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Novela: Meet the Character-Driven Cocktails 

Wednesday, Jan 8 2014

Every place has a story. Consider Novela, the literary-themed SoMa bar started by the powerhouse duo of Alex Smith (Gitane, Honor Bar) and Kate Bolton (Maven, Michael Mina). With Bolton no longer involved in the project and Smith focused on the bar's punch program along with his duties as general manager, the story at Novela appears to have entered its second act.

But though there are changes at the bar with Christina Cabrera (Michael Mina, Bourbon Steak) and Suzanne Miller (Clock Bar, Dosa) now leading the cocktail program, Novela's focus seems to remain the same.

The west wind that blew a Mary Poppins ($13, apple brandy, Maurin Quina, King's Ginger Liqueur, clove bitters, maple syrup, lemon, soda) cocktail in front of me was a lucky one. While it didn't take me on any magical trips around the world, it did keep me entertained and refreshed with the apple and cherry flavors.

Romeo and Juliet were an ill-fated pair, but at Novela, the Juliet Capulet ($13, pisco, Kina L'Avion d'Or, chamomile, prickly pear, old fashioned bitters, lemon) and Romeo Montague ($11, rye whiskey, root liqueur, coriander, Angostura Bitters, allspice) are fascinating interpretations of Shakespeare's famous characters. They're also delicious. The Juliet is a floral and fruity drink, yet with enough depth to give her character. The Romeo is an Old Fashioned with some spice intensity, the brawn of the whiskey tamed by the single large ice cube. It's worth ordering the pair of drinks to taste how Miller and Cabrera manifested each star-crossed lover in liquid form.

The punch drinks at Novela are also worth exploring. Dillon Lockwood and Smith base their concoctions on traditional formulas (alcohol, citrus and sugar as an oleo saccharum, water, and/or tea/spices) but give each a twist, like jalapeño in the tequila one or smoky lapsang souchong tea in the scotch variation. Even better, the flights ($14 for three) offer a rare chance to compare and contrast versions of a drink that traditionally require large groups and massive serving bowls.

Though the story at Novela may still be waiting for more acts to be written, an evening there will usually conclude with a happy ending.

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