Hawthorn tries to class up college bar scene 

click to enlarge The dessert-like horchata beverage #Nipslip at Hawthorn is served in a snifter and topped with ground nutmeg. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • The dessert-like horchata beverage #Nipslip at Hawthorn is served in a snifter and topped with ground nutmeg.
At Hawthorn in Union Square, the college frat cocktail has grown up.

Under the consultation of Ethan Terry from Alembic and the execution of Christina Cabrera, formerly of Novela, the new addition to downtown’s club scene is pumping out upscale, crafty twists on those drinks that were all too common in the dark age of cocktail menus.

The posh underground space and sunken dance floor hold a Gatsby feel, and a Void Tri Motion sound system that’s said to be the first one dropping bass in North America keeps the rhythm going. The former Lot 46 space is put together by interior designer Joshua Rowland, who filled the rooms with deep browns and high-backed couches.

The club and lounge is the brainchild of Gabriel McWilliams and Chadwick Baumbach, who’s been in the business of booking shows, DJs and throwing parties for 20 years. Besides the world-class sound system, an elegant build out and being able to bring in top-tier DJs, it’s the increased attention to drink detail and a creative menu that Baumbach hopes will separate Hawthorn from the rest.

“With an emphasis on drinks, we’re bringing in a different element,” Baumbach said. “This place is a hybrid.”

From 5-9 p.m., or cocktail hour, downtempo disco-funk fills the room and bartenders have the time to make you a drink that suits your mood. From 10 p.m. on, DJs turn knobs and party people hit the floor.


I stepped in during a mellow hour in the evening to sit at Cabrera’s bar for a couple of the house’s drinks and one of her own. Seated next to a small group of fellas who were drinking vodka sodas and gin and tonics, I sipped a blue Peruvian.

Let me tell you, it’s been a long time since I’ve had a drink with blue curacao in it. But the pisco drink was fun and as good as anything with blue curacao could be. For a minute, the neon-colored booze took me back to those last-call college moments when I barely knew how to order a drink and would do so by shouting “AMF” to the bartender and feeling cool about it.

Next was the #NipSlip (yes, that’s a hashtag). It was the perfect example of a modern take on the buttery nipple. The horchata beverage served in a snifter and topped with ground nutmeg was just as dessert-y as I hoped.

Cabrera and I got caught up in talks about pisco, which followed with what are probably the best stirred, easy sipping yet complex pisco cocktails to touch my mouth. It’s nice to know that _ in what will eventually be a packed dance club with thirsty eyes swarming the bar _ I can get a great, well-thought-out drink when the bartender has the time.

“When it’s not too busy, I can make you whatever you want,” Cabrera said.

Cabrera, who comes from a line of refined, jiggered drinks, admits it’s her first gig where she free pours during peak hours and when she’s in a crunch.

“This is intelligent, sophisticated nightlife,” Cabrera said. “But sometimes you’ve gotta move.”

Next time I’ll remember to wear my dancing shoes.


[Hawthorn, 46 Geary St., S.F.; (415) 693-9255]

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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