Dillon Lockwood has always found himself behind the scenes.
In high school, Lockwood built sets, furniture and assembled rigging for musical productions and upcoming plays and shows. After graduation, Lockwood moved to SF, taking on barbacking gigs at the Burritt Room and even crafted root beer syrups and new seasonal items for The Ice Cream Bar and Soda Fountain.
Now during the day, when Novela's ownership is talking numbers and barbacks are squeezing citrus, Lockwood is in usual form, behind the scenes, crafting the next batch of punch that will be poured for hundreds of revelers that evening.
"If the lights are on and we're not open. I'm in the kitchen," Lockwood says.
Under the direction of Alex Smith (Gitane) and Kate Bolton (Maven), hordes flock in nightly to the lounge lined with 2,000 novels and posh furniture for a pour of one of their six punches. On any given night, three to four kegs of punch are poured either by the goblet, by the three-glass flight, or by the pitcher for FiDi business types looking for loud music and a good drink.
Lockwood says he spends 40 hours a week skillfully piecing together up to 120 gallons of Novela punch. Novela is
the only bar one of a few bars in the city that pours punch on tap.
"Punch is definitely the trend," Lockwood says.
And only in a city like San Francisco could you have a full-time job making it. Lockwood says he has a difficult time explaining to friends and family exactly what it is he does for a living.
"I keep trying to put what I do into a name -- and I just can't come up with one," he says. "The best I've come up with is Punchmeister."
And Lockwood doesn't fit the mold of the often-seen dapper craft cocktailian dressed in wingtips, slacks, suspenders and a paperboy cap. He comes off as more of a Southern California skater, cheeks sun-kissed, black tee, and a flat-billed camo cap headlined with a California Grizzly.
Often served in large bowls and served at parties for the holidays, punch originated in India and was sent by sailors and workers of the British East India Company in the early 17th century. The word punch is Hindi for five, the staple ingredients of alcohol, citrus peel, sugar, water and tea or spices found in most every punch.
Novela's punches use the traditional foundation of Oleo Saccharum, or sugared oil. The process includes melding sugar and lemon peels so that the oils are extracted, then building around that. Lemon and sometimes lime juice is added to the Oleo Saccharum to create the citrus base. That base is strained. Fruits are muddled, herbs, and depending on the punch, peppers are blended with alcohol and water and sometimes tea. Flavors bind and the punch is strained again. Punch is tasted, and if needed, modified. The punch is put into kegs and voila! Punch on tap.
Bar lead Christina Cabera, an ex-Navy officer who found a new beginning in the culinary field says that too often punch is misinterpreted as an impetus of leftover booze and juice.
"People think making punch is just throwing things together," Cabrera says. "These are fully developed cocktails that a bartender can pour into a pitcher very quickly."
The process of making the punch takes all day. And each batch is different. The seasonality of fruit varies. The balance of citrus and sugar does too. The only consistent is alcohol.
"When my friends think of punch, they think jungle juice," Lockwood says. "That's just not the case."
Punches are available on tap and served by the goblet, pitcher or a three-pour flight.
Their "Code Hero" punch (Dickel Rye, Jameson, Ardbeg, Maraschino, Pimm's, earl grey grapefruit, lemon) is the bar's mainstay. Others like the Cognac punch, that opens with a ginger bite but smoothes out into pineapple goodness, will change beginning next month, when Cabrera will roll out her first menu as bar lead.
Expect more stirred drinks, bitters made with winter spices and cocktails infused with teas. And during the day, when ownership is talking numbers and barbacks are squeezing citrus, expect Lockwood in usual form: behind the scenes, crafting the next batch of punch that will be poured for hundreds of revelers that evening.