Bottle Cap brings new life to old Washington Square Bar & Grill spot 

This 3-month-old restaurant and saloon is located in the former home of the Washington Square Bar & Grill — the legendary North Beach watering hole that survived through several iterations over almost 40 years until it finally gave up the ghost last year. Rather than try to replicate the original Washbag, Bottle Cap brings a timely, bright aesthetic to this landmark spot. Likewise, bar manager Pete Gowdy and his crew of top-shelf bar expats have brought fresh flavors and original creations to its cocktail program.

Bottle Cap, 1707 Powell St., San Francisco, (415) 529-2237

What’s the theme here? We serve new American comfort food — food that chefs like to eat on their days off. We are almost 100 percent organic and we do a lot of local food, spirits and beer. Plus, we serve some of the best styles of the world.

Why the name Bottle Cap? We wanted something that was easy to remember and we wanted to evoke Americana. I remembered collecting flattened bottle caps on the beach in Rhode Island and came up with the name.

What’s your concept for cocktails? We do mostly classics or twists on classics. When I was the bar manager at Bruno’s in 1995, I was digging drinks out of the Savoy cocktail book. You might have seen the Negroni in North Beach then, but we were the first to bring it out for everyone else.

How often do you change the drink menu?
We are on our second menu and we are about to go to a third. It’s a seasonal thing. This fall, we are doing a plum Armagnac old-fashioned syrup.

Are you doing barrel-aged cocktails? We are currently doing a Vieux Carre, which is a street in New Orleans that means Old Square. The drink dates back to the ’30s. It’s stirred on ice and served straight up. Of course, again it’s still a little speculative. [The spirit] takes some flavor from the barrel itself — some of the oak and some of the bourbon. And the sweet vermouth, which is a key component, oxidizes. The risk is that it could go bad. You also have to sit on your inventory for a while. But it does make an interesting drink.

What’s the history of this place? People always think of it as the Washington Square Bar & Grill, but before that it was the original Pistola’s. In the 1930s, it was the Blue Bird Inn and it’s been a bar and restaurant since 1908 or ’09. It expanded when Ed Moose bought it. The other side used to be an aquarium.

Have you seen any ghosts here? More like a ghost in the machine. The [point-of-sale] system was still here when we took over and we just laid our new items in. One of the cocktails I put in was the Modern Negroni and it showed up as Modern Negroni on the screen. But when the bill was printed, it came up as the Herb Caen martini. Of course, I’ve felt nothing but a good feeling here.

Telegraph Hillbilly

  • 1½ oz. Stillhouse Moonshine Clear Corn Whiskey
  • ¾ oz. Dolin Blanc Vermouth
  • 3 long dashes Benedictine
  • 2 dashes Regan’s Orange Bitters No. 6

Stir with ice, strain into cocktail glass and add an orange twist.

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Erik Cummins

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