Category Archives: Bar Reviews

Memory Lane

This is a lament for the passing of bars and a plea to those listening to run out and open new ones.  Fine.  It is about one bar in particular and I know you are reading and not listening… but I was writing in speech format, so work with me.  Or stop reading, drink a bit more, and come back to this article with a less pedantic attitude.  Back in the age of dinosaurs (actually it was only about six-or-so years ago) I was wandering through the lower-level of a Japanese department store (often a sprawling bazar of booths, glass cases and smartly uniformed employees plying everything from avatars of fruit to all manner of savory treat and more than a few selections of competition grade deserts) in Osaka and I stumbled upon a purveyor of liquor.  And that is not unusual.  This particular spot boasted, upon initial investigation, a decent selection of Scotch whiskies.  A little less common, but still not anything to write home about.  And then I noticed a bar positioned more or less in the middle of the sprawl of tables and bottles that gave way to other liquor stores, food sellers, and the components of the previously mentioned bazar.

This bar was an island.  An old-era counter top of little more than six feet, a single bartender in the black-and-whites (vest and bow-tie included), and a small but splendidly stocked wall of Scotch.  This standing bar (tachinomi) even had a small barrel of whisky on the brief but well-varnished expanse of wood (I later learned that one could fill a varying grade of classy little bottles, the shape and size of which I would associate more with an apothecary, from the barrel for take-home purposes).   I was entranced.  I approached, acknowledged the bartender, and I perused the menu.  I than spent a fair portion of the next three days on regular pilgrimages to the miniature mecca of whisky.  Seriously.  My schedule only really allowed me free time in the mornings, so that was where I spent them.

After eyeing the menu I realized that there was work to be done and not much time to do it in.  Notes from the back of one extant receipt: Glen Ord 12 – Caol Ila 12, 23, cask – Glenmorangie Burgundy, Hermitage – Glen Grant 1980 – Glenlivet 32 – Linkwood 26 – Bruichladdich 17 – Lagavulin 25 – Banff 1977 – Blair Athol 27 – Glen Albyn – Glenburgie – and, as the commercials say, many more…  There were repeats, there were items that didn’t make it onto the list, there were even a few on-the-fly vatted creations, and then there were some real pleasant lunches at nearby establishments.  Curiously, an appreciation for Glen Ord, and a few bottles of their 12-year, stayed with me long after the bar vanished (okay, maybe only the appreciation stayed with me long after).  But the bar did vanish.

One season, a few years later, I spent an eager train ride and a rushed walk through rushing crowds only to find the little outpost of majesty replaced by mundane shelves of liquor.  And that sucked.  And now more years and even more whisky have flowed under the bridge… and it still bums me out.  I always have my eyes out for these gems, often hidden away but occasionally found in the middle of a department store, awash in florescent light but not worse for it.

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Filed under Bar Reviews, Caol Ila, Glen Grant, Imbibed Musings, Linkwood

Bar Review of Whisky Thieves in San Francisco

Unpretentious “dive bar” that has a great selection of whisky – both bourbon and scotch.  A typical tenderloin façade with a big bouncer checking ID’s and pool table included.  If you can get past the line of PBR’s at the bar, loud ruckus crowd and rockin’ juke box a tremendous selection of whisky will reveal itself behind the bar.  Whisky Thieves has many of the standard distillery releases, but what makes them stand out is their selection of independent bottlers and other non-standard distillery releases.  I was able to try some great Murray McDavid Mission Gold series and an exquisite Malt Trust 17y/o Bunnahaibahn.  There aren’t too many other places in San Francisco that you can try these great drams at.  But the prices are also very reasonable, the Bunnahabhain was $17.

It is somewhat difficult to identify the selection due to the dim lighting and the drink menu, if you can find it, is often out of date.  You might want to familiarize yourself with bottle shapes and color combinations.  However, the bartenders are usually extremely knowledgeable and more than willing to help you out.

If you want to enjoy a good dram at a good price and aren’t concerned with décor this is the place for you.  If you want an upscale sophisticated bar – go somewhere else.

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