If you wind up opening a bar in a former apothecary, you may as well get down with the healing process.
And so it went with The Devil’s Acre, the new San Francisco bar from Future Bars, the celebrated team that debuted the iconic Bourbon and Branch nine years ago. “Restorative Libations” is the new bar’s tagline—appropriate for a venue that once did double-duty in the 19th century as an apothecary by day and a saloon by night.
“This part of saloon history hasn’t really been explored in the Bay Area,” says Future Bars’ Brian Sheehy. When his babysitter, Caitlin Covington, inquired about his growing bitters collection, Sheehy learned she was a trained herbalist. Though he admits that he initially thought using medicinal herbs in cocktails sounded a “little airy fairy,” her background dovetailed nicely with the history of the place. So he enlisted her assistance to help create the elixir program with The Devil’s Acre’s general manager Darren Crawford.
Sheehy cautions that the doses of ingredients such as fennel seed and dandelion roots are much smaller than they those administered by an herbalist. Crawford adds that they seem to have been appreciated by the guests—as well as the staff.
The page-long “Elixir List” includes quaffs such as Youth Elixir, made with Fo-Ti (thought to prevent gray hair), astragalus and licorice; the Stress Soother with passion flower and California Poppy; and the Hangover Cure, created with marshmallow root and peppermint leaf. Wisely, this menu page is accompanied by a disclaimer noting that the FDA has not actually evaluated any of these products, nor are they meant to actually prevent diseases.
Additional medicinal and historic tie-ins are The Devil’s Acre soda fountain offerings. Sheehy was inspired by a book called Fix the Pumps, on soda fountains working with drinks as remedies. The Devil’s Acre’s bar fountain features ingredients like bitters, fruit syrups and seltzer. The Coke here isn’t your standard 12-ouncer: The Ammonia Coke combines aromatic spirits of ammonia, which was used as an antacid in the 1800s, according to the menu.
The Pharmacy Remedies and Elixirs options, which can be made with soda or cocktails, also feature historical digestif remedies such as Surfeit Water. These purportedly curative waters were originally created by saloon keepers, each of whom had his own recipe.
Liza B. Zimmerman has been writing and consulting about drinks for two decades. She is the principal of the San Francisco–based Liza the Wine Chick consulting firm and regularly contributes to publications such as Wine Business Monthly, DrinkUpNY and the SOMM Journal.