Trendspotting: French Bar Programs

By Virginia Miller  |  August 6, 2014
Credit: Virginia Miller

Absinthe, Cognac, Armagnac, Chartreuse and Calvados — these gorgeous French spirits have long proliferated on the back bar of the best bars and restaurants. But lately in San Francisco, we've noticed them taking center stage in cocktail menus around town. Here are three new restaurant bars (with a fourth, Urchin Bistrot, just opened this week, focused on absinthe, Cognac, Chartreuse, Suze cocktails) that confirm the trend and whisk us away to France in the process:

Trou Normand

This SoMa bar from Thad Vogler and the Bar Agricole crew showcases all of the French spirits named above in a lofty, metropolitan space in the historic Pacific Telephone Building. Best of all, they have hand selected house barrels of Armagnac, Calvados and Cognac, which are each available at $5 a pour.
Drink This: We adore the creamy, nutty and pomegranate notes of Supreme ($11), a Calvados-based cocktail with lemon, grenadine and orgeat. 
140 New Montgomery St.; 415-975-0876


Gaspar's Absinthe Frappe [Photo Source: Virginia Miller]

Gaspar Brasserie

This gorgeous French brasserie from Restaurateur Franck LeClerc (of Gitane, Cafe Claude, etc.) is heavy on the French spirits poured at its two bars. The cocktail menu was created by bar master Kevin Diedrich of the original Burritt Room and Jasper's Corner Tap and Kitchen.
Drink This: We are thrilled to finally see an Absinthe Frappé (pictured below) on a menu outside of New Orleans — particularly one made with one of the great French absinthes, Vieux Pontarlier. The Anise notes are toned down, while lime, mint, soda and a hint of botanical-melon flavors from locally-made Chareau Aloe Liqueur make this a beautifully refreshing sip. 
185 Sutter St., 415-576-8800

Monsieur Benjamin

About a month ago, Monsieur Benjamin was opened by Corey Lee, the Thomas Keller pedigreed chef behind Benu. Based on our initial impression, skip the dining room and head straight to the bar, where Calvados and Cognac feature in cocktails, while the spirits menu runs the gamut from Armagnac to French eau de vie.
Drink This: Calvados, the great apple brandy of France, is put to fine use in The Ace ($10), a bright mix of rye whiskey and Calvados with tart Spirit Works Sloe Gin, honey, lemon and rosemary. ​If you like eau de vie, aka fruit brandy, try the Jean-Paul Mette Poire Williams, or pear brandy.​
451 Gough St.; 415-403-2233

Prior Trendspotting on Zagat San Francisco:

Proper New Orleans-style Cafe Brulot flamed tableside takes over SF
Prickly pear cocktails
Coffee & soda, coffee & tonic