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East Meets West: NYC Bartender Does Beretta

With people like Momfuku's David Chang in town promoting his book and doing 7x7 panel discussions, all the talk in the food world has been about the NYC-SF rivalry in the food world. But it’s not only in the kitchen that the two coasts have their differences. Bartenders in New York and San Francisco have long had a rivalry, though it tends to be less contentious than the chefs. Vive la Difference is more the motto than trash talk like “all San Francisco bartenders do is put lime in glass!” That said, it’s still interesting to explore the differences between the two bartending cultures.

A chance to explore the differences is this Tuesday evening at Beretta, as the Mission-district bar will be featuring guest-tender John Deragon. Deragon was one of the opening bartenders of the hottest bar in the country, New York’s PDT, and he continues to be involved there, though for now he’s splitting time between coasts in his day job as CTO for a couple of websites. His quest to make Abbot’s bitters was chronicled in this NYT story.  I chatted briefly with Deragon about SF and New York and cocktails.

7x7: Is this your first time behind the bar in SF?

JD: No. I was out here three and a half weeks ago and did a 3 hour shift at Rickhouse that [bartender] Erick Castro set up. The Rickhouse is so different. For instance, at most bars I’ve worked at, there was never a 2 or 3 deep situation. It was crazy. At Rickhouse you have 5 tenders working out of a couple of wells. It’s just a different beast to make such quality and complex cocktails in that situation. I have a lot of respect for them.

7x7: What are other prime differences you see between NY and SF?

JD: Well, it’s quite well-known that New York drinks are more classic in style, more spirit-dominated, whereas San Francisco tends to be  fruit and citrus oriented. I’ve found that to be true. But in NY, we do seasonal menus too, but we feature things like pisco, cachaca and gin in the summer months, while going to brandies, whiskies, and applejack in the winter. We do heavier drinks, spiced drinks, flips and warmers.  In SF the seasonality follows the farmers market and there’s just so much great fruit. You just don’t see fruit bowls on top of any bars in New York.

And, the differences in produce is real. The citrus is so much fresher here, that one ounce of your lime juice seems to influence a cocktail as 1.25 oz would in New York. You have to make some adjustments. 

There are also differences in community. While bartenders in New York all get along and are tight, here it’s a real community, almost family-like.

7x7: What from San Francisco bars would you love to take back to New York?

JD: I think the thing that I’m most envious of, the availability of tequila. The tequila we get in New York is great, but the fact that I can go into some po-dunk bar and see 20 tequilas that I’ve never heard of makes me incredibly jealous.