Middle-school English class staple Harper Lee died in February 2016 at 89, and her last years were clouded with controversy. Go Set a Watchman, the tentatively received sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird, seemed to have been published without her full consent. People didn’t like that Atticus Finch became openly racist or that his son Jem had died. But among Lee’s papers, historians have uncovered an unseen early manuscript called Tequila Mockingbird, in which six-year-old Scout becomes a juvenile delinquent and knocks over a few liquor stores in sleepy Macomb, Ala., with Boo Radley, Mayella Ewell, and the morphine-addled Mrs. Dubose.
OK, apart from Mrs. Dubose’s drug habit, that’s one big, giant fabrication. In actuality, Tequila Mockingbird is Tim Federle’s stocking-stuffer book of literary cocktails, featuring such drinks as “The Pitcher of Dorian Grey Goose” and “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margarita.” It was a pun that was clamoring for decades to be made, and San Francisco got its own version in the form of a Second Street bar by Denis Leary, a restaurateur with several other spots in the vicinity, like Natoma Cabana, Rx, and House of Shields.
Here, there are nine $12 cocktails, and all of them contain either tequila or mezcal — or, in one case, both. (That would be the Mexican Old Fashioned, a stiff pour soothed with agave for sweetness and a pleasant, honeyed mouthfeel.) Overall, Tequila Mockingbird is as trendy as naming your son Atticus, and it contains some of the reliable semiotics that You Are Standing in a Cocktail Bar, including star-shaped lighting fixtures with big bulbs in them and a door to nowhere, complete with a welcome mat. This, incidentally, is where DaDa Bar once stood, before it got resurrected just across Market Street. Facing east as it does, the space gets little direct light, and the yellow-tinted shades endow it with an old-timey, saloon-like atmosphere with just a touch of daytime luridness.
Unlike Rx in the Tenderloin, the menu for which includes lots of complicated creations with obscure liqueurs and syrups, Tequila Mockingbird’s chosen spirits don’t get the fullest mixological treatment. San Francisco has no shortage of spots with very broad mezcal and tequila collections — Mosto, Loló, Mezcalito — so to stand out from the crowd, T.M.’s opening menu needs to blossom a bit more. But the titular cocktail (blanco tequila, Curaçao, grapefruit, and lime) is a good standard-bearer, balanced and potent.
Elsewhere on the menu, Leary’s literary bent takes over with the Carter Beats the Devil — a reference to a 2001 historical novel partially set in San Francisco, and made with reposado, lime, agave, and chili — and the Moby Grape (reposado, aloe liqueur, and grapefruit). Fruitier still is the Telenovela, made with mezcal, dry sherry, prickly pear brandy, and pineapple.
What else is good? The hours and the beer. In a world where way too many places don’t open until 5 p.m. — and far too many happy hours wrap up by 6 p.m. — Tequila Mockingbird opens at 2 p.m., six day a week, Sunday being a Sabbath in much of the Financial District. Brews on tap range from the widely available Guinness and Modelo and Scrimshaw to California classics like Ballast Point Sculpin, Almanac’s Sunshine & Opportunity, and Dust Bowl’s Sons of Wrath Double IPA.
It’s a solid list. Sadly, though, there are no nods anywhere to Pee-Wee Herman’s appropriation of the 1950s surf-rock song “Tequila,” nor to Myspace celebrity and current Flat-Earther Tila Tequila. But the truest dictum about the spirit remains George Carlin’s: “One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor.” Luckily, if you have one too many here, there’s a mat to welcome you back on your feet.
Tequila Mockingbird, 86 Second St., 415-797-9262 or tequilamockingbar.com