Pacific Cocktail Haven – San Francisco, CA
Just over a year ago a fire claimed the original location of Pacific Cocktail Haven, perhaps the most important cocktail bar to open in San Francisco this millennium.
I’ve made a handful of trips to San Francisco over the last few years, always seeking the next gustatory experience in one of the most exciting and dynamic food and bev cities in the world. I became aware of the work Kevin Diedrich was doing at Pacific Cocktail Haven, or "PCH," back in 2019, but missed the chance to visit in favor of a jaunt up to Sonoma to taste wine and eat at SingleThread. Since then, it’s always been on the top of my cocktail bar list, but last time I was in the city it was closed. Unsurprising, I thought, since COVID had temporarily shuttered many restaurants and bars, so I settled on sampling PCH’s thoughtful tiki-inspired cocktails on another visit.
The night before I headed up to Sonoma County for wine tasting, I found myself with some extra time after a long day walking around San Francisco and enjoying one of my favorite cities, and I noticed that PCH was just down the road (i.e., a 45-degree angle hill) from my hotel where my bags were stored, so I wandered over right before they opened, surprised to find a line at the gate. Once inside, I settled at a bench seat outside where I could plug in and work on my computer a bit, and quickly became a neighbor to a crew with camera, reporter, security guard, and the owner of the bar.
A little snooping and I gleaned that I had stumbled upon the very day of the grand re-opening of PCH at its new location just over a year after the original location had burned down (hence why they were closed last spring!), and it seems all these folks were here to celebrate and congratulate Kevin for re-opening what might be the most important cocktail bar in the city. A serendipitous surprise!
PCH is a tiki take on California-inspired cocktails, with fresh ingredients, strong Asian inspiration, and a breezy, bright attitude. The new space is gorgeous, too––a healthy outdoor patio sits behind a wrought iron gate and the massive, warm indoor bar space, open only for walk-ins, was boisterous but tasteful and welcoming, and even allows dogs! Behind the bar, wizard bartenders in loud prints whip up some of the most inventive cocktails in the country.
I tried to go from what sounded lighter and more refreshing to sippable and spirit-forward. They’ve done collaborations on many of their cocktails that stay on their menu, and actor Sean Carrigan co-created this first cocktail with the PCH team in 2019. Called “Sunnyside,” Milagro blanco tequila is combined with strega, strawberry purée, lychee, citrus, li-hing mui (Chinese plum), kaffir lime, and soda. All sunshine and strawberries, and ideal for early spring.
I overheard Kevin talking to the reporter next to me about his favorite cocktails on their new and rather lengthy list, and when he mentioned one with calamansi, a delightful Asian citrus that makes some damn good cocktails, I immediately went on the hunt for the ingredient on the list. “Thrilla from Manila” was the resulting cocktail––made with Evan Williams Bourbon, calamansi, shiso (!), coconut, a hint of absinthe, and li-hing mui again, it was bright and refreshing, but had a silky, nutty mouthfeel from the coconut.
One must always ask the bartenders what the “quintessential” drink is when visiting a new cocktail bar, and my server quickly suggested the “Leeward Negroni,” a nice shift in a spirit-forward direction and the cocktail for which they’re most known. Among the more traditional recipes, the classic negroni was spruced up with a coconut-washed Campari, giving the otherwise bitter tipple a beguiling and distinctly tropical element. I was glad to sample their greatest hit, and love the photo I took (which was promptly shared on their Instagram story), but it was actually my least favorite of the three excellent cocktails that evening.
I have been drinking a good deal less lately, so unlike my last visit to review a cocktail bar during which I downed seven drinks and stumbled back to the hotel, I stuck to three out of respect for my reduced tolerance and my pending 60-mile drive to Sonoma. Fortunately, I was back in the city a few days later, and continued my exploration of their menu during a revisit with my dear friend Shania.
This time, we cozied up to the bar. Shania prefers more quaffable vodka drinks, so she ordered a “Porn Star Martini,” a drink reminiscent of a jazzed-up cosmopolitan that tasted delightfully similar to a gummy bear. Heading in the more spirit-forward direction, the bartender made me a rum-based sipper called “Maria Carolina,” appropriate for a resident of Charlotte! Santa Teresa 1796 rum was combined with cognac, white vermouth, Belle de Brillet (a pear cognac-like liqueur), and coconut. The glass was gorgeous, but because it’s small, they serve a refill in a sort of reliquary chilled in pellet ice alongside. My bartender’s favorite cocktail on the menu, and easily the best one of the seven I sampled.
I took a brief detour from the world of sipper cocktails to try their special daiquiri, made with a particular variety of rhum agricole, a bright, grassy rum made on the French-speaking island of Martinique, that is made exclusively for PCH. A traditional recipe with a brilliant spirit resulted in easily the best daiquiri I’ve had.
To close things out, I wanted to sample one of their spirit-driven whiskey cocktails, and the bartender read my mind when he suggested “Maximum Effort,” made with Wyoming Whiskey, apple brandy, Jamaican rum, green Chartreuse (yesss), lapsang souchong, and bitters. Great cap on the visit!
I can see why PCH is such a favorite for San Francisco denizens and visitors alike. The effortless, breezy vibe and top-notch drinks that really polish the “tiki” moniker make this spot well worth a visit. I was so happy to unexpectedly have a chance to celebrate their re-opening on my first visit and also show my friend Shania a killer spot in her city. I will certainly be back to PCH––perhaps more frequently than many of you might expect. Wink wink.