Shawn Vergara’s BlackBird Bar located at 2124 Market Street in San Francisco is worth more than just a visit. *Muni Metro Church Street Station is the nearest train stop and is just feet from the bar.
If it’s a lovely day, I recommend walking up Market street from the Civic Center/UN Plaza BART station.
BlackBird is one of my favorite bars in San Francisco and dare I say it, very underrated. There are few cities where a bar with an extensive craft beer choice, wine pours, an encyclopedic back bar, gorgeous cocktails – including barrel aged, bottled and cocktails on tap, ice program and outstanding house-made bitters – all served by a knowledgeable and highly competent group of ladies and gents – wouldn’t be one of the most breathlessly talked about joints. Especially one that bills itself as a casual, fun neighborhood haunt.
Space is tight at Blackbird. Yes, room enough for a pool-table at the back but no room for a kitchen. For bar-snacks they keep it fun with a selection of custom made “Bar Jars”. Example: Chicken Liver Mousse soaked in Black Peppercorn and Vanilla Infused Brandy with a Straus butter cap.
The tightness of space is off-set by a thoughtful design that runs throughout the bar. It is beautiful to look at. The bar itself takes up a huge part of the long room, and has a back-bar that sends me into instant geek mode.
BlackBird is captained by Matt Grippo.
Connecticut born, Grippo found a love for bartending while stationed in Ohio. But he struggled. Tight on money, he made a logical choice – move to the even more pricey city of San Francisco.
But it panned out and through a fortunate series of events he has found a busy home at BlackBird.
The cocktail menu for Black Bird is run very diplomatically, with all bartenders asked to contribute. I have had cocktails made by an array of their staff and have never been disappointed. Some stand out cocktails for me:
The Prospect Park cocktail (by Matt Grippo)
Made with TryBox New Make Rye Whiskey (think bold and brash), Amaro CioCiaro, a bitter orange liqueur named for the Ciociaria region in Italy where it comes from. That name descends from the Latin term “ciocie” which is a type of sandal worn by the woman on the label and is popular as a substitute for the nearly impossible to find Amer Picon. Dolin Dry Vermouth and Luxardo Maraschino round out the complex spirit forward beverage. I love it.
The Black Lodge cocktail (by Matt Grippo)
A must try drink. It blends Bourbon, Cherry Heering, Fernet Vallet – a Mexican amaro created by Henri Vallet after his arrival from France in the 1860’s. It is an intensely herbal, woodsy digestif. The drink is completed with Grippo’s own house Apple Coffee bitters. If you are seeing a pattern, I am a lover of Amaro. Shocking.
BlackBird Bartender Ronnie Budders leaves an impression as well. A gentleman in the service arts. A speedy and organized barkeep. Budders feels that he can make better bitters than some of the most highly regarded existing companies. After tasting his Chile Arbol tincture I feel that he may be right. I got a little too Hemingway to remember the name of the cocktail the night I tried it, but he does one with Tequila, Green Chartreuse, Punt E Mes and the Chile Arbol bitters. I am still craving it.
The bar that was never meant to have a cocktail focus has come an awful long way in a short time thanks to its talented staff. It deserves to hold its head high in the ultra-competitive market of San Francisco.
Know before you head to the Bird that they are a cash only establishment.