'd been invited to but blown off, and he said it was absolutely astonishing. This sort of thing seems to happen with us a lot.

He is also getting ready to leave on some extraordinary cross-country art-adventure with some people I loosely know, which sounds like it will be uncomfortable but amazing.

I get jealous, sometimes, of the experiences that Michael has; but the fact is that he earns them by actually showing up. I could show up too. It is absolutely within my power. But I don't. I sit at home, at bars, at coffee shops, and think, and write. I like to pretend that all this sitting around makes me better, as though I were aging in an oak cask, but for all my contemplative time, I can't say I'm any smarter or more interesting than Michael.

The Liberties is a clean, well-polished rectangular room with another rectangular room in the back. It's mostly tables and benches, very little standing space. The staff is informal and the menu goes up and down the scale from casual to fancy, but the emphasis on seating and just how neat it's kept give the impression that you come here to have a meal, not an adventure.

I recently joined Facebook — I'm not proud, I'm just admitting it — and asked Michael if I should jump on all the options that come with it. Do I want to join Tinder, too?

Over my next drink, a "Where There's Smoke, There's Fire" (mezcal, pineapple-honey syrup, lime, and hellfire bitters, which cover all the bases of hot and sour) Michael explained to me why I absolutely do not.

"You actually want to meet people," he said, "and I've realized that's not what Tinder's for. Because, look, it's a numbers game, right?"

"Always swipe right," I said.

"Exactly. And when I was using it, I was connected with God-knows-how-many girls on Tinder, and barely met any of them."

I blink. "What?"

"You have to understand," he said. "You know how flaky San Franciscans are, right?"

"Oh, yeah."

"And then how flaky people on the internet are, right?"


"Well, put those two things together. You're filtering for San Franciscans on the internet," he said. "What I've found is that it's so easy to make connections this way, and as long as it stays digital everybody's happy. You can get, like, a ton of Facebook friends that way. It's easy. It's frictionless. There's nothing at stake. But once someone says, 'Let's get together,' it's suddenly complicated. There are stakes. And most people, at least I've found, will flake at that point. Over and over. Because they'd rather be easy and frictionless, even if they're not getting what they want, than lose the control you have online, and let it get messy, and real."

"Wow! ... "

He shrugs. "It's more fun to flirt than it is to date."

We order food. We can't help it, The Liberties' happy hour specials are too good to pass up. Both the sweet potato fries and the curry chicken wings are absolute winners. We talk about a scheme we're putting together, a prank on unsuspecting members of the public. People we tell about it say it's brilliant, but it's not. Anybody could do it: The hardest part about pulling it off will be getting people to show up.

I leave with mixed feelings about The Liberties. It's a strong bar, and if the question is "Do I like it?" the answer is an unequivocal "yes." But it's not a great bar, and with so many in the city, I don't know if it's actually worth recommending.

But maybe I'm being too hesitant. Go out. Have a good time. Overthinking these things is overrated. Just show up.


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