Little-known fact: The holidays can be extremely depressing, causing two out of every three Americans to shoplift Advent calendars with little Cointreau-filled chocolates in them and eat the whole thing alone. San Francisco, being mild of climate and secular of orientation, has some structural qualities that spare us from subzero doldrums, but even sanguine folk with vigorous constitutions can feel a little down around the crassly commercial Honda-days. That’s why we’re happy to inform you that there are two holiday pop-up bars determined to make you love life again even if your religion discourages you from celebrating the birth of Santa.
The first is Deck the Halls in the former Square Bar & Kitchen space at 1707 Powell St. in North Beach, whose team draws on people with experience at Wildhawk, Chubby Noodle, Cantina, 15 Romolo, Trick Dog, and elsewhere. You can make a plausible case that this is not so much a top-to-bottom, immersive pop-up experience as a bar that put up some wreaths and bows next to the odd 3-foot-tall nutcracker, but right as SF Weekly walked in, we saw Santa Claus heading out. (Yes, Virgin Daiquiri, there was a Santa Claus.)
There’s a wall papered in red-and-green plaid with framed black-and-white photos of vintage parade balloons, and while the Japanese paper lanterns don’t mesh, another wall goes all-in on the thematic power-clashing by stapling a bunch of penguins to some felt snow. (Penguins are found only in the Southern Hemisphere, dontcha know. We realize Decks the Halls is joking.)
But the almost-all-$12 drinks are the jam. Upon our faux-wood-grain tabletop bedecked with a potted poinsettia, the cheerful server dropped off a Naughty and a Nice, each a combination of lemon, mint, and pomegranate but with tequila and mezcal (respectively). Yikes: pomegranate. You can get sentenced to be a snowbird in Hades just for eating six of its seeds, although that’s in an entirely different pagan tradition that doesn’t involve Yule.
Props to the Ginger Snap (scotch, Luxardo maraschino, and spiced ginger molasses) for arriving in a glass ornament, but the best drink is probably the Pecan Flip, a cachaça-based winterbomb that masks any of that spirit’s association with Ipanema under layers of Amontillado, Anchor Christmas ale, pecan orgeat, whole egg, bitters, and cinnamon. It’s as though Karen Carpenter is cooing “The Christmas Song” in your ear.
Just west of Union Square, in Pacific Cocktail Haven, Kevin Dietrich’s bartender’s bar has been transformed into the S.F. outpost of Miracle. In terms of decor, everybody here put in some serious time: It took 12 people eight hours each to wrap every boxed gift and fasten every last bit of flocking to the wall, plus all the barware has reindeer stickers on it. (It’s almost as respectable a commitment as Marlena’s in Hayes Valley used to do, although in fairness, its successor, Brass Tacks, makes the effort as well.)
Miracle’s $14 drinks are a couple bucks steeper in price, but they’re not afraid of pure gratification. The Run Run Rudolph (blanco tequila, coffee liqueur, iced hot chocolate, and Mexican spices) goes down as smoothly as a melted Creamsicle in a tall glass, while the How the Gimlet Stole Christmas takes a classic and updates it with the coniferous and slightly astringent flavors of Northern New England, mixing a pine-caraway-sage cordial into the gin. Miracle has a Naughty and a Nice, too, but in contrast to Deck the Halls’ citrusy versions, these are $6 shots. The former is a warming nip of rum, peppermint and chocolate, the latter a Fireball-esque combo of bourbon and cinnamon. Throw one down under the Mele Kalikimaka sign and take a moral inventory to see which category you belong in and what kind of presents you should expect this year, coal or a Sega Genesis.
Or why not break down binaries and straddle the naughty/nice dichotomy by having one of each drink at both places? You’ve got to make it to Boxing Day somehow. However your holidays shake out, if Santa is capable of visiting 1.5 billion children in a single evening, he’s got to refill his hip flask somewhere. This December, S.F. has two contenders to woo that fat jolly old elf.
Deck the Halls, through Dec. 31, 1707 Powell St., dthbar.com
Miracle, through Dec. 31, at Pacific Cocktail Haven, 580 Sutter St., 415-398-0195 or pacificcocktailsf.com