You gotta believe me when I say I had a perfectly good reason to be in a North Beach bar, across from The Garden of Eden strip joint and Larry Flint’s Hustler Club on a Monday evening; and it didn’t have anything to do with falling off a wagon or making extra money for high school tuition. I was at Walgreens yesterday, buying toothpaste, dental floss, and otherwise minding my own business, when I passed the newsstand, and noticed a lone copy of The Guardian stuffed in the display window. The cover featured an announcement for the San Francisco Film Festival, and being the movie lover that I am, I took the copy. With a few minutes left on the meter, I took an in-car reading break, and had just flipped to the cover story when a small insert called “Feast” fell in my lap. Among the usual bar and restaurant reviews, there was a short article declaring that, in San Francisco at least, Pimm’s Cups are making a comeback. The author offered a brief history of the Pimm’s Cup (a fruity, gin-based liqueur first produced in 1823 by Englishman, James Pimm) and listed three local bars where they are being served . . . I dialed Warrington at work. “Meet me at 15 Romolo Place. Seven o’clock.”
How the Pimm’s Cup got from London to New Orleans is anybody’s guess, but I’ve always associated the drink with the Crescent City. My first introduction came the summer before last when my friends took us to the Columns Hotel–or “The Columns” as it’s referred to by New Orleanians. Located on St. Charles Street, in the heart of the Garden District, the Columns, with its grand veranda is a perfect place to drink a Pimm’s Cup. There, they mix the liqueur with lemonade or Sprite and a wedge of cucumber for garnish. It’s so light and refreshing, you barely notice the alcohol. It’s easy to have one, or two, or even three. I have to say, there’s no better way to pass a summer evening.
As it turns out, Monday night is a good time to hit San Francisco bars. Parking was a snap. 15 Romolo is tucked in a little alley off Columbus, and though the outside looked a little sketchy, the bar itself was pretty cool: think Pennsylvania hay barn meets San Francisco brothel, with frosted windows where barn doors would be, old-timey filament lightbulbs, and jars of dried lavender lining the wainscoting. Not exactly The Columns, but charming in its own right. And the Pimm’s Cup? Not bad. The 15 Romolo version included ginger syrup, “anything but scotch,” mint, lemon juice, soda water and bitters. It tasted a little like a ginger beer mixed with lightly sweetened fruit punch.
I’ve never been much of a barfly, and under normal circumstances, I’d call it quits after one bar. But last night, I was a woman on a mission. After an hour at 15 Romolo, we headed off to bar number two.
What is it with good drinks and dicey neighborhoods? Jasper’s Corner Tap is on the edge of the Tenderloin, and I walked past more drunks and crackheads than I cared to count. The decor wasn’t nearly as charming as 15 Romolo, but the Pimm’s Cup, which arrived in its own glass bottle, was pretty damn good. Sweeter, if you can believe it, than the 15 Romolo version, but light and well balanced.
Now I have two places to take my Louisiana friends when they come to visit. I’m curious to hear what they’ll say about SF’s take on the Pimm’s Cup. I’m sure they’ll say the Pimm’s Cups at The Columns are still the best, and I have to admit, I agree. The refreshing taste of cucumber mixed with the sultry summer afternoons is hard to beat. But at least I have two decent versions here to tide me over until I get back to New Orleans.
And oh . . . remember what I said about the drinks being so light and refreshing, you could easily have two? Well, the Pimm’s Cups I had last night were light and refreshing alright . . . so much so that I forgot where I parked my car. I walked all the way around the block TWICE, the drunks and crackheads eyeing me the whole time, before I remembered that I’d parked just up the street.