Tonic It would be easy to overlook the details of a neighborhood bar like Tonic. But a closer inspection reveals that it encompasses quite a bit of The City’s character. Original pieces by a local artist with a pop- and graffiti-art flavor adorn the walls, while a Stevie Wonder Pandora station broadcasts songs from soul music’s heyday. A semicircle velvet couch is situated in the corner with a large mural — painted during previous ownership and depicting naked revelers, bar and club scenes, a weird dog and general debauchery — covering the wall behind it. The handles of two huge citrus juicers jut upward from the bar, a testament to the popularity of greyhounds served here. There is Fernet on tap. And the old-fashioned blue-and-green glass soda-dispensing bottles containing flickering, antique-looking light bulbs were either someone’s very cool repurposing project or a tasteful selection from a catalogue. Running the show is Kelly Simonson, who splits her time between Tonic and Bullitt (two bars under the same ownership) and a cake-making externship. Fresh ingredients are favored in most of the cocktails listed, except for the Fish Bowl — $22 of inhibition-demolishing punch, garnished with Swedish Fish and Nerds candy and served in a plastic fish bowl. This writer opted for the Basil Gimlet.
Bar Info: 2360 Polk St., San Francisco, (415) 771-5535, www.TonicBar-SF.com
What’s the clientele like here? It’s a neighborhood bar with more locals and familiar faces than you see in Bullitt, which is more of a bridge-and-tunnel crowd. You know them by what they order.
And that would be? Long Island iced teas. Jager bombs. Hennessey and Coke. And if someone orders an adios, m-f’ers, we card ’em at the bar. Doesn’t matter if the doorman has already gotten them.
So what do the locals order? Greyhounds — we serve more of those than anything. And pickle-back shots. It’s a shot of whiskey followed by a shot of pickle brine, which is homemade. We’ve got a pickle guy. It sounds like a strange drink, but only one or two out of 20 don’t care for it. So unless you really don’t like pickles, you’ll like it.
How did you end up behind a bar? I moved here from Montana for a civil-engineering job. I hated it, wanted to cry every day. I quit and got a bartending job out of necessity, but now I love it. I actually just finished culinary school. Now I’m starting a cake-making externship.
Does the Fernet tap get a lot of use? Oh, absolutely. Having one of those kind of puts the bar in the cool kids’ club. And when the boss comes in and offers it, you have to take it. You can’t ask for a lemon drop instead. Drink it and pretend you like it.
— Rob Goszkowski
Drink Special: Basil Gimlet
3-4 basil leaves
1 lemon wedge
5 oz. Bombay Sapphire Gin
Splash of fresh lemon juice and simple syrup
Muddle lemon wedge and basil, pour in other ingredients over ice, shake and strain.