A craft-cocktail list eight drinks strong is decent. Ten is quite respectable, and 12 is better still. But 15 is really something — it would take the average power-lush five visits to burn through a roster that long.
That’s what you face at the newly resurrected Hamlet, a Noe Valley neighborhood joint that shuffled off this mortal coil and reopened in late August after a brief renovation. At the risk of drowning in particularities — in lieu of mezcal, as is my wont — Hamlet shifted its focus so that instead of a restaurant with a good cocktail list, it’s now a cocktail bar with good food. Owner John Dampeer poached head chef Alex Gutierrez from Caskhouse, Dampeer’s other spot a block away, and unlike the dithering Danish prince for whom the place is named, this decision was final — and a solid one.
Since comparisons to Hamlet 1.0 are inevitable, let’s just hash them out now. While Gutierrez’s food menu is quite different from the opener — out with the delicious gnocchi appetizer and the less-delicious chicory, squash, and burrata salad; in with pork chile verde and high-end pub food like a beer-cheese burger — it also moves in a more coherent direction. The original menu suffered from a bit of schizophrenia, with stodgy dishes interpolated with wild experiments that didn’t always succeed. Now, it’s just sexy — with a price point that’s noticeably more affordable. And OK, not all the pub food on the new menu is truly high-end, but in the case of the $8 bacon butter pretzels, you definitely shouldn’t detour around the low-brow.
But the drinks are boss. To wit: El Jefe (“the boss,” $12) is made with mezcal, cucumber, and elderflower, all of which sound like a perfectly merry trio until it appears before you and you see that it’s got a furikake rim. Sweeter, but by no means too sweet, is the Scally Wag (bourbon, passion fruit, coffee liqueur, and lime, $12). Garnished with dehydrated lime wheels and served in tall glasses, they make a great counterpoint to one another.
Hamlet’s got a michelada and a variation on the Saratoga, that rye-brandy-and-bitters classic that here adds maple syrup for an autumnal touch. (It’s called the Astoria, a name that never fails to remind me of The Goonies.) Betraying its desire to be fancy, there are two large-format cocktails, the Tamalpais (tequila, maraschino, sparkling wine, and lemon, $48) and the Del Conquistador (a rather grand mix of Puerto Rican rum, Chinese gunpowder tea, Spanish brandy, sparkling wine, and lime, $54). And baring its soul as a place where people come to get drunk with their friends, there are six shot-and-a-beer combos in the $9 to $12 range. Aim for the Forgotten Pistolero, a shrewd pairing of a can of kolsch and “your call” — of call shots, that is.
There’s no reason to hold Hamlet’s brief hiatus against it when counting toward an anniversary, and it’s celebrating its first birthday with a barbecue and tap takeover by Fieldwork Brewing this Saturday, Nov. 12, from noon to 6 p.m. There will be ribs — lamb and pork — plus burgers and sausages, along with seven solid beers from the Berkeley brewer, like Field Trial Single-Hopped Blonde Ale and a “sushi beer,” Citra Hopped Rice Lager. There are worse things in heaven or Earth than are dreamt of in this philosophy.
Hamlet, 1199 Church St. 415-829-3286 or hamletsf.com