Pin It

Distillations: Bergerac Has Great Drinks, Uninspired Atmosphere 

Wednesday, Nov 6 2013
Comments

I'd rather bite my tongue than say a bad word about the bartenders at Bergerac. When I asked the bartender to whip me up something special, they went off menu to mix rye whiskey, coconut, Campari, and a baked apple digestif that, if I heard correctly, a bartender makes himself.

And the "Unforgiven"? Mezcal with gin, rojo, spring water, Duke's Orange, and goddamn tobacco tincture?

These were some of the best drinks I've had in a while. But even so ... Bergerac reminds me of a girl I knew in New York, whom I had an unrequited crush on, named Melissa.

Shortly after she turned 26, she asked me, "Why am I not happy?"

"I have everything I'm supposed to," she said. "I have the advanced degree, the job, the husband, the house. Every box is checked off. So why am I so goddamn miserable?"

"Because," I told her, "it's not your checklist. It's a checklist somebody handed you, and you've spent your whole life checking it off without ever asking yourself 'Is this what I want?'"

It turned out her husband was also gay. But we didn't know that at the time.

Bergerac has everything that turns me on in a bar. It's upscale, with great furniture, better bartenders, and a cocktail-focused menu with bar snacks to match. You can go in and sit on a couch that smells of old leather and order duck tacos and gin cut with rose water.

But in checking off all these items, it's failed to offer anything outside the box. Bergerac has a nicely understated Rolling Stones theme that could be interesting (its design imitates the French mansion where the Stones recorded Exile on Main St.) — but instead it comes across as its own cover band. We didn't admire the Stones for their technical competence: We loved them for their wild rock 'n' roll energy, which Bergerac has in no way managed to harness because it's so focused on being the perfect "upscale cocktail bar." The Stones weren't afraid of being raw.

The night before I went to Bergerac, some friends of mine threw a "Miracle Fruit" party. About 150 people walked into a vacant office space on Mission and ate these berries that — no joke — alter your taste buds so that sour tastes sweet, and sweet sour. We ate the berries and then tried out lemons and pineapples and pickles. I took a shot of balsamic vinegar — it was bizarre for my nose to be telling me one thing and my tongue another. The whole world was different. And all it took was $100 worth of berries and some cheap produce.

What made it work was inspiration, the difference between following a map and going on a treasure hunt. A map tells you exactly what to expect; a treasure hunt promises something interesting's going to happen if you put your mind to it.

It's that experience of inspiration, of having access to unexplored possibilities, that makes for a great bar. Having all the customary pieces in place and then polishing them 'til they glisten like a silver dollar isn't inspired, just shiny.

Bergerac is a very good bar, and in smaller markets it's fine to coast on good food and great drinks. But San Francisco likes treasure hunts. Even the very good bars are competing against a population given to inspiration. Not just in bars but in everything: the same way TV shows have to compete against YouTube and Xboxes, bars in S.F. have to compete against Miracle Fruit parties and video installations and outlaw poetry readings in the back of a warehouse where they pass a bottle around.

And most of these things are crap — but enough of them are truly inspired to be dangerous to a bar like Bergerac, no matter how nice the drinks and couches. It seems terrified of the very spontaneous energy that made the Stones famous. Instead Bergerac is going through the motions, the bar equivalent of a TV rerun. Even if it's a very good show, why watch a rerun when there's always a genius having a party in the back of a box truck, or a brilliant sound technician who's rigged up a basement?

Maybe these are growing pains. Bergerac is a new bar, it can take time for things to come together. After our talk, Melissa got a divorce, found a new job, started dating a sports writer, and stopped talking to me. She's much happier. Good things come when you put the checklist down and see what you want to do for your own sake. If it can get around "being good" and reach "inspiration," Bergerac will be a force to be reckoned with. But not before.

Inspiration, like an unrequited crush, is harsh that way.

About The Author

Benjamin Wachs

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Slideshows

  • Nevada City and the South Yuba River: A gold country getaway

    Nestled in the green pine-covered hills of the Northern Sierra Nevada is the Gold Rush town of Nevada City. Beautiful Victorian houses line the streets, keeping the old-time charm alive, and a vibrant downtown is home to world-class art, theater and music. The nearby South Yuba River State Park is known for its emerald swimming holes during the summer and radiant leaf colors during autumn. These days the gold panning is more for tourists than prospectors, but the gold miner spirit is still in the air.

    South Yuba River State Park and Swimming Holes:
    The park runs along and below 20 miles of the South Yuba River, offering hiking, mountain biking, gold panning and swimming. The Highway 49 bridge swimming hole is seven-miles northwest of Nevada City where Highway 49 crosses the South Yuba River. Parking is readily available and it is a short, steep hike to a stunning swimming hole beneath a footbridge. For the more intrepid, trails extend along the river with access to secluded swim spots. The Bridgeport swimming hole has calm waters and a sandy beach -- good for families and cookouts -- and is located 14 miles northwest of Nevada City. Be sure to write down directions before heading out, GPS may not be available. Most swimming holes on the South Yuba River are best from July to September, while winter and spring can bring dangerous rapids. Always know the current before jumping in!

    Downtown Nevada City
    The welcoming, walkable downtown of Nevada City is laid back, yet full of life. Start your day at the cozy South Pine Cafe (110 S Pine St.) with a lobster benedict or a spicy Jamaican tofu scramble. Then stroll the streets and stop into the shop Kitkitdizzi (423 Broad St.) for handcrafted goods unique to the region, vintage wears and local art “all with California gold rush swagger,” as stated by owners Carrie Hawthorne and Kira Westly. Surrounded by Gold Rush history, modern gold jewelry is made from locally found nuggets and is found at Utopian Stone Custom Jewelers (301 Broad St.). For a coffee shop with Victorian charm try The Curly Wolf (217 Broad St.), an espresso house and music venue with German pastries and light fare. A perfect way to cool down during the hot summer months can be found at Treats (110 York St.) , an artisan ice cream shop with flavors like pear ginger sorbet or vegan chai coconut. Nightlife is aplenty with music halls, alehouses or dive bars like the Mine Shaft Saloon (222 Broad St.).

    The Willo Steakhouse (16898 State Hwy 49, Nevada City)
    Along Highway 49, just west of Nevada City, is The Willo, a classic roadhouse and bar where you’re welcomed by the smell of steak and a dining room full of locals. In 1947 a Quonset hut (a semi-cylindrical building) was purchased from the US Army and transported to its current location, and opened as a bar, which became popular with lumberjacks and miners. The bar was passed down through the decades and a covered structure was added to enlarge the bar and create a dining area. The original Quonset beams are still visible in the bar and current owners Mike Byrne and Nancy Wilson keep the roadhouse tradition going with carefully aged New York steaks and house made ingredients. Pair your steak or fish with a local wine, such as the Rough and Ready Red, or bring your own for a small corkage fee. Check the website for specials, such as rib-eye on Fridays.

    Outside Inn (575 E Broad St.)
    A 16-room motel a short walk from downtown, each room features a unique décor, such as the Paddlers’ Suite or the Wildflower Room. A friendly staff and an office full of information about local trails, swimming and biking gets you started on your outdoor exploration. Amenities include an outdoor shower, a summer swimming pool and picnic tables and barbeques. Don’t miss the free vegetable cart just outside the motel in the mornings.

    Written and photographed by Beth LaBerge for the SF Weekly.

  • Arcade Fire at Shoreline
    Arcade Fire opened their US tour at Shoreline Amphitheater to a full house who was there in support of their album "Reflector," which was released last fall. Dan Deacon opened the show to a happily surprised early audience and got the crowd actively dancing and warmed up. DEVO was originally on the bill to support Arcade Fire but a kayak accident last week had sidelined lead singer Mark Mothersbaugh and the duration of the west coast leg of the tour. Win Butler did a homage to DEVO by performing Uncontrollable Urge.

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed