UPDATED: They Only Come Out at Happy Hour, at Nokturnal

A craft-cocktail bar in the Tenderloin’s Hotel EPIK runs on vapors.

Probably my favorite absurdist Twitter account is NOT A WOLF, the all-caps undomesticated canine who tweets in all-caps such thoughts as “I WANT A GIRL WITH A SHORT SKIRT AND A LOOOOONG LIST OF IDEAS ABOUT BOOSTING AWARENESS FOR WOLF CONSERVATION,” “CHILDREN ARE TERRIFYING BECAUSE YOU CANNOT TRUST ANYTHING THAT EXPECTS TO TRADE TEETH FOR COINS,” and “THE ULTIMATE WINTER GAME IS FREEZING TO DEATH WITH DIGNITY.” Nature is red in tooth and claw, but this wolf’s pic shows him wearing a tux.

A very similar predatory-looking creature in another all-caps context eyes patrons from the wall of Nokturnal, the new craft-cocktail bar on the ground floor of the Hotel EPIK in the Tenderloin. He’s wearing a suit, not a tux, and in true douchebag fashion he’s staring ahead while counting some bills. He’s also wearing a fancy watch.

Ruh-roh. Nokturnal is a project between the hotel and the Tonic Nightlife Group, which used to open bars like Bullitt, Soda Popinski’s, Wild Hare, and Dr. Teeth & The Electric Mayhem (now Teeth) around town every other month or so but which has maintained a less expansionist profile the past few years. 

The theme with Nokturnal is that all the drinks are named for monsters, homicidal maniacs, or things associated with the occult. As conceits go, it’s not bad — I’m pretty sure sensitivity readers scrutinized the list to make sure absolutely none could be construed as offensive — and EPIK sunk a lot of money into an sensor-equipped screen in the bartop that seems to morph when you touch it. At times, the shapes look almost like souls trapped within, desperate to escape the underworld, which is cool. But the issue with Nokturnal is that some of the $12 drinks aren’t good.

The worst culprit was the Suffolk Strangler, a mix of gin, lime, Chareau aloe liqueur, Green Chartreuse, and salt. It tastes like pickle juice, full stop. The Eye of Sauron (bourbon, sloe gin, Cannella Amaro, blended scotch, and Fernet) is out of whack, an unbalanced admixture of the wrong kind of sweet with the wrong kind of bitter. The Lecter’s Leisure was a fine if unimaginative Boulevardier with Gran Classico, Lo-Fi sweet vermouth, and High West rye. With few exceptions, all the “premium spirits” are household names — Maker’s Mark and Ketel One show up — so it’s not as if they’re cultivating a deep well of knowledge from which to experiment. Hotel bars can ooze cynicism, and if this is craft-cocktail culture, it’s running on fumes.

Let’s address one other point head-on. While you can’t fault anyone for resorting to creative misspellings in our SEO-dominated era — least of all the employees of a bar who were not party to the decision — “epic” wheezed its last breath as a bestower of coolness some years ago. And “EPIK” sounds like it’s been in suspended animation since 2011. May I suggest “EPIKH” instead? It sounds more like a Carpathian ghoul.

Nokturnal, inside the Hotel EPIK, 706 Polk St., nokturnalsf.com

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this piece misidentified the current iteration of the former Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem bar (now Teeth), and has also been updated to reflect that Nokturnal is a joint partnership between the Hotel EPIK and Tonic Nightlife Group.

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