Drinks, design at Wild Hare send you down rabbit hole 

click to enlarge Mark DeVito
  • ALEX LEBER/SPECIAL TO THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Mark DeVito doesn't like gimmicky drinks, so expect fresh, straight-forward flavors at Wild Hare.

Owing its unique design to artist Michael Brennan — who also styled Fleur de Lys, Owl Tree, Miss Pearl's Jam House, La Costanera and many other notable Bay Area bars and restaurants — the vertical stripes and fanciful art on the walls of the dining area are reminiscent of the elevator room in Disneyland's Haunted Mansion. Throughout the bar, you will find "Alice in Wonderland"-themed art objects and curios, from a Queen of Hearts portrait to various white plates containing silhouettes of animals. Much like the ominously elongated walls of the Haunted Mansion's elevator room, Wild Hare's dreamy decor seems to put you on notice that you have gone down the rabbit hole. You probably won't find any bottles labeled "drink me," but bartender and co-owner Mark DeVito serves cocktails filled with presence and personality. DeVito's résumé includes Luna Park and playing in a rock band. When Tonic owners Ben Bleiman and Duncan Ley opened Bullitt in 2004, DeVito came on board, first as general manager and then as a partner. Wild Hare is only the latest of their quirky properties, which also include the Mission district's Dr. Teeth & the Electric Mayhem, which was named in honor of the rock band from "The Muppet Show."

Wild Hare's drinks seem very substantial. Is there any particular philosophy being expressed by your cocktails? I don't consider myself a mixologist. I don't use tinctures, and I've never been to those mixology events where they tell you that you have to let a drink sit on ice for a certain number of seconds. There are different schools of thought, and mine is that drinks should be made with fresh ingredients, fresh fruit, a ton of liquor and as little sugar as possible.

Why do you avoid using sugar? Adding simple syrup is an easy, lazy way of making a drink taste good. Any time I can make a special cocktail that doesn't have a drop of sugar in it, I will.

Your decor is wonderfully otherworldly. Our designer, Michael Brennan, works on all our spaces. We wanted it to feel like a nice, classy pub in London, but with a little bit of "Alice in Wonderland." I found a bunch of papier-mache rabbit heads on Valencia Street, and the stuffed peacock came from a guy in Visalia who raises peacocks for food and then taxidermies them and sells them, so nothing goes to waste.

Your Tater Tots a la Wild Hare and Dungeness crab jalapeño poppers make it hard to stick to a diet. We try to have fun, creative bar food. Those poppers are made from fresh jalapenos. Everything is fresh. Most pubs serve fried food that's frozen or comes out of a can, but all our ingredients are fresh. We also have light options for people who don't want to kill themselves!

What is it that keeps you, the owner, working behind the bar? The beauty of bartending is that you get to spend time with other humans. It's an opportunity to make friends every night and hang out.

Being right at the corner of California and Divisadero streets, you seem to get a pretty upscale crowd. Are your customers basically a bunch of future Internet millionaires? No, this is very much a neighborhood bar. Of all the neighborhoods I own places in, this one is the least pretentious. There's no "scene." We've got all walks of life, as far as I can tell. It just feels very San Francisco in here. We are not exclusive, we do not like pretension. This is a plural community, and that's why we have long, communal tables. They encourage people to talk to their neighbors and get to know one another.

Cloak & Dagger

Start with six fresh mint leaves. Add three healthy-size fresh blackberries and a slice of lemon. Muddle ingredients lightly without breaking up mint too much. Rinse muddler into glass with quick splash of water. Squeeze half a lemon into muddled ingredients. Fill glass with ice. Add 2 oz. George Dickel rye whiskey. If customer prefers sweet taste, add no more than ¼ oz. simple syrup. Shake and serve on the rocks in highball glass, leaving all of the berries, mint and lemon in the drink.

Note: This drink was named in honor of the 1984 Dabney Coleman film, one of DeVito's childhood favorites.

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