Skip to Navigation Skip to Content

Historic Cocktails Tour of SF: History in a Glass

San Francisco bartenders were treated to a unique experience a couple of weeks ago: the first (that we know of) SF historical cocktail tour. It was sponsored by Plymouth Gin and Simon Ford (the brand's ambassador; below, at left) and conducted by Dave Wondrich (below, right), the undisputed authority on American cocktail history and author of Imbibe.



Besides being inspiring and informative, it was a blast. Most important, it brought home how significant SF's contribution to the development of the cocktail really is. To underscore this, a cocktail or three was had by all at a variety of stops on the walking tour. We embarked from the Buena Vista Cafe, where we started off with delicious Irish coffee--and how delicious that drink is!



We then walked, in procession, up Columbus to Vesuvio, that den of Beat-era imbibing, where we polished off Plymouth Negronis and talked about legendary American bartender Jerry Thomas, who did a stint in San Francisco.



Next, we passed by the Chinatown Hilton—it’s a phenomenally ugly building, but back during the gold rush the site was home to the El Dorado, a giant tent bar, where the newly rich partied and drank. En route to the famous Pied Piper Bar in the Palace Hotel (see the pied-piper mural below), we passed by the former site of the Bank Exchange, where Pisco Punch was invented.



And finally, we ended up at the House of Shields, a historic bar that celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, where Wondrich treated us to a demonstration of the Blue Blazer (watch the video), Jerry Thomas' famous flaming cocktail.



All around, it was an amazing time. Next year, the tour needs to extend to the East Bay to pick up Trader Vic's and the invention of the Mai Tai.