15 Romolo brings you back to the speakeasy 

Hidden off the bustle of Broadway up a steep side alley, this hole-in-the-wall North Beach bar looks like a speakeasy right out of the Barbary Coast days. Located downstairs from the residential Basque Hotel, it used to serve family-style meals for guests until 1997, when the bar was sold and refurbished. Bar manager Brandon Josie calls it a “destination spot,” and you definitely have to know where it is to find it, giving it an insider feel. The bar is small, with dark, hardwood floors, treated glass windows that make it look like it is raining, plain tables and chairs along the walls and a jukebox for music. The vibe is unpretentious with a neighborhood feel, and mostly attracts a young crowd in their 20s and 30s. In addition to unusual artisanal cocktails, good bar food is available until 1:30 a.m., making it popular among bartenders getting off work.

15 Romolo, 15 Romolo Place (between Columbus Avenue and Kearny Street, off Broadway), San Francisco, (415) 398-1359, www.15romolo.com

How long have you been a bartender? I started here as a barback 2½ years ago. I also worked at the Alembic Bar in the Haight.

What did you do before you were in the bar business?
Barista, flight attendant, forklift operator.

What do you like about being a bartender? The connections I get to make with people. I hear about the jobs and relationships of my regulars. It also provides a creative outlet because I can come up with different drinks.

What makes the drinks at 15 Romolo distinctive?
We use a lot of homemade syrups and tinctures. I focus on the flavor of the base spirit and use other flavors to enhance it.

Who are some of your favorite bartenders? Daniel Hyatt at Alembic. Neya White, who used to work at NOPA.

What are your favorite bars? The Cantina on Sutter Street [downtown], the Hideout at Dalva in the Mission, the Burritt Room in the Crescent Hotel [in Union Square]. They have great energy and a neighborhood bar feel, but they still produce great cocktails.

What are the most popular drinks?
Besides the Rusty Rake, the house Pimm’s Cup, which includes homemade ginger syrup, cucumber and mint. Customers can also fortify it with gin or other spirits if they like.

Where would you like to have a drink?
Scotland. I’m a big scotch drinker; my favorite is Bruich Laddish Islay, a single-malt, 12-year-old scotch. There’s a lot of tradition behind scotch production. I like the intensity of flavor, and it keeps you warm during winter months like this.

Who would you like to serve? Friends, because I get to host people I care about.

What’s the biggest tip you’ve received? $200. It was from a friend of the owner who owns a bunch of restaurants in the East Bay. I tried to turn it down but he insisted.

Rusty Rake


  • 2 ounces Chai tea-infused Four Roses bourbon (put a handful of Chai tea into bourbon, let steep 45 minutes)
  • ½ ounce persimmon compote (simmer sliced persimmon with sugar, apple juice, vanilla bean, pinch of allspice)
  • ½ ounce lemon juice
  • Dash of Peychaud’s bitters

Mix in cocktail shaker. Serve on the rocks; finish with a spray of Ledaig 10-year-old scotch; garnish with lemon twist.

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Donna Domino

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