In a city as cramped and expensive as San Francisco, businesses need to make the most out of every square foot.
When Troy Bayless and Christ Aivaliotis were brought on to build a bar program for Hawker Fare, they were also given an upstairs space to work with. That prompted the idea for a second bar, called Holy Mountain.
Hawker Fare recently opened its second location -- the original Oakland outpost is still going strong four years after opening -- in The City. Juicy, rum-based cocktails driven with tropical fruits are natural company for the spicy, savory and salty Thai-style street food.
The energy is electric: Walls are decorated with Thai movie posters and mats. Table dressings resemble something I might find in my Filipino grandma's house, and that telltale smell of fish sauce looms over the room. The servers don hip aloha shirts and blue aprons, and cocktails are served in curvy, lava-flow glasses. The hard hitters who waste no time order Thai-style bottle service -- a 375 ml bottle of Johnny Walker Black with a side of soda water -- to share with friends.
Two must-try cocktails: The Mystic Lamp with lychee, orange juice, orgeat and Barbancourt 8 Year Rum; and the Pop Skull with Jamaican rum, coconut, guava and lime cordial. Both go great with just about anything on the menu.
"On numerous fronts, tiki cocktails pair well in that environment -- rich and spicy dishes that can be cut and refresh you with coconut milk, and other tropical juices," Bayless said.
Upstairs at Holy Mountain, the pace is a bit more low-key. It's dimly lit with lamps hanging above booth seating with empty walls and bartenders slinging what Bayless calls "Mardi-Carni" (a combo of Mardi Gras- and Carnaval-style drinks) cocktails like Trinidad Sours and Swamp Coolers -- a beer, pineapple gum and bitters concoction where you also get to keep what's left from the 22 ounce beer can. Holy Mountain is a place where guests can have a drink before or after their meal, or just a drink and no food.
"The space seems unfinished, but that's exactly how they wanted it.
"Growing up, some of my favorite bars were like this," Bayless said. "I want it to become what it wants. It's a blank slate. We're not trying to impose that we've been here forever."
In the near future, the bar concept will be James Bond themed, where Vespers and martinis are king. "We like to have that flexibility to change up what we do whenever we get bored," Aivaliotis said. Bayless and Aivaliotis worked behind the stick together in the East Bay, and they've picked up consulting gigs along the way. Their consulting brand, Wizard Oil, takes inspiration from the classic cure-alls that aid in ridding sickness and even rheumatism -- or so claimed the 19th century flim-flam artists who would stand on soapboxes to sell the products streetside.
The bar is a theatre of sorts, like there's magic happening. You want people to pierce the surface but not know too much," Bayless said.