Tradition: Nine Bars in One, in the Tenderloin
This has been a busy year for the team behind Bourbon & Branch, Swig, Rickhouse, and Cask, otherwise known as Future Bars. In April, they opened their fifth bar, Local Edition, a newspaper-themed spot housed in the cavernous former printing floor of the Examiner and the Call. Now, just two months later, they've unveiled Tradition, another capacious craft-cocktail haven located at 441 Jones, just a few doors down from the Bourbon & Branch mothership.
If you're up on your local bar knowledge, you might recognize the address as the former home of the hilariously named Mister Lew's Win-Win Bar & Grand Sazerac Emporium. There's a story behind the change: the Future Bars team of Doug Dalton and Brian Sheehy initially acquired the former Club 441 space with the goal of renovating it, but they re-christened it for a single night, to throw an epic birthday bash for the company's creative director, Justin Lew. After the party ended, guests kept coming back for more, and Mister Lew's ultimately stayed open for more than a year, dishing up cheap, high-quality cocktails in the relatively untouched divey atmosphere of the 441 space. In January, the team finally called off the party (to many regulars' chagrin), and began renovating the space into Tradition (known as "Trad bar" for short).
Those who visited 441 Jones in its time as Mister Lew's are likely to find it unrecognizable. The space is now three times its original size, with much higher ceilings and a fairly large second-floor mezzanine. And that doesn't even take into account the extensive renovations, which create a vibe that's equal parts classic Irish public house and hip SF speakeasy, with an enormous hanging bar on the first floor. Tradition is divided into two slightly unequal halves: Upon entering, the larger left side, as well as the upstairs bar, are open seating, while the small, labyrinthine booths (known as "snugs") and the row of stools on the far right are reservation-only, with booking online through SeatMe.
The extra effort of booking a table at Tradition gives drinkers access to two major perks. The first is getting to sit in one of the snugs, a style of high booth that was originally invented to allow women to drink in bars without fear of offending propriety. (In the older European pubs where they've survived, they've since become popular for romantic assignations.) Tradition's nine snugs are each themed around a different style of bar or drinking culture, including dive bar, tiki bar, speakeasy, English pub, and grand hotel. Though each snug's decor is fairly minimal at this point, with a couple of framed vintage liquor ads to represent the style, the owners plan to add more tsotchkes as time goes by. (The Irish pub snug is the most tricked-out at the moment, as one of the owners took a vacation to the Emerald Isle shortly before opening.)
The nine-bars-in-one approach also applies to the extensive menu, which features seven to nine takes on cocktails from each period, ranging from the tiki-influenced Kone Kope (barrel-aged Sailor Jerry rum, Diplomatico, coffee syrup, coconut cream, nutmeg, Angostura bitters) to the dive-inspired Surfer on Acid (rum, Ron Zacapa, Averna, lemon juice, pineapple gomme, coconut marmalade). There are also some $40 larger-format drinks for groups, including a bathtub gin punch for four (with gin, Lillet blanc, grapefruit, lemon, ginger syrup, vanilla Angostura bitters, black pepper tincture, soda) and a frozen cucumber-watermelon margarita for five. Your snug's affiliation doesn't limit the menu-- feel free to order a grand hotel drink in the Irish pub snug, or vice versa. Those in the non-reservation portion of the bar have access to a more edited, but still sizable, menu of 18 cocktails (two to three from each style, most $9-10), along with nine bottled beers like Fuller's ESB and Abita Turbodog.
As if offering a taste of nearly every bar style in history wasn't enough, Tradition has also embarked on an ambitious program of barrel-aged spirits, with hand-labeled bottles filling the shelves of the main bar area and shelves of tiny wooden casks behind the smaller upstairs bar. Jake Chevedden, who directs the barrel-aging program, washes each barrel with a wine, beer, or spirit, then fills it with a pre-existing spirit and leaves it to age. The resulting liquors run the gamut of flavors, from Russell's Reserve rye aged in a green Chartreuse-finished cask to Redbreast 12 Irish whiskey aged in a cask washed with Guinness. Since December, Chevedden has concocted over 50 different barrel blends in total; a separate menu listing all the options is available in both sections of the bar.
Though the bar is still working out the initial kinks, Future Bars beverage director and Tradition manager Ian Scalzo says that drinkers can eventually look forward to yet another menu offering, with special cocktails exclusively utilizing barrel-aged spirits. To complement his efforts, Chevedden is still hard at work on new concoctions, including an IPA-finished rye and some new barrels themed to the sections of the menu. In the meantime, there's still nine bars' worth of drinking to be had within the confines of the Tradition space. Time for another round.
Tradition, 441 Jones St. (at O'Farrell St.), (415) 474-2284. Monday-Saturday, 6 pm-2 am; closed Sunday.
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