B Restaurant & Bar An airy, elegant atrium provides a fitting contrast to commanding views of architectural icons as diverse as the Contemporary Jewish Museum, historic St. Patrick Church and gleaming Marriott Marquis hotel. Order one of bar manager Marjan Simovics’ multifaceted drink creations and reflect again on the interplay between clean and complex elements. Originally from Hungary, Simovics started as a bar back in a small New England seafood restaurant in 2001. He then moved to San Francisco and tended bar at MC Squared, where he forged a connection with general manager Kevin Best. When Best and business partners Don Harbison and Misty Rasche opened B Bar about seven years ago, they recruited Simovics to help create a seasonal catalog of unconventional cocktails. Bar info: 720 Howard St. • (415) 495-9800 • www.bsanfrancisco.com
What brought you to the U.S.?
My decision was based solely on my desire to see the world, travel and learn the language, and I wound up falling in love with this country.
With ingredients such as cabernet sauvignon, lavender bitters, egg whites and maple syrup, your recipes are rather unique.
My philosophy is to find that perfect balance in the drink between bitter, sour and sweet while enabling the base spirit to shine through. People should be able to taste and know what the cocktail is made from. It’s important to respect the base spirit. Too often, the base spirit gets overshadowed by other ingredients.
Are there any particular spirits you really respect?
We are lucky enough in the Bay Area to have a plethora of small distilleries putting out great products, like St. George Spirits in Alameda; they’ve got three different gins and a bourbon. We also have Junipero Gin coming from Anchor Distilling Co. right here in The City, and Old World Spirits on the Peninsula. They make a great gin called Blade, and most exciting is their rustic, dark gin called Rusty Blade, which goes through an aging process in an oak cask just like a whiskey. I’m always inspired by new ingredients, whether made locally or not, but I prefer locally sourced.
Aren’t such complicated drinks time-consuming to make?
We’re trying to use fresh ingredients to create exciting and relatively complex cocktails, yet at the same time we do try to make sure they’re viable during our happy hour rush. We have complex cocktails that require some time to make, while some of our creations are geared more towards happy hour by being simpler, but still special and compelling.
You use a lot of food items in your cocktails. How does that relate to the food you serve?
Our cocktail ingredients are meant to complement the season, not the food. Though I take great pride in creating drinks, I believe in food being paired with wine and beer. I do have a close relationship with our kitchen, and the ingredients the chefs are bringing in are ingredients we can tap into when making cocktails.
Your house cocktails use unexpected ingredients, but one that uses fig is especially surprising. How did you come up with that? Our chefs had been using pickled figs in a dessert tart. I took the pickling juice, added more spices, and it turned out to be one of the ingredients in a drink we call Figured Out. The pickling juice itself is so complex, due to the amount of herbs and spices, that it creates a cocktail with a layered flavor profile even before you add the bourbon.
Do your experiments ever end in disaster?
All bartenders experiment, and they should. Besides having to have excellent people skills and being efficient, a bartender has to have a passion to learn and have an open mind when it comes to using different ingredients. That means experimenting on a daily basis. Some of those experiments don’t work out, but we learn through trial and error.
Do you get a lot of tourist business?
Due to our unique location — we’re kind of a hidden gem above a waterfall — we are mostly frequented by locals and people from surrounding businesses, and not run over by tourists. We do welcome them, of course, and we host a lot of private parties in conjunction with the conventions at Moscone Center.
What’s your favorite thing about working at B Bar?
No day is the same. It’s like walking onto a movie set day after day, but each time there’s a different group of actors performing the scene, so the outcome is always different. You get to be as creative as you want to if you work at a place that enables it.