Travel back to the pre-Prohibition era with Coco500's cocktails 

Although bar manager Elaine Danoff has concocted every kind of cocktail during 20 years behind the plank of hot-spot watering holes such as Stars and the Waterfront, she eschews pretentious titles. “I hate the word mixologist; I’m a bartender.” This small, intimate corner spot in South Beach was the former site of Bizou before it was reopened with a Mediterranean theme by chef Loretta Keller, who also owns the Moss Room in the California Academy of Sciences. Danoff loves being part of the creative-cocktail wave sweeping the country and introducing imaginative libations to her customers, including the potent Where Angels Fear to Tread. “It’s fun to play with people, and if you’re willing to play,” she promises, “you’re gonna have a mighty fun time!”

Coco500, 500 Brannan St. (at Fourth Street), San Francisco, (415) 543-2222,

What inspired this cocktail? It was kind of a challenge to find a use for the Arrack, which is made from sugar cane and red rice. This is a variation on the Aviation cocktail. What attracts people is the Arrack. I like to scratch people’s imagination and introduce them to new ingredients they may never have tried before. All the ingredients are from the pre-Prohibition era.

What’s the crowd like here? It’s mixed, depending on the night. Thursday and Saturday tends to have more local people and neighbors. They tell me this is an extension of their living room, where they come to get great food and cocktails. On Friday, there’s a lot of commuters who come in after work; there’s a lot of designers and people who work in architecture firms nearby.

Where else have you worked? I’ve been bartending since 1991, 20 years. I started at Houlihan’s as a waiter. The bartender didn’t show up one night; I volunteered, did a good job and they kept me on. I’ve also worked at Guaymas [in Tiburon], Stars, MacArthur Park. I’ve been here three years.

Where are you from? I was born in Richmond, Va., and grew up in Annapolis, Md. I got a bachelor’s degree in geology and worked for a geo-tech company where I was an inspector and tested soil at BART stations.

What bars do you like? I like Agricole for a good cocktail. I’m liking Churchill right now; I went to school with one of the owners, Mike Goebel. I live in the Haight so I go to Murio’s Trophy Room. I’m really not a huge bar-hopper; I did that in my 20s. Honestly, I’d rather be home for “Letterman” with my dog.

What do you drink? I’m a Negroni kinda girl. I also like a really well-made margarita, but they’re few and far between.

Which drinks are popular here? Coco500. It’s like a mojito, only it has vodka and Thai basil instead of rum and mint.

What bar would you like to have a drink at? Harry’s Bar in Venice.

Who would you like to serve a drink to? Truman Capote. I think he would have been a hoot to sit and talk and drink with.

What’s the biggest tip you’ve received? A guy who was a friend of the owner ordered a Napa cabernet and left me a $200 tip on the credit card. The owner’s wife didn’t believe it was real.

Where Angels Fear to Tread

  • 2 oz. Ransom Old Tom gin
  • ½ oz. Luxardo maraschino liqueur
  • ½ oz. Arrack
  • 1 oz. fresh grapefruit juice
  • ½ oz. fresh lime juice

Mix in cocktail shaker with ice; strain into cocktail glass, add splash of cherry bitters and grapefruit bitters. Garnish with Luxardo maraschino cherry.

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Donna Domino

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