Real punch was invented by sailors circa the 1620s. The mixture comprised water, spices, fruits, a sweetener like honey, and alcohol in the form of wine, beer, or distilled spirits. In the Royal Navy, punch eventually evolved into grog, with the addition of citrus. Its primary purpose was to make stagnant drinking water palatable, but drinking punch soon beame an extremely popular social activity for high society.
The experience was very exclusive ― the lower classes were left to drink gin. Drinking parties spent whole afternoons over the punch bowl, plotting, and making deals. It was one of the earliest forms of the cocktail; punch houses were the earliest bars. What could be more fitting, on the eve of SF Cocktail Week, than to celebrate this important libation? Not to mention that Sept. 20 happens to be National Punch Day.
To commemorate that, Comstock Saloon, Rickhouse, and Smuggler's Cove have all created special brews. Today Comstock is serving a Jerry Thomas-style punch ($4/glass), a combination of raspberry syrup, lemon, and Bols Genever with exotic fruits and seasonal berries. Add an order of Carlo Espinas's pickled eggs and it'll be a history lesson come to life.
Martin Cate says Smuggler's Cove has three punch specials. Arrak Punch contains Batavia Arrak (an Indonesian-style rum made from sugarcane with added palm sap), Smith and Cross navy-strength rum, lemon, house-made sparkling chai tea, and Demerara sugar. Cate's Scorpion Bowl mixes rum, lemon, orange, gin, cognac, and orgeat, and the Top Notch Volcano has lime, pineapple, passion fruit, maraschino liqueur, Demerara rum, and cinnamon. Each serves four and is served in a flaming skull for $25.
And finally Rickhouse, already known for its punch program, will be celebrating by the bowl. There's Bang Punch ($38 a bowl) with pineapple, Bols Genever, and the lime-clove cordial Velvet Falernum, and Dutch Honey ($42 a bowl) Bols Genever, honey, and Chartreuse. Both serve eight, making them a deal at about $5 a head.
Grab some friends and a few cups and enjoy what real punch is. Who knows what kinds of deals might develop? A voyage for Indian spices in the Tenderloin? An expedition for tea on Grant Street? Most likely just another bowl.
National Punch Day
When: Mon, Sept. 20, 4 p.m.-1 a.m.
Where: Comstock Saloon (155 Columbus, at Kearney); Smuggler's Cove (650 Gough, at McAllister); and Rickhouse (246 Kearny, at Sutter)