Walking into Loló, three thoughts will cross your mind: The first and most immediate will be how improbable and fun the décor by Lorena Zertuche is. In the wrong hands, the vibrant colors and array of objects, photos, and suit jackets that adorn the space would feel haphazard and over the top, but here they radiate creativity, warmth and charm that permeates most of the experience.
Then after getting a drink from the bar like the Gold Digger ($11, mezcal, yellow chartreuse, tonic syrup, bitters), a cocktail that drinks like the Negroni's lighter and brighter Mexican cousin, your second thought will be wonder. You'll ask yourself, "Why, in a town full of talented bartenders and knowledgeable patrons, has no one ever heard much about the restaurant's barmen David Gallardo and Leon Vasquez before?"
Even with my obsessive and relentless cataloging of bars, bartenders, and cocktails in the Bay Area, I was surprised (okay, a little disappointed in myself too) I didn't know much about Gallardo and Vasquez. For the Jalisco natives, Loló is their first big show in San Francisco.
Leon Vasquez's home is primarily in Guadalajara, Mexico, where he manages the bars for Loló executive Chef Jorge Martínez's other restaurants, I Latina and Anita Li. Both spots are known for their creative cocktails in a city most associated with colonial buildings, birria, and the tequila industry. He jumped behind the bar at I Latina merely to make a little extra cash to pay for a study abroad program in Austria, but the experience changed him. "I immediately fell in love with the craft, and a few months later I was the bar manager of Jorge's other restaurant, Anita Li," says Vasquez.
David Gallardo is the bar manager and in house agave spirits expert, in both cocktail and flight form. His flights offer an introduction to mezcal, tequila, and other lesser-known spirits of Mexico like bacanora and sotol.
For him, the journey to the bar started in Guadalajara as well, working as a server and barista. "When I came to S.F., I started as a bar back, and spent every free moment trying to learn everything I could about to bartending," says Gallardo. "I quickly realized it was my passion."
You can see that in drinks like wonderfully savory El Benito ($11, mezcal, lemon verbena, Avezé Gentian Liqueur, yellow chartreuse) that has enough salt in it to even out the sweetness and herbaceousness of the liqueurs, giving it an almost tropical/pineapple quality.
And yes, Loló offers some great bar food, like the lighter-than-the-sum-of-its-parts panko fried avocado tacos on housemade flour tortillas than Anna Roth tried out in her tour of restaurant tortillas last week. They will make you reconsider the possible uses that avocado can have in food.
It will also leave you with the third thought you'll have at Loló: "How soon can I come back?"
3 oz. Mezcal
½ oz. Yellow chartreuse
¾ oz. Tonic Syrup
4 dashes Grapefruit Bitters
Combine all ingredients into a mixing glass with ice, and stir until well chilled. Strain into a cold cocktail glass.
Loló, 974 Valencia (at 21st), 643-5656