As the wine-and-beer shop of choice for discerning Missionites, the Royal Cuckoo Market on 19th Street is well-regarded for its products, such as a wide selection of IT’S-IT that includes the elusive Pumpkin flavor. It’s a younger sister to the Royal Cuckoo bar 10 blocks down Mission, and now it’s got its own bar, pouring beer, wine, and intriguing low-alcohol cocktails.
It’s called Horsies.
You might assume Horsies is in the back, but nope: It’s right up front, along one wall. Like the Den, the micro-unit-size punch lounge in one corner of nearby Wes Burger ’N’ More, its footprint is very small, seating only eight people in rattan stools that might feel a little wobbly under your bum. But like the equivalent to a horse’s kick, Horsies punches above its weight. For starters, the cocktail list isn’t the same old soju retreads, but a savvy reimagining of what low-ABV drinking can really be. Boozehound, meet boozehorse.
The Capp Street Spritz (Cappalletti Aperitivo, Cava, club soda, Peychaud’s bitters, and orange peel) is like something you’d want to drink one after another of on a 90-degree day in Tuscany — or Danville — with enough fizz from the Cava to keep you from sliding into a languid nap in the sun. The Sergeant Sadler’s Rebujito (sherry, Cava, mint, lime, agave, and Angostura bitters) is essentially a mojito that manages to replicate the soul of that notoriously boozy drink, with a thick ribbon of mint that almost feels like sweet kelp. The Pommeau de Normandie is just that — the aperitif containing one-third apple juice with two-thirds calvados — only over a bed of frozen mini apples. And the Pineau Shílíu (made with the Cognac-like aperitif Pineau de Charentes and pomegranate, with a rim of that chile-lime-and-salt Mexican seasoning known as Tajín) would probably be quite gorgeous if the ambient light weren’t so red-tinted, but it’s a masterful combination of highbrow and lowbrow. Keeping in mind that Horsies opens at 8 a.m. on weekdays, things get even lower, in a good way: The Pony Express contains a double-shot of espresso, an Underberg — the functional German equivalent of Fernet that makes uncomfortably full bellies instantly better — and a dollop of “Cuckoo whip.”
Since vodka is verboten, the Horsies Mary contains spicy tomato-beet juice, more Tajín, radish, cucumber, and “two vile’s of underbergs” [sic]. We’re not picking on their grammar to poke fun, promise, for who among us hasn’t wanted to drink two viles from time to time?
There’s food, too. Nova lox bagels and ham-and-cheese croissants can be had in the morning, while there’s panini and toasts with “big bowls of soup” during the rest of the day. Take it to go or push some horse-themed coasters out of your way and dine at the bar near a kitschy sculpture of globed red grapes and under a rocking-cowboy clock. You might find yourself listening to the semi-forgotten blue-eyed soul stylings of Timi Yuro, or some deep-throated crooning by Waylon Jennings. We can’t fully figure this bar out, either, but it’s kind of too weirdly clever not to love.
Inside the Royal Cuckoo Market
3368 19th St.