Brooklyn-native and longtime Bay Area resident, Michael Lazar is one of San Francisco's leading experts in spirits and cocktails. Lofty words, I know, but you won't find many other bartenders infusing rye with candy cap mushrooms, “reverse” barrel aging Manhattans, barrel aging beer in 65 gallon bourbon and rye barrels, or inventing a whole cocktail program called "Pimp My Old Fashioned."
Michael's passion for stiff drinks became a profession in 2010 while working on his book, Left Coast Libations, which profiled 50 of the West Coast's top bartenders from LA to Vancouver. Since then, he's been working hard as the bar manager at Hog & Rocks, bringing their Barrel to Bottle program as well as a pop-up bar to fruition.
In the Barrel to Bottle program H&R purchases “one-off” barrels from a variety of distilleries and continues to age the whiskey inside. Michael then bottles the barrel-strength whiskey and sells those bottles to individuals for on-site consumption. The hope is that in two years there will be a growing library of single barrel whiskies available only at H&R. Last weekend the bar just launched their new pop-up bar, SlingBar— a mobile representation of their delicious hand crafted old fashioneds with fresh cut ice and whiskey, rum, and tequila options as well a tasty bites from Chef Robin Song. Catch the pop-up at Stable Café (2128 Folsom St.) until September.
When not behind the stick at Hog & Rocks, “Mr. Manhattan" can be found drinking rye and bourbon at Prizefighter or Hotsy Totsy in the East Bay, wishing he could hit up White Castle for a six-pack of the original sliders for a late-night snack.
1. What neighborhood do you currently call home? Would you ever move or are you happy in your 'hood?
I am very happy in my North Oakland house by the Berkeley border. My house is just over 100 years old and has a great backyard. Parking is easy and the Berkeley Bowl and Rockridge shops are equidistant and walkable. I can also walk to Ashby BART – not that I ever have the leisure for using it, I'm afraid I drive in and out of the city pretty much every day of the week.
2. What is your hands-down, absolute favorite thing to eat in the East Bay?
Dim sum at Saigon in El Cerrito or a pizza from Emilia's (when I'm fast on the phone).
3. What's your perfect night on the town?
Well, actually given the chance for a night NOT at work, I'd rather invite friends over for BBQ and drinks. I'd spend the afternoon going around to all my favorite East Bay shops buying entirely too much food and then spend hours on the back deck cooking, eating, and drinking.
4. When you need a low-key afternoon, where do you go for down time?
Did I mention BBQ and drinks at home? I'm also happy to sit outside at Prizefighter and sip a few beers and chat with my bartender friends who work there. I've also been stopping by The Rare Barrel to sample their barrel-aged sours. With limited hours, that's inside information.
5. What's your favorite place to go on a day trip from Oakland?
Tennessee Valley on the Marin Headlands. There's a hiking loop there that takes you all the way to Green Gulch Farms, Muir Beach, and back. Most of the time you're by yourself, most people just hike to the beach and back. There's also some off-trail opportunities that put you right on the windy knife edge of the headlands, looking over the ocean.
6. Quick-fire round:
Burrito or Burger: Burger please!
Fenton's or Ici Ice Cream: Spare me the crowds. I'd be happier hunkered down with a container of Ciao Bella mango sorbet from the store.
Lake Merritt or Lake Temescal: Lake Merritt, though I don't appreciate the nasty geese.
The Paramount or The Fox Theater: Confession: never been to either! I do like having drinks at Flora and Dogwood, both by the Fox.
Bakesale Betty's or Brown Sugar Kitchen: Let me just shed a tear for Bakesale Betty's when it was in its heyday.
First Fridays or The Oakland Museum: Oakland Museum
Shopping on Telegraph or in Temescal: Telegraph.
7. Three words that describe your life in Oakland?
Quiet. Nutritious. Satisfying.