Kevin Diedrich has a resume like few other San Francisco mixologists. Having worked at the ill-fated BDK, as well as at Jasper's Corner Tap and the Burritt Room, he's done a stint at a sizable number of Union Square cocktail venues. After six months or so as Turnkey, which functioned as a sort of best-of-the-best showcase for Diedrich's creativity, the former Cantina space at 580 Sutter St. (which Diedrich purchased) has now been transformed full-time into Pacific Cocktail Haven, which fully opened earlier this week. Once an industry hangout, it's now been bought by the insider's insider.
P.C.H. might be blandly named, but you won't find a boring drink here. Granted, certain classics masquerade themselves under noms de guerre — the Fourth Regiment, made with Larceny Bourbon, sweet vermouth, and bitters is essentially a Manhattan by another name — but an extra minute perusing the menu reveals innovative ideas like the Miso Old-Fashioned, a slightly savory but mostly apple-y mix of miso-butter-infused Bacardi rum, Pommeau (itself a mix of apple juice and Calvados), bitters, and branded ice cubes ($13). Or consider the hyper-seasonal OH Snap!, a mix of Beefeater gin, Manzanilla sherry, absinthe, sugar snap peas, an unspecified citrus component, and tonic ($12).
While Diedrich's suspicion of fruity drinks is well-documented, the push and pull of herbaceousness over a judiciously apportioned top note of natural sugars is nothing short of masterful. It's sweet but never saccharine.
Some of the drinks' names are the kind of silly in-jokes that people feel good about participating in just by ordering. Take the Cowfee Twalk (Ketel One, cold-drip coffee, orgeat, and Campari, along with some hilariously butchered New Yawk-ese) or the Drakkar Noir, a “low-octane” mix of Jägermeister, Cherry Heering, Maraschino, Green Chartreuse, and soda that would seem to impugn the masculine prowess of anyone who ordered it, like a 16-year-old drenched in cologne. (Think about that ingredient list for a second. Neither cherries nor Jäger commands much respect, yet there it is — and it's doubtful that Diedrich is laying a trap to snare the unsuspecting.) And as seen at other ambitious cocktail spots like Pagan Idol — where the fruity, $50, rum-Falernum-and-forgotten-tiki-bar-syrup drink known as the Fassionola Gold serves four people — P.C.H. has a couple of big-format punches, like the $68 Pimm's Explosion, an admixture of Pimm's No. 1, Beefeater, strawberries, cucumber, mint, and ginger beer that serves four to eight people and might be ideal on a picnic above Tintern Abbey.
In terms of the interior, the barrels are still there, as is the liquor-bottle library shelving, but the armchair that interrupted the narrow venue's flow is not. The blue-and-green-and-potted-plants motif is now grayer, with distressed walls and a yellow sign reading “P.C.H” and gold balloons spelling out the name along one wall — at least until the helium escapes, which is as good as marker as you'll find that the honeymoon period will have ended. There's room in the back to spread out, and a small nook up front to see and be seen, too.
Being one block up and one block over from Union Square threatens to do two things: inundate a venue with out-of-towners and give the proprietors license to charge hotel-bar prices. The first one's subject to the ebb and flow of tourist traffic, of course, but rather than commanding prices in the $15-$17 range, P.C.H. stays squarely in local-friendly $11-$13 territory, with easy-to-make happy hour specials like a G&T or daiquiri for only $9.
In other words, Kevin Diedrich has landed on a sweet spot: A reasonably priced destination in the neighborhood he knows best, calling out to locals with an insatiable curiosity for the clever and the new.