Drink of the Week: Drinking Inside the Twelve-Mile Limit at Revamped Comstock Saloon

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Lou Bustamante
The Twelve-Mile Limit cocktail at the new bar
There is a particular agelessness to Comstock Saloon, perhaps because when it came into this world back in May of 2010 it already had an "old soul." Like people who proudly sported grey hair all their lives, Comstock Saloon doesn't never seems to get older. This doesn't mean it can escape change, though: the addition of the bar in the back of what used to be the dining room came with the departure of opening chef Carlo Espinas (to Assembly in Santa Cruz). With chef Ronnie New settled at the helm, a new bar, and a new lunchtime counter service in the new room, I had myself a perfect storm of excuses reasons to go revisit.

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I started with the Twelve-Mile Limit ($11, rum, rye, cognac, lemon, grenadine), one of the newest drinks on the lightly revamped cocktail menu. The classic drink was developed during Prohibition's bootlegging days as a scofflaw's inside joke (12 miles offshore was considered international waters), but the vibrantly refreshing and elegant cocktail stands out among the classics on the menu. The drink succeeds despite a recipe that attempts to utilize every spirit accessible those days, or as an endeavor by bootleggers to cover their bases in case only one spirit was available. But damn it's a good drink.

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Lou Bustamante
Jonny Raglin working the new bar at night
The back room bar feels more like a parlor than the front one, and I prefer the more intimate bar seating back there, especially when there alone or with a friend. Where the front room is all about the fans, old bar, and Emperor Norton, the back room is all about monkeys. From lamps to sign holders, the simians lounge in hidden perches, no doubt having a laugh at our expense after we've had a few cocktails.

The evolution of Comstock seems squarely focused in this room. "Even though we've always considered the 1907 saloon bar [in the main room] to be one of the most beautiful and striking bars in the country, we're now seeing guests flock to the new bar -- the Monkey Bar, as we like to call it -- especially in the early afternoons and evenings," says co-owner and bartender Jeff Hollinger. Indeed, during the lunch hour, the sunny and bright room is a marked contrast the darker original space.

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Lou Bustamante
Jeff Hollinger working the bar during the day
The changes in the kitchen at Comstock go beyond the addition of regular lunch service, which is open Monday through Thursday (on Fridays, an expanded menu is offered along with the famous "free lunch" special that nets you a weekly changing plate of grub with the purchase of two drinks). The chef shuffle also brought with it a slight change in approach. Where the idea when it opened was to have a nice restaurant that had great drinks, the new approach is to have a bar that also has great food. "With Ronnie at the helm in the kitchen, we've taken a slightly more pub-like approach to the food, and so far it seems that guests are responding positively to the change," says Hollinger.

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Lou Bustamante
Chef Ronnie New works the kitchen at lunch
At the lunch counter, chef Ronnie New has created a menu of quick service items like a fantastic cold roasted Brussels sprout salad ($6) that comes loaded with cooked apple and bacon chunks dressed in whiskey vinaigrette, but also hot items like a fried chicken sandwich ($12) that comes drizzled in fennel honey topped with a crunchy and tangy coleslaw. Impressively, nothing feels greasy or heavy, not even the dinner-lunch crossover star Comstock Burger ($12). The burger comes with cheese, fries, and all the fixings, but finishing one satisfies without clobbering you over the head.

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Lou Bustamante
Lunch counter items, Fried Chicken Sandwich and the burger
All the additions and changes make this a great new lunchtime drinking spot. Co-owner and barman Jonny Raglin explained that during the week, most people stick to beers during lunch, but that Friday is when people let loose. "I make many a Sazerac at lunch on Fridays... that one always surprises me, but god bless the recipient!"

The Twelve-Mile Limit

1 oz. White rum (Comstock uses Denizen Rum)
½ oz. Rye whiskey
½ oz. Cognac brandy
½ oz. Lemon juice
½ oz. Grenadine (splurge for the good stuff, like Small Hand Foods)

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake hard for seven seconds and strain into a coupe glass or martini glass. Peel a strip of lemon zest with a sharp vegetable peeler, and express citrus oils over the top of the drink. Drop zest in the glass to garnish.

Comstock Saloon, 155 Columbus (at Kearny), 617-0071

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Comstock Saloon

155 Columbus, San Francisco, CA

Category: Music

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