A simpler review today since I don’t have a lot of photos and didn’t try the food at Obispo. This is a new rum-focused bar+restaurant from Thad Vogler of Bar Agricole, and one that has been in the works for some 5 years, if you can believe it.
I generally try to give a place a couple of months to sort out the kinks before I visit. I figure that’s likely to give me the best and most representative experience. But a couple of friends wanted to try Obispo for a meet-up in early January, shortly after the opening in December 2018. So I broke my rule, and in general I’m glad I did.
We were a party of 3 arriving around 7:15 on a Wednesday (12/27 to be exact), and it was fairly busy in there so we couldn’t sit at the bar (which I generally prefer). It’s a big and sparsely decorated space, but it has a certain charm to it. By the time we left a couple hours later it had thinned out considerably, so if you come on the later side on a weekday it seems likely you have several seating options to choose from.
We each had several drinks, going through essentially the entire cocktail menu, and right up front I will say that all of them were well-made and mostly enjoyable, and nearly everything is worth trying even as simple as some of the options appear. The technique and selection of spirits elevates simple drinks like the Mojito Criollo #1, which was just about the ideal rendition one could have, in my view. The Mojito Criollo #2 (with gin) was for me as a gin lover even more enjoyable, and a simple but unique take. I will say that none of us cared for the version with cognac, however (#3), where the richness of the spirit clashed with the bright mint and just ended up with a flat, muddied flavor. And by the way “Yerba Buena” can be one of several herbs in Spanish, but in this case it’s just the usual spearmint in the Mojitos.
My favorite drink was probably the National, rum, lemon, pineapple, and apricot, shaken and served up, sort of like a variation on a classic daiquiri in how it tasted (where the pineapple juice stands-in for sugar), but obviously with some more complexity. This drink, like almost all the others, nicely highlighted the rum, in this case a caramelly demerrara. We enjoyed some of the spirit flavors coming forward in the cocktails so much that we asked our server for details on several, and though he didn’t know much himself, he eagerly asked the bartenders, bringing us back info, names, and eventually the bottles themselves to look at.
So in general service was very good, and certainly very eager. However I will say the lack of knowledge on some things by the server should be remedied. The other issue was one of our party asked for a taste of the rum in a drink, so he brought us 3 ~1oz (or less) pours. Unfortunately he failed to mention that these would be $12 each! I don’t mind paying for tastings, but the price should be made clear up-front. But that was really the only issue we had.
Drink prices are quite reasonable for current SF, with some cocktails as low as $9, and an average of about $12, with only the National at $14. We didn’t try any of the food, which looks fairly simple, but some of it sounds rather good. I have heard the chicken is a must-try, so I’ll be back for that, although at this point I’ve pretty much already tasted the entire relatively compact cocktail menu, so I hope they either expand that or rotate some things out on a semi-regular basis.
Overall I’d say Obispo is a great experience, and I love what Thad Vogler is trying to do both in his choice of spirits and how they highlight them in the drinks, as well as in how he’s trying to serve the community with some more reasonably-priced drinks and bi-lingual servers (and an all-Spanish menu). It’s good to see a new and potentially upscale business trying to find its place alongside lower-cost neighbors in a conscious way, rather than doing what most others seem to be doing. And the drinks themselves are quite good too, which is probably what most visitors are interested in.
If anything it’s the short menu that will keep me from coming back that much. But if they start doing tasting flights – and I hope they do – that will almost certainly inspire a return.