Seeking out ‘loopholes’ at TBD 

click to enlarge Tim Zohn
  • Juan Pardo/Special to The S.F. Examiner
  • Bar manager Tim Zohn says TBD has found a creative way to make cocktails.
In one of the most anticipated restaurant debuts of the year, TBD, AQ’s fiery sequel has opened its doors to the public in the mid-Market Street neighborhood. The two-story space with a cabin feel is centered on dishes from the wood fire. Our visit focused on TBD’s “loopholes,” developed by bar manager Tim Zohn. We held down the corner of the bar to sip from his unorthodox cocktail program based on bitters, vermouth and an extensive shelf of sherry, some infused to bring in flavors of traditional spirits. Zohn’s bar résumé includes watering holes ranging from the gritty to the golden. In either case, as long as you’re having a good time, he’s having a good time.

The loophole cocktails tell me you’re either waiting for a liquor license, or you’re cleverly working around not having one. Right now in The City, obtaining a liquor license runs at around $300,000. If you have that extra kind of money laying around, cool, go get yourself a liquor license. The idea behind the loopholes was to have fun. I opened AQ without a liquor license. But I also opened AQ with a crew of just bad-ass bartenders. We asked ourselves what can we do without the usual suspects? We have an extensive sherry program which most of our cocktails are based off of right now. It’s where wine geeks and bartenders can sort of meet. We’re getting creative with what we have. That’s what bartenders do.

Where are your beginnings? I’ve had the opportunity to work with some great people in The City. I started at La Folie when they didn’t even have a bar. It was just me, three seats, an espresso machine and vodka martinis. I used to pull shifts once in a while at Buckshot, where I’d open beers all night with a smile on my face. I’ve gotten to work with Scott Baird and Josh Harris at 15 Romolo, the guys up at Bourbon and Branch and Rickhouse, Daniel Hyatt and the guys at Alembic.

I talk to a lot of bartenders who say they take from the style of their biggest mentor. Who do you take after most? My cocktails are heavy-handed, bitters-forward like Daniel Hyatt. Whenever I cut citrus, Scott Baird is in the back of my head telling me how I can do it better. Then, of course, people I haven’t had the chance to work for, but are friends of mine. Scott Beattie, I will never be able to achieve that level of pretty that he does. But I strive for it.

We once featured Beattie. His peers call him the “Garnish God.” Yeah, influences are everywhere. Hopefully this is pulling it in some weird, cool new direction that’s off from center. Hopefully there’s something in this program that people are digging and can expand upon.

How has business been, sharing clientele with AQ two doors down? We’ve got the halo effect going on right now. People stop into AQ for a couple of drinks before they come to dinner here and vice versa. People enjoy options. When we get Charles Phan’s new restaurant open where the old Heaven’s Dog used to be, it’ll be better. It doesn’t work if you’re an island; it works if you’re an archipelago.

You’ve got the star anise and juniper sherry in your Vive Vive Vive, and for your Nogroni you’ve got the Juniper Fino. Are you doing that yourself as your play on gin and absinthe? Yeah, we’re doing the infusing ourselves. We’re pulling in the elements that you’d find in those cocktails. The Vive Vive Vive is a play on the Corpse Reviver No. 2. The juniper and anise are there to make up for the flavors you’d get in absinthe and gin. It’s a well-balanced, citrusy cocktail. At the end of the day, it’s something fun, something new.

If I didn’t see you make your Nogroni, I might have been fooled that it was the real thing. It’s not a Negroni, but it’s not not a Negroni. We don’t have spirits, but we have spirit.


1½ oz. Dolin Dry vermouth

¾ oz. Kina L’Avion D’Or

½ oz. Amontillado sherry

4 dashes Scrappy’s celery bitters

Mix into ice-filled glass. Stir for dilution. Garnish with celery stalk ribbon.


1077 Mission St. · (415) 431-1826 ·

About The Author

Rhys Alvarado

Rhys Alvarado

Rhys Alvarado is a cocktail enthusiast and sucker for soul and sweet reggae music. A food and drink blogger since 2009, Rhys has sipped his way from Hawaii to Santa Barbara and up the coast to San Francisco, where he's found a glorious wave of craft concoctions and expert drink-makers.
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