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Don't Buy Art, Buy Drinks: Friday at Alembic and Beretta

With my rapidly advancing age, marital state and experience working at Cantina on many Fridays over the last year, I have largely stopped going out on weekend nights. Bars are just too crowded, too loud. You know . . . too "too." And I don't even have kids.

But I had friend in town from LA this weekend who was interested in the SF cocktail scene, so Friday was a good chance to observe the weekend nightlife at a couple of the city's more happening cocktail outposts.

What did I discover? How lame I've been. Friday night was not so terrible. Maybe it's the economy, maybe it's February, but both Alembic and Beretta were busy, but not uncomfortably so. And the crowds all seemed made up of lively, interesting and polite people. I had fun. And the drinks, naturally, were exceptional.

Here's a note on what I imbibed. I was in the mood for brown spirits, so I stuck to American whiskey drinks. I love the combo of bourbon or rye with apples--just seems so American--and was thus obviously compelled by Alembic's "Still Life with Apples, After Cezanne." Evan Williams Bourbon combines with a punchy gastrique fashioned from maple syrup and the lot is topped with a head of smoked apple cider foam and a sprig of thyme. Elegant, balanced, emminently delicious. And a good smoky nose gets me every time. A good way to start my night. I didn't photograph the cocktail, given how dim it was in there, so I'm including a reproduction of C├ęzanne's painting. Given the price of fine art these days, it's much cheaper just to drink well.

I followed up the apple drink with an improvisation from Daniel, Alembic's excellent bar chief. Served up, it was composed of rye whiskey, bitters and yellow Chartreuse. I gave him the thumbs up for that on my way out, and he called out (over the rapidly crowding bar) that when he doesn't know what to do, he just adds a little Chartreuse. Good advice for all you kids at home.

A cab ride over to Beretta got me another rye drink and a seat at the bar. I ordered a classic, the Monte Carlo, which was really just a slight variation on what Daniel had improvised for me at Alembic: rye whiskey, a liqueur made by French monks (Benedictine this time instead of Chartreuse), bitters and an orange twist, served up. Brilliantly simple, perfectly delicious. It's an elegant cocktail--crisp and dry enough to still be suave, but round and strong enough to help you "get your drink on" in style.

Beretta was thinning out a bit as we finished, around midnight. And, for once, I didn't have to wait to get in. And for me--especially on a Friday night--that a good thing.