Mixologist: Gabriel Cothes of Salt House 

  • Salt House bartender Gabriel Cothes

Part of the Stock and Bones Group food triangle in South of Market that includes Town Hall and Anchor & Hope, Salt House provides sustenance to the rapidly developing neighborhood surrounding the future Transbay Transit Center. While best known for its highly evolved American fare, Salt House also features a whimsical, seasonally changing cocktail program created by lead bartender Gabriel Cothes and his team.

Bar Info: 545 Mission St., S.F., (415) 543-8900, www.salthousesf.com

What’s the concept for the drinks here? We’ve always had a really solid cocktail program going, but it’s very understated at times. We’re not puffing our chest about it. The cocktail program reflects the food, and it’s really about following the kitchen’s lead — what’s in season and using that for inspiration. We rotate every four to six weeks almost completely. Some staples stay longer.

How do you come up with the drinks? It’s really personality-driven with the bartenders. Each bartender has a comfort zone, what they are really good at. I’m kind of all across the board. I’ll have a particular flavor profile. In the winter, I’ll have warmer spirits, like bourbons, brandy and lighter tequila. In spring, it will be more aromatic, lighter in body and floral, primarily gin and lighter rum cocktails. The point of entry for a new drink can be anywhere. It might be a name. Whatever spirit you are going to work with has a particular flavor profile. After that, you are pulling, tugging, pushing and refining. That’s where the balance comes in.

How long have you been here? Since opening day, five years ago. It’s been such a fun gig. It’s become addictive. There’s this energy.

What’s the food like? We are definitely going into New American, with a lot of feeling. The backbone is French. Everything that’s done is done in-house. It’s so artisanal, and so much thought goes into it.

Can you describe the decor? It’s raw, but there’s a lot of attention paid to specific details. It’s very true to itself. There’s no whimsy or illusion being created.

What’s the history of the building? It started as a printing press in the 1880s.

How did you become a bartender? I’ve been in the restaurant business all my life. In San Francisco, I worked at Fly Trap and Paragon. We had very traditional cocktails at Fly Trap. There’s where I learned the classics.

What do you like to drink? I drink very few mixed cocktails. Right now I like my spirits straight. The quality of spirits is so good right now. We have so many great spirits, it’s like being in a candy shop. Mescal, for example, has such a unique flavor. It takes a couple of times and then you’re craving it.

Where do you like to drink? Big Four — that’s a great cocktail. The Empress of China. If I’m looking for a proper cocktail, then it’s 83 Proof or Rickhouse.

Do you get regulars? The bar is fairly small and people come back over and over — people who work down here and people who travel here once a week and come back. I’ve never worked in a bar where the regulars come from all over the country. We also get a lot of industry people. San Francisco is truly a bar town.

Gold Today, Gone Tomorrow

  • 1½ oz. reposado tequila
  • ½ oz. Cripps apple honey
  • ½ oz. Sutton Cellars dry vermouth
  • About ¼ oz. lemon juice
  • 2 shakes orange bitters

Combine ingredients with ice and shake until cold. Double-strain into cocktail or coupe glass. Garnish with apple slice or melon-balled apple.

About The Author

Erik Cummins

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