Q & A with Kevin Diedrich, the Man Behind the Burritt Room
With the recent addition to the city's cocktail armada of Comstock Saloon and upcoming openings of Bar Agricole and Prospect, San Francisco bartenders are making it increasingly difficult to go out and have a bad drink. A project flying lower on the radar but just as thrilling is Bourbon & Branch and Clock Bar veteran Kevin Diedrich's endeavor at the Crescent Hotel, the Burritt Room.
Lou Bustamante Kevin Diedrich.
Scheduled to open tomorrow, this hidden gem of a space is located on the third floor of the Crescent Hotel, in what used to be the lobby. It's named after the alley that was site of the hotel's main entrance until the Stockton Street Tunnel was built. (A word to the curious: Burritt Alley is really just that, complete with dumpsters, stacks of recycling, and occupants who look like they might have stepped out of a film noir ― in fact, it was the scene of a murder in The Maltese Falcon. It's best to approach the Burritt Room through the lower-level Stockton Street entrance.)
We had a chance to sit down and catch up with Diedrich about the project, and where the heck he's been the past year and a half.
SFoodie: Can you tell us a little about your East Coast adventure and what drew you out there?
Diedrich: Well, what originally brought me out was the new Michael Mina Bourbon Steak that was opening up in D.C. I was offered the chance to put together the bar program there, and it being my hometown, I wanted a chance to share San Francisco cocktails with them. With the help of chef David Varley, and an amazing kitchen staff behind the emerging cocktail scene, I was able to put together something fun and new. It was a great learning experience for me.
After D.C. I headed up to NYC, which was really more about me seeing about a girl (now my wife). I was sooooo lucky to land where I did, though, PDT [Please Don't Tell] and Clover Club. Both places have amazing staff, whom I learned a lot from. Everyone was very welcoming to me and I can't thank Jim Meehan and Julie Reiner enough for fitting me into their bars.
What do you have in store for the cocktail program? Nothing aggressive. I want the program to be approachable to our guests. A small list consisting of 18 cocktails, some seasonal, some house ones, classics and contemporary classics.
Same thing with the wine and spirit list. The bar isn't going to be a massive wall of liquor. A small-to-medium list that won't overwhelm our guests or staff. I've found having too much behind the bar confuses people, and then they'll just go with what they're familiar to. I want to give guests a few options and be able to ask questions. Same with the wine list: three reds by the glass, three whites, three sparkling wines. Then a small bottle list. Staying local and small. We will be doing beer as well: three beers on tap, two kegs, and one pony ― the pony will be seasonal. The rest will be a collection of canned beer.
Why cans? I love canned beer! Nothing is better than cracking a cold one after a long day. It's affordable and it's delicious. The program is geared for budget travelers and normal everyday guests who want to enjoy a drink without paying $14 for it. The hotel itself is 80 rooms ― tiny ― and reasonable rates. I've selected great spirits that don't break the bank; you won't see a bottle on that wall that is more than $200. Affordable and approachable!
I will have an ice program, though no Kold-Draft. Big ice cubes for certain cocktails, cobbled ice, and a punch program as well. I'm using ice molds for my big blocks.
What kind of talent can we expect to find working behind the bar? A mix of veterans and new. I can't say who right now, but the bar staff will be solid. I like branching out and getting new bartenders, or people who are climbing that ladder. That was all of us at some point in our career; someone gave us a chance.
Will people be able to find you behind the bar at other places, or making guest appearances at your old digs, Bourbon & Branch? I will be still behind the stick here. I plan on bartending two to three nights at the Crescent and moonlighting one shift a week at another bar, which I can't say yet. I think the Branch should do an old-school night ... bring back the oldies for a night. I'd do that if everyone else was on board. Hint.
Anything we should keep an eye out for? The homeless guy that took my box of books. If you see a homeless selling cocktail books, they're mine!
Opening Thurs., May 27, at 5 p.m.:
The Burritt Room Hotel Crescent, 417 Stockton (at Bush), 400-0500; open Sun.-Thurs. 5 p.m.-midnight, Fri.-Sat. 5 p.m.-1 a.m.