Despite having grown up in the Bay Area, I never made it to the original Sweetwater, and arriving to the new incarnation of the music hall for brunch created more questions than expectations. Would it be filled with twirling deadheads, wealthy Marinites, or regular people? Would I be eating inside a huge, dark space? Would the cocktails come in plastic cups with juices from a soda gun?
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The main bar tucked inside the music hall features a rotating mix of cocktail specials (all $8) that utilize fresh juices and syrups. The drinks are overseen by manager Reza Esmaili, who's spent time behind the bar at Conduit and is a cocktail consultant on the side, and his concoctions are fast from order-to-customer, seasonal, and accessible. The Bourbon Milk Punch ($8, Four Roses Bourbon, rum, sweetened milk, nutmeg) was a perfectly sweetened version of this old southern classic and made a great accompaniment to the wonderfully fresh scones.
I needed something juicy to go with my order of Pancho's huevos rancheros with crispy pork ($12.50), and The Champion's Cup ($8, Ketel One Orange vodka, orange juice, lemon, Pimms No. 1, ginger ale) was something in between a screwdriver and Pimm's Cup, juicy and light enough to go well with the spicy eggs and cut through the crisp, carnitas-like pork. This Sunday, you can get a special 49ers version made with blood orange juice while they show the playoff game on the impressive video and sound system by famed Meyer Sound.
If the idea of eating at a music hall conjures up images of the concession-style food you get at places like The Fillmore, you'll be surprised. Chef Gordon Drysdale (in whose kitchen at Gordon's House of Fine Eats I learned to cook professionally) is at the helm, producing a variety and quality of food that makes it a perfect venue for a bite with a show or without. I'd go back for the filet mignon sliders ($5.50) that come with caramelized onions and horseradish crema you can feel as much as taste.
The space is a trip. I accidentally arrived at a free brunch show by jam band Moon Alice, and there was every kind of person you could imagine in the crowd. Outside, families enjoyed the sun with brunch; inside, the crowd twirled to the smell of fresh weed. The coffee bar was a rotating mix of the locals getting an expertly made cup of Stumptown Coffee, and at the main bar, people enjoying a bite and hoppy IPAs. Other times, the space functions as a community center, and on game days, a sports bar, but no matter who you are or what you're looking for, Sweetwater will make you a great drink and feed you well.
Sweetwater Café, 19 Corte Madera Ave, Mill Valley, 388-1700.