Mixologist: Kevin Dowell of Wo Hing 

click to enlarge Sound of spirits: Wo Hing bartender Kevin Dowell serves up the  Fortunate Son cocktail. Dowell says his musical background helps him make his cocktails “flow together.”
  • Sound of spirits: Wo Hing bartender Kevin Dowell serves up the Fortunate Son cocktail. Dowell says his musical background helps him make his cocktails “flow together.”

In the growing foodie and cocktail empire that Charles Phan is building in The City — Heaven’s Dog, Slanted Door, et al. — Wo Hing General Store stands out. He’s not only returning to his roots — it’s located in the original location of Slanted Door in the Mission district — but also to his childhood; he named the restaurant for the store his father and uncle ran many years before. The restaurant also diverges from his Vietnamese-inspired fare to Cantonese. The cocktails created by bar manager Brooke Arthur and her staff, including bartender Kevin Dowell, make imaginative pairings with chef Michelle Mah’s unique menu. And the waitstaff is more than happy to explain why those combinations work so well.  Wo Hing General Store: 584 Valencia St., S.F.,(415) 552-2510, www.wohinggeneralstore.com

How did you start working here? I was hired with the opening staff. Brooke saw me at other bars I worked at, and she got in touch. At the time, I was living right around the corner.

How did you become a bartender? I got started in Philadelphia when I was 18. I was working in a high-end bistro. I’m from San Francisco, but moved to the East Coast to go to college. Then I went full-time playing music.

What’s the theme to the cocktail program? We predominantly focus on classic cocktails, high-end spirits and fresh ingredients. Brooke has a unique twist. We do a lot of rum, sherry and rye drinks. We make simple, tasty cocktails that have personality. We are not trying to reinvent the wheel.

How did you come up with the cocktail menu? We all got trained at Heaven’s Dog. Brooke came to us with 20 recipes, and we gave our input and narrowed it down.

What can you tell me about the restaurant’s name? Wo Hing was named after Charles’ uncle and father. They had a general store in Vietnam, so it’s a nod to Charles’ heritage.

What do you like about tending bar? It was an easy transition from music to bartending. It’s similar to songwriting. You take the style you have and incorporate ideas and interests into one thing and then make it balanced so that the different ingredients flow together. You get to present it right away and you get to tweak it.

Do people ask you to make original drinks on the fly? All the time. If they like it, it’s a new creation.

Where do you like to drink? I like the Hideout at Dalva. It’s the bar behind the bar. It blends two favorite things: It’s a dive bar with great spirits. I also like Lone Palm and exploring the OuterRichmond.

What was your band like? We were used to playing loud and aggressive. We got to go to Europe a few times. I still play, and I’m working on a project with my girlfriend.

What’s the food like here?
It’s Chinese street food slash Chinese home-cooked food, with a farm-to-table ethos. We have the absolute freshest, high-quality ingredients.

What’s your approach to bartending? My job is first and foremost to be the most hospitable and engaging with our clients — it doesn’t matter if you play with the Giants or are the president.


Fortunate Son

  • 1½ oz. reposado tequila
  • ¾ oz. lemon juice
  • ½ oz. oloroso sherry
  • ½ oz. cinnamon syrup
  • ½ oz. orgeat
  • ½ oz. egg white

Dry shake (without ice), shake hard and double-strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with grated Chinese cinnamon.

About The Author

Erik Cummins

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