Azucar shines through in San Francisco cocktail scene 

The folks Azucar Lounge have an earnest enthusiasm that shines through in new businesses eager to impress in The City’s hypercompetitive food and drink scene. Opened a mere eight months ago, the owners are taking risks, such as with their location in South of Market. Entering the bar shortly after it opened on a Monday, a group of employees could be seen huddled around the bar, engaged in a serious conversation about a new cocktail. Is it too spicy or too sweet? And does the new coconut-flavored 1800 Tequila taste too much like Malibu to be of any use? Seeing a drink vetting like this is a good sign for a cocktail-centric bar. Edgar Tamayo is the “Capitan Brujo de Barra,” and a cornucopia of herbs, fruits and vegetables is arranged around the copper surface of his bar. He’s prepared a drink that will be part of Azucar’s new summer cocktail list. Sweetness quickly gives way to an earthy flavor provided by the carrot juice, and finally the heat from the jalapeño arrives.

Azucar Lounge, 299 Ninth St., S.F., (415) 255-2982,

Describe your approach to creating cocktails. We don’t want to serve overly sweet drinks. Like this coconut tequila — to me, it’s too sweet and it doesn’t make sense. I also prefer fresh ingredients. Making cocktails is a culinary art. You need an advanced palate to pair things well. For ingredients, I go for veggies over fruit. Right now, I’m thinking about how I can use red bell pepper. Asparagus didn’t work out. I grilled it, smoked it, but the flavor is just too strong. I’m still trying; I haven’t given up on it.

I noticed a couple of customers were surprised by the shots they received. That’s our house shot. We make it with cucumber and a habañero tincture so it tastes fresh in the front and has a spicy finish. The first one is free to new customers. It has gone over well; you know people like a drink if they try to order it by the pitcher.

You and Jon Ojinaga are the co-owners and managers, but your business cards are a bit more descriptive. You could say that. Jon is “Pastor de Gatos” (“Shepherd of Cats”) and I am “Capitan Brujo de Barra” (“Captain Conjurer of the Bar”). I think the titles speak for themselves.

I noticed that you have San Francisco’s last true street food on the menu, the bacon-wrapped hot dog.
The hot dogs are indicative of where the recipes are from. The Completo is Peruvian and has house-made kraut, tomatoes, guac and mayonnaise. We just hired a Colombian who said our version is exactly the same as the ones back home, which was a relief. We want to try different things. Bottomless mimosas are everywhere for brunch, so we’re offering bottomless sangria. Taco Tuesday is everywhere, but not in SoMa and definitely not on an all-you-can-eat basis. Surprisingly, our Cerveza de Barrio is really popular.

And what makes the beer “ghetto”? We add a little jalapeño and hibiscus syrup so it’s a little spicy. We also add a candied jalapeño. Jon thought spicy beer sounded ghetto, so we serve it with a straw.

What ideas haven’t worked? We had a concept of free-food Wednesday, where we’d put a sampling of one menu item out. Free food! And it didn’t work. We were stunned.

What sort of ambience are you trying to create? A comfortable space where the music is not too loud. I’ve been to lounges in New York where you still have to yell in the other person’s face over the music as though you’re in a club. ... As for our service, we want the service to portray a warm, family element. It doesn’t matter if it’s someone’s first time here, let ’em feel like they’ve been there before.

El Besode la Rogelio

  • 1½ oz. 4-year-old Fleur de Caña Extra Dry White Rum
  • ¾ oz. lemon juice
  • ½ oz. carrot juice
  • ¾ oz. house-made strawberry jalapeño simple syrup

Shake and pour over ice. Garnish with flower carrots.

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Rob Goszkowski

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