If you’re the kind of person who appreciates an art-directed restroom, you may still be missing the Farrah Fawcett-themed toilette at Triptych in SoMa, which closed this past March and likely took its Donna Summer gold records with it to the great beyond. Either of the unisex stalls at Old Devil Moon, a New Orleans-esque craft-beer-and-cocktail bar, might redeem its loss: One has an image of an Ouija board, complete with a grinning devil and an eye in a pyramid, the other has the phases of the moon with some ravens and a boy looking through a telescope. “Eye See You,” it says.
Being watched while peeing — even by trickster spirits who might bestow good fortune if you appease them — may not appeal to everyone, but Old Devil Moon isn’t strictly about comfort. To get in, you have to pass an altar with lots of candles in bottles, scorched doll parts, and the Death tarot card pinned to the wall.
There’s also a palmistry diagram, used by occultists to divine your future from the wrinkles in your hand the way phrenologists examined the skull. I’m neither a chiromancer nor a prestidigitator, but my prognostication is that you will soon hold be holding a glass.
Old Devil Moon is a project by Chris Cohen, a certified cicerone, self-published author of the Beer Study Scholar Guides (the text people pore over while studying to become cicerones), and the founder of the San Francisco Homebrewers Guild, plus two other cicerones (Andrew Kelley and Ericka Schell). It may be the only bar in the world owned by three cicerones, and on top of that, some of the bartenders double as Tarot readers.
Cohen describes the atmosphere as a “swampy Louisiana vibe with a touch of occult and voodoo thrown in.” (Disclosure: He was at one time an occasional contributor to SF Weekly‘s food blog, but we have never met.) The moon and the cool light it casts are full of otherworldly associations, from Artemis the huntress to the Aztec goddess Coyolxauhqui. For Edgar Allan Poe, “An opiate vapor, dewy, dim / Exhales from out her golden rim.” And there’s a lot of moons shining at Old Devil Moon, but no moonshine. Rather, there’s a list of reasonably priced ($9-$11) cocktails, including the La Louisiane, a variation on the Vieux Carré (rye, sweet vermouth, Benedictine, Peychaud’s bitters, and Herbsaint).
It’s an updated classic that doubles down on its own heritage, as Herbsaint is an anise-flavored liqueur produced in New Orleans. Truer to San Francisco’s own heart might be the bombastic Ignatius J. Rye-ly — owing to its use of chocolate bitters and nitro cold brew — but then again, maybe not, since Ignatius J. Reilly is a character from A Confederacy of Dunces who speaks about the goddess Fortuna. If you prefer your spirits clear rather than brown, consider the Bijou (gin, sweet vermouth, Green Chartreuse, and orange bitters) or the even more daring Alcachofa (reposado tequila, Cynar, and grapefruit bitters). It’s an aggressive drink; “alcachofa” is Spanish for “artichoke,” and Cynar is an artichoke liqueur.
While Old Devil Moon plots to become a destination for events like a weekend of specialty cocktails containing Fernet Francisco (Nov. 4-5), with three cicerones running the show, it’s more of a beer bar. Fernet Francisco is always on tap, and the list of 20 beers is updated daily, with industry-insider choices like Almanac’s IPA and Mandarina Citrus Saison, Stone Brewing’s w00tstout, and nearby Barebottle’s Pineapple Express DIPA. While flights are common enough, ODM offers three different pours for most brews: four-ounce, 10-ounce, and 16-ounce, ensuring a bit more sessionability even for high-intensity beers like Brauerei Schloss Eggenberg’s 14-percent ABV strong lager, Samichlaus Schwarzes.
What Old Devil Moon specifically wants to avoid is replicating the tendency to load a beer menu with IPAs and pale ales. The menu is accessible, Cohen says, and “it’s all the best versions of those things.”
“We’ll always have a pilsner,” he adds. “And at any given time, we’ll have half a dozen sours and barrel-aged imperial stouts, to make us sort of a real destination.”
The team designed and built the draft system, which means the kegs drain more rapidly than if there were 40 beers available.
“Freshness with beer is essential,” Cohen says. “And we can dial in our pours really perfectly. Everything on the beer front is thoughtful, and we’re trying to do the best we can.”
Just because Satan’s at the helm doesn’t mean he’s damned the kitchen, either, and the ethical bar is high. Old Devil Moon sources a number of ingredients from just up Cortland Avenue in Bernal Heights, including tasso from Avedano’s Meats and pickles from Paulie’s Pickling. Here, the po’ boys have been divided into traditional and ODM originals, and in the latter category, the fried oyster Rockefeller (with crispy tasso and absinthe-spinach butter) is well worth your time. Put one away with a side of hush puppies or some warm griddled bread pudding for dessert.
The overall goal, Cohen says, is “to be the next place that’s considered to be as good as City Beer Store. But we also have to walk that line of being a neighborhood bar. We can’t have an entire list where everything is a dollar an ounce.”
With a pedigree like this team has, that doesn’t sound altogether out of reach. But it’s still a tall order. Has Cohen has his Tarot read lately, to make sure the stars augur good fortune?
As it turns out, no.
“Our main psychic at the bar is Carson Beker,” Cohen says. “She and I used to be a thing, and she read my Tarot back in the day. But we’re very friendly.”
Old Devil Moon 3472 Mission St. No phone, olddevilmoonsf.com