Once upon a time, South of Market was known as “South of the Slot,” the slot being the streetcar tracks embedded in Market Street. A century or so later, it’s one giant construction zone, and nowhere are the cranes and cement mixers more conspicuous than along Howard Street, near the sprawling Transbay Terminal.
The team behind the four-year-old Southside Spirit House disliked the realtor-speak slickness of the abbreviation “SoMa,” so they opted for a different name. But instead of “Southside,” they could have gone with a reference to the word slot, since during the renovation process, they discovered a woman’s shoe in one wall that dated to the same time period. (After marveling at it, they placed it back where it came from along with some antique bottles and sealed up the wall.)
It seemed like a good enough omen, so the crew — who also operate the nearby John Colins — put an homage to it on the menu in the form of the Hooker’s Boot, a $12 concoction made with Bols Genever, fresh lemon, mezcal, and habanero simple syrup. It’s just one of a bevy of stiff drinks that thread the needle between the played-out and the overly thought-out. Southside does a brisk happy-hour trade, so speedy mixology is essential.
If you’re really into fancy syrups, try the Newport (bourbon, Giffard Menthe Pastille, Peat Monster scotch, mint, and cedar-smoked syrup). Or if you’re battling an incipient sniffle, go with the sexed-up cure-all that is the Caged Heat (whiskey, lemon, tamarind, ghost pepper, and cardamom).
For nibbles — and incidentally, the kitchen is open until 1 a.m. on weekends — there’s MacGarlic fries (made with Crystal Aioli), plus truffle tots, carnitas tacos with a mango-habanero hot sauce, and deep-fried mozzarella balls. Flatbreads like the Bad Habit (sausage, pesto, mozzarella, roasted red pepper, portobellini mushrooms, goat cheese, truffle oil, and red pepper flakes) go down the always-appealing, more-is-more path, but who could resist a simple Boomtown made with marinara sauce, mozzarella, bacon, Brussels sprouts, goat cheese, apples, and chives?
In the meantime, you can see an impressively unobstructed view of Salesforce Tower from just outside Southside, and the construction isn’t putting much of a dent in foot traffic. Quite the contrary, in fact.
Sometimes, there’ll be some drilling and “the bottles are falling off the shelf,” according to manager Leilani Mason, “but they do give us the head’s up.”
When it’s all over, the building next door will be a hotel and there’ll be a brand-new park on the other side of it, to say nothing of the space-age transportation terminal.
And, as Mason notes, “When they’re done, we’ll still be here!”
Southside Spirit House
575 Howard St.
415-543-5874 or southsidesf.com