Spirit-ed Away, with PABU’s New Studio Ghibli-Themed Cocktails

PABU’s anime-inspired drinks combine seriousness with some wonderfully inventive ingredients.

Photo by Peter Lawrence Kane

There’s a lot of changes afoot in Michael Mina’s vast restaurant group, which now numbers 32 properties in all — one for every Kabbalistic path of wisdom or short film about Glenn Gould. Right here in S.F., the mothership has undergone a major menu overhaul as Executive Chef Raj Dixit has debuted a six-course tasting menu with a strong Egyptian-Mediterranean influence.

But at nearby PABU, Ken Tominaga and Michael Mina’s izakaya, things are a little more playful. Lead bartender Kaitlin Ryan‘s new cocktail menu pays homage to the films of Japan’s Studio Ghibli, particularly Spirited Away. While your parents won’t turn into pigs and a creature named No-Face likely won’t eat the servers who were just hoping for a nice tip, a number of elaborate drinks make happy hour in the ground floor at 101 California St. is a must. It might be the one time that “magic” can appear in an ingredient list without eliciting a mandatory eye roll.

That would be in the Haku’s Lair, a combination of Absolut Elyx vodka, manzanilla sherry, plum, citrus, egg white, and boba, plus a sort of edible confetti floating atop the foam. Butterfly peas are everywhere this spring, owing to their beautiful amethyst color, and in the Hokkaido Shrine — junmai sake, ostentatiously overproof navy-strength gin, olosoro, lavender pea tea, and lemon — plus a clump of juniper clothespinned to the rim of the glass with what can only be called a roach clip. (It’s still beautiful, a pale, watery purple over a single ice sphere.)

If it’s been awhile since you saw Spirited Away, you might not remember just how, well, viscerally gross some scenes are. (There is a disproportionately large amount of throwing up depicted.) Put that out of your mind completely with the belly-calming Tasteful Noodz, a mix of Mars Iwai Japanese whisky, Cynar, chicken ramen, mirin, and citrus. Enough of those and you might forget your name and become trapped in the spirit world, so best to switch to a Miyazaki’s Garden, a spartan aperitif made with Glasshouse shiso brandy, Chareau, citrus, and black pepper served in a coupe.

Lest this list feel overly married to its idea, PABU offers a change of pace in the Madbum, a tiki-adjacent nod to a certain six-foot-five-inch pitcher. With roasted sunflower seed tequila, pineapple rum, a generous wedge of charred pineapple, and agave shaken and served in a can of Anchor Los Gigantes Mexican-style lager, it might not be strong enough to lift a curse on a magic golden seal or get a once-indomitable baseball franchise back into the World Series. But it goes great with chicken karaage.

PABU, 101 California St., 415-668-7228 or michaelmina.net

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