Like the waiting room to the most elegant Freudian psychologist in all of Zanzibar, Bon Voyage is full of matte earth tones and charismatic megafauna. If you have a drink there on a rare quiet night, you may find yourself counting the pictures and sculptures of various mammals of the Serengeti. There is a rhinoceros, two zebras, three apes and three lions, eight giraffes, and nine elephants (all figures are minimums). But what’s the antlered head mounted to the wall up front? An ibex?
After some quick Googling, the bartender — who figures this is a question someone else is bound to ask — determines that it’s a common eland, an antelope native to the savannah. She then makes an Ooty Club, a martini-esque drink prepared with Beefeater gin, Pimm’s, preserved orange-and-tamarind cordial, lemon, cucumber, and bitters. It’s almost an inverse tiki drink: The various fruits largely hold each other in check so that the gin escapes their collective gravitational pull, but what really lingers on the palate is the tamarind. It’s such a strong, immediately recognizable flavor, so why isn’t it used more widely. The bartender doesn’t know, but agrees that tamarindo is the best flavor of Jarritos.
Bon Voyage, the spinoff from The Bon Vivants’ much-swooned-over Trick Dog, is a well-thought-out kind of place. But it’s not a tiki bar. Co-owner Josh Harris is adamant about that.
“Certainly, tiki is a little thread that runs through this,” he says. “There are tropical drinks and we have a tiki mug, but the story that we fictionalized in our heads was that there was a gentleman who lived in a hotel in Asia in the ’50s.”
It’s quite a story. At a certain point, that gentleman made his way through the equatorial belt, collecting art and souvenirs, until he found his way to Palm Springs in the 1970s. There, Harris says, he bought a house, put all his worldly treasures in it, and threw cocktail parties with Chinese food. Of course, Sonny and Cher were present, and probably Bob Hope and Dinah Shore, too. But it’s Sonny Bono whose influence is most acutely felt.
“When we started working on our logo, we made the little lion guy and then were like, ‘We want a font!’ ” Harris says. “Both [Bon Vivants’ creative director] Morgan [Schick] and I saw a font family roughly in our head, but we didn’t know exactly what it was going to be. We started looking for inspirations, and somehow I wormholed to an image of Sonny Bono’s tombstone. On his tombstone — with the other standard information, carved into the headstone — is his signature, in his hand. It was a fantastic-looking signature, and out of that, we got a B and an O and a Y, and so basically if Sonny Bono wrote the whole alphabet, that’s the letters that essentially became the font for Bon Voyage.”
That level of specificity comes out in drinks like the Blue Caterpillar, whose Alice in Wonderland name almost suggests one of those stale, 1970s permutations of vodka plus various fruit juices, but which is a mix of tried-and-true Bulleit bourbon, Tempus Fugit Kina l’Avion d’Or fortified wine, a lychee wood-aged “Midori,” and lemon. It glances the tiki aesthetic at an oblique angle — and it is not blue.
The drink that required the most iterations to get right, though, is the Rancho Mirage, a blend of scotch and rum and many other things that Harris created as an homage to the date farm his father grew up on in the Coachella Valley.
“A lot of date darms made a drink called a date shake,” Harris says. “There’s still a famous date farm called Shields in Indio. We created a date-shake-inspired cocktail with a base of the Scotch that my dad drinks. Although he will never drink this drink, it lands on him in the heart, in a good way. It’s mixed with rum and an Armenian spice blend that we made, and we whip it with the Hamilton-Beach milkshake-maker and served it in a footed glass on crushed ice. So I know that one went through a lot of tweaks.”
Bon Voyage, 584 Valencia St., 415-926-5465 or bonvoyagebar.com