When Cease and Desist decided to become deceased, it was just another in a string of nightlife closures in the Mission. As a two-story space that was all but destined to be a sports bar whose upper tier can be rented out, it could have puttered on, more or less, one notch above a middling dive.
Instead, the team behind the Inner Sunset’s Blackhorn Tavern and Polk Street’s Cabin revamped it, turning it into Barrel Proof and amplifying pool and pinball with a 500-game emulator. They pressed for higher-quality Japanese bar bites and two barrel-aged cocktails. One of them is a “Count de Negroni Recipe 255” made with Nolet’s Gin that mellows in its oak staves for a full eight weeks to become an intensely warming winter cocktail when served with not one but two garnishes of orange peel. Negroni Week isn’t for months, but the gin-Campari-and-sweet-vermouth classic could not feel more weather-appropriate.
It’s not too-too fancy, though. There are 30 TVs in all, and from one bar stool, you can count 14 of them within a 270-degree view — and 14 just happens to be the number of beers on tap.
Executive Chef Akané Nakamura — who put in her time at Saison, as the fish butcher and cold line chef de partie — has a genuinely impressive menu that includes both a tuna tataki salad and a tuna-and-rice poke bowl, plus calamari karaage, cured and smoked black cod, and even a five-ounce cut of ribeye. But for the TVs and the presence of two physical bars, one in the front and one in the back, Barrel Proof could almost be classified as a restaurant. (A neon sign toward the rear indicates “Food.”) Tuesdays continue the Cease and Desist practice of offering all-you-can-eat pizza, and the kitchen keeps cranking food out until 1 a.m. nightly.
A chicken karaage sandwich with housemade chips ($11) artfully crams more than a few pieces of bird between the two buns, stabilizing them with slaw. It’s not spicy in the least, nor is it anything but accessible, as bar food ought to be. Take a bite and listen to an amiable bartender unspool a long anecdote involving a motorcycle that went missing from a Bayview repair shop-slash-grow-operation only to turn up a year later in a Hayes Valley boutique. Wash it down with another barrel-aged drink, this time a Fernet-Branca whose esophageal fire has been quenched, allowing the mentholated quality to become especially pronounced. Is it still good for curing what ails you when you’ve eaten too much?
“It’s good for curing what ails you even when you haven’t eaten anything,” the bartender interrupts his own yarn to say.
Barrel Proof, 2331 Mission St., 415-932-6132 or barrelproofsf.com