San Francisco is drunk on fernet, and many of us have decided to give it up for good. Like Burning Man or bone broth, there's no quicker way to lose your taste for something than to be oversaturated with the evangelizing of others. But please, take a moment and set aside any bitter memories resulting from having had one too many (ok, five too many) at R Bar. Like other controversial statement items that are enjoying a resurgence (hello mustaches and high-waisted jeans), fernet is having a moment in the sun—and for good reason.
In SF, fernet has never gone out of style. Our city consumes 35 percent of Fernet-Branca bottles imported to the United States—considering our relatively small population, that's a whole lot of saffron. The aromatic spirit has a solid following as an after-dinner drink at fine restaurants, and it's an essential half of the popular Bartender's Handshake, which is simply a shot of fernet with a ginger back; order it to win the respect of your local beareded barkeep. The Bartender's Handshake also stars on the drink menu at one SF-themed restaurant in Chicago.
If straight fernet is as SF as burrito wars and Karl the Fog, cocktails are the next frontier. Some local gin joints offer fernet concoctions as a part of their cocktail programs, with drinks ranging from light and refreshing to high-impact. One must-try libation is the Old-Fashioned 17 at 1760, served exclusively during their stirring hour, which includes Jelenik Fernet, Campari, vermouth, and a shake of bitters. Wild Hare offers the aptly named Fernet About It, a brunch-friendly cocktail that combines gin, fernet, ginger beer, lemon, and cava. On the other side of the spectrum, the Redwood Room offers the Clift Carré (cognac, rye, fernet, ginger, and bitters).
But once you step off menu, there's a whole new world of secret fernet cocktails at your disposal. At Trou Normand, insiders request the Hanky Panky (Leopold's Small Batch gin, vermouth, fernet, and a twist) on the daily. And on request, Palmer's Tavern in Pacific Heights will whip up a Fillmore Fizz, with gin, pineapple gum syrup, orange, lime, egg white, and (of course) fernet. Try asking at your favorite local watering hole—you never know what you might get to taste.
It's time to give fernet another try. You (most likely) won't regret it.