The Cocktail Issue gets its drink on in Sacramento

Drink up! Just in time for Midtown Cocktail Week, our writers mix up the best of Sacramento's cocktail culture.

Jason Boggs of Shady Lady Saloon.

Jason Boggs of Shady Lady Saloon.

photo by wes davis

Midtown Cocktail Week is Wednesday, August 21, through Sunday, August 25. For more information, visit

Get ready for the big show.

Midtown Cocktail Week, organized by the Midtown Business Association and now in its sixth year, returns with classes, competitions and—duh—cocktails.

Myriad restaurants and bars will celebrate with a “Welcome to the Show” theme: Skilled cocktail crafters will shake, stir and strain to show Sacramento that Midtown is the place to get innovative and fresh drinks. The drink makers over at Shady Lady Saloon, for example, are veterans of the annual event. This year, they’re teaming up with the folks at LowBrau to kick off the week with The Big Show on Wednesday, August 21.

For the first competition, six local bartenders will be tasked with impressing judges with a cocktail made from Bols Genever Holland gin. The judging panel includes Martin Cate, a San Francisco-based rum and exotic-cocktail expert and owner of Smuggler’s Cove; and David Wondrich, a cocktail writer for Esquire and author of Imbibe!, the first cocktail-related book to win a James Beard Award.

And that’s just for starters. Other marquee events include the Best Dam Show—a salute to Amsterdam—at Grange Restaurant & Bar on Friday, August 23; the West End Art Show at Blackbird Kitchen & Bar on Saturday, August 24; and a Best in Show finale at The Red Rabbit Kitchen & Bar on Sunday, August 25.

Look out for pop-up competitions, too, such as the karaoke competition at Shady Lady on Tuesday, August 20. Elsewhere, drinkers will find carnival games and even a pig roast.

But Sacramento’s cocktail culture can’t be confined to just one week, of course—it’s year-round with a radius that far exceeds Midtown’s grid. The following is SN&R’s guide on what to sip and how to order it, tips on making your own drinks, how to deal if you (accidentally, of course) overindulge, and what to do if you’re the only one not ordering booze at the bar.

We’ll, uh, drink to that.

Hey, bartender, make mine a double

#Trending: Ditch the White Linen—this year’s It drinks are going international

Talk to enough area bartenders and you’ll start to notice that those in the know are quite humble about predicting the future—one can never be too sure when it comes to the predilections of the booze-consuming public. Over the past few years, we’ve seen the proliferation of White Linens and Moscow Mules (which resulted in a lot of missing copper mugs, according to bartender Dave Kile of Shady Lady Saloon—get it together, drunkards), variations on a French 77, Horse’s Necks galore, elderflower everything, whatever-infused bourbon. And Fireball Whisky on tap.

What’s in store for our much-vaunted, ever-evolving cocktail scene moving forward? Kile, recently returned from the Tales of the Cocktail convention in New Orleans in July, subscribes to a more general idea of going international: “We’ve pretty much explored everything about the drinks we know. I think it’s going to be about learning how people drink in other countries.”

Points in case: Spirits from Latin America have been on the rise—pisco, a grape brandy popular in Chile and Peru; and more mescal. Brad Peters, vice president of the Sacramento chapter of the United States Bartenders’ Guild and beverage manager of Hock Farm, concurred: “The public’s cocktail IQ is on the rise—more guests are asking for specific rye [whiskeys] or drinking lesser-known artisanal spirits.”

Michael Migliore of Lucca Restaurant and Bar expects that area bartenders will draw inspiration from and collaborate with the burgeoning “farm-to-fork” movement. “We cook with ice. I want to continue a trend where cocktails take on a culinary prowess. I want my cocktails to be a reflection of my attitude towards cooking and food and would like to see every craft bartender in Sacramento take that approach.”

But while there’s no doubt that the trade has become much more artful than obliging an imbiber’s hankering to get tanked, with great power comes great responsibility, said Peters: “As a bartender, you are always onstage, always performing for an audience. However, some bartenders get so into the performance, they tend to forget who the real star of the show is—the guest.”

Patrons have to do their part, too, though. With the increasing presence of craft cocktails in a greater number of bars, so comes cocktail-snob backlash: Don’t call your bartender a “mixologist”—they hate that. And be adventurous.

“It just comes off as somewhat insulting when people refuse to try something we create and settle for a vodka soda,” Migliore said.

In other words, trust your bartender, and take that leap of faith straight into the cachaça bottle. Drinking has always been an adventure, and our local barkeeps are here to be your guide. (D.D.)

The five rules of judgmental bartenders

Or, why you shouldn’t ever—ever—order that damn Bloody Mary

Sacramento bartenders are refreshingly unsnobby—but even they have standards. To save you the embarrassment of incurring the wrath of your local ’tender, we canvassed Sacramento’s favorite drink-makers and asked them what not to order.

Flaunt these rules at your own peril, or suffer the stink eye.

1. Don’t order a Bloody Mary, ever (except at brunch). If you do order a Bloody Mary, you’re guaranteed to annoy any bartender, especially if the place is packed. Making this drink is a complex and time-consuming task. “If you order a Bloody Mary after a certain time of night, we’re going to look at you like, ’Who is this idiot?’” said Huey Tidwell at Club 2 Me (2565 Franklin Boulevard).

2. Don’t order a drink unless you know what’s in it. Be careful asking for something you heard about in college or on the Internet. If you’re unsure, it’s OK to ask, but be polite and tip well. Dan York at The Hideaway Bar & Grill (2565 Franklin Boulevard) said he once had a patron order something out of left field—to disastrous results.

“I Googled it, she and I agreed on the ingredients, and then she said it’s garbage,” he recalled.

3. Don’t be that guy. Some drinks say “I want to have a good time,” while others say, “I’m aiming to black out and puke.” For safety’s sake, stick with what’s on the menu.

“If you go for the Strong Island [iced tea] you’re basically asking for more booze, less juice and more hangover,” Ryan Horner at The Depot (2001 K Steet) cautioned.

4. Don’t forget where you are. If you’re in a beer bar, stay away from crafty cocktails and vice versa.

5. Don’t worry, I can make that (if it’s not too busy). Ultimately, most bartenders just want you to be happy. Simon Chan Jr. at Simon’s Cafe (1415 16th Street) said, “I can make pretty much anything if I have the ingredients.” (C.D.)

Secrets of the cocktail life

Are you going to drink that?!

Our writer samples Sacramento’s unique, adventurous and unusual cocktails

What does the most interesting person in Sacramento drink? Definitely not Dos Equis. It’s more likely that he or she asks for something a little more adventurous. Not sure what to order? Check out this list of weird drinks, and live life on the edge of the glass for once.

De Vere’s Irish Pub’s Bloody Mary

Everyone has his or her favorite version of the Bloody Mary. The one at de Vere’s Irish Pub includes pickled green beans, a house-made Bloody Mary mix, chili-infused vodka, olives and pepperoncinis in its spicy-and-savory drink, which will set you back $8. 1531 L Street, (916) 231-9947,

Shady Lady Saloon’s absinthe

Shady Lady Saloon serves absinthe, presented in the French style, with a little bit of sweetener dropped in. It’s a strong drink, with some of the bar’s absinthes being around 65 percent alcohol by volume. Warning: It some contains thujone, which may or may not cause some sort of hallucinations. Prices range from $10 to $14. 1409 R Street, (916) 231-9121,

Centro Cocina Mexicana’s Tequila Drop

The Tequila Drop, a unique mash-up of Mexican and Italian drinks—sort of like a tequila-based limoncello—features tequila, lemon, lime, honey and piloncillo (Mexican brown sugar). Think of it as boozy candy. It costs $8. 2730 J Street, (916) 442-2552,

Mikuni Japanese Restaurant & Sushi Bar’s oyster shooter

This food-heavy drink starts off with hot sake. Then, a raw quail egg, a raw oyster, ponzu (a lemon-based soy sauce) and Sriracha sauce. Last, lemon and green onion are added. It’s a spicy, salty, seafoody kick in the throat. And it only costs $3.75. Various locations,

Tequila Museo Mayahuel’s Flor de Nopal

The Flor de Nopal starts off with a mescal blanco, then gets spruced up with prickly pear puree, homemade hibiscus tea, serrano peppers, lime juice, agave nectar and chipotle powder. Priced at $9, it’s not for the weak-stomached. 1200 K Street, (916) 441-7200, (J.M.)

Dive bar hidden gems

When another Bud Light just won’t do

The dives in this cocktailing town offer cheap drinks in dimly lit quarters, and they don’t want any funny business—which is part of their charm. In short, don’t go asking for a Mad Men-styled Old Fashioned or a Manhattan. Keep it simple, order a cheap American lager, right? Not exactly. There are some bars that happily bridge the gap between dingy dive and craft-cocktail hot spot. SN&R did the work for you and found five boozy jewels hiding in plain sight.

Club Raven

If you want a tasty cocktail without having to elbow out pretentious drinkers, bartender Rhonda Masters serves up a Pretty in Pink (SN&R helped her name it!), with Absolut Hibiskus vodka, triple sec, Rose’s lime juice, sweet and sour, a squeeze of fresh lime and a splash of cranberry juice. A few of these citrusy cocktails made us a little pink in the face. 3246 J Street, (916) 447-8142.

Morgans Bar & Grill

Bar director Evan Cloud requires each bartender to come up with a specialty cocktail and shot at the sports bar. He recommends the Creepy Evan: Absolut Wild Tea vodka, Absolut Citron, a squeeze of a full lemon, triple sec, granulated sugar and Sprite. Cloud said it’s called the Creepy Evan “because it creeps up on you.” We’ll take his word for it. 3348 S Street, (916) 455-1220,

Any drink—including this Tiki Torch at The Hideaway Bar & Grill—tastes better with an umbrella in it.

Photo by wes davis

The Hideaway Bar & Grill

The pirate-slash-beach-themed cocktails at The Hideaway Bar & Grill aren’t anything too fancy, but they do pack a punch. The Tiki Torch puts Malibu banana rum, vanilla vodka, pineapple juice and grenadine on the rocks in a pint glass. An island vacation in a glass—almost. 2565 Franklin Boulevard, (916) 455-1331,

Hilltop Tavern

On any given night at Hilltop Tavern, drinkers can find beer and cocktail specials based on who’s behind the bar. Heidi Long’s special is a Pink Starburst that she makes with Bacardi Dragon Berry rum, a fusion of strawberry and dragon-fruit flavors; fresh lemon; lemon juice; and a splash of cran. It really does taste like a pink Starburst! 4757 Folsom Boulevard, (916) 456-2843,

Chargin’s Bar & Grill

Chargin’s makes batches of a Pomegranate Punch and serves it as a shooter. Made with pomegranate vodka and triple sec, with splashes of sweet and sour, Red Bull and cranberry juice, it’s practically healthy for you with all that fruit. Feel free to splurge the rest of the night. 4900 J Street, (916) 454-1524. (J.R.)

Shaken, not stirred

Drink like an amateur

Cocktails don’t have to be craft to be good

Guy walks into a bar. (Let’s say it’s me.) Guy asks the bartender for a Jameson and club.

Bartender leans in. “You in the industry?”

“Industry?” the guy asks.

An energy drink, maraschino cherries, tonic water and a lone piece of citrus? You’re all set to craft your own artisanal cocktail. What the hell, throw that creamer in there, too!

Photo By wes davis

The bartender squints. “Yeah.”

“Like porn?”

The bartender recoils. “No! The service industry.”

In my defense, the barkeep had overly groomed facial hair. The point is, I am not in the industry—service or otherwise. At one point during the recession, when I was between journalism gigs, I briefly considered pursuing a bartender’s license. This was a fantasy. In this supply-and-demand economy, I know on which side of the bar I belong.

That said, I have a liver, a refrigerator and a desire to tax both. Maybe I’m like you: I enjoy drinking, but dislike exerting too much effort getting drunk. (You need a perforated spoon and two separate glasses to prepare absinthe? See ya.) Most of us will never be craft-cocktail masters, but we’re not above playing chemistry set with the random bottles chilling in the back of our cool box.

Through trial and (mostly) error, I’ve learned what works and what makes a Black Superman appealing by comparison. During a phallic-themed birthday party, for instance, I blended Bushmills Irish Whiskey with Mountain Dew, and served it up as a “Whiskey Dick.” Appropriate name, terrible beverage—it even left one’s palate flaccid.

But happy accidents do occur. At a summer barbecue, when supplies ran low, I gambled on midshelf vodka with diet black-cherry Hansen’s soda, then splashed in tangerine juice. The improvised cocktail was an instant hit, despite its lame moniker: Orange Simpleton.

Friends and I have had similar luck meshing vodka and Vitaminwater; rum and orange juice (this was before we learned it’s called a Scurvy Medic); ice tea, lemonade and tequila (the Arnold Facepalmer); and Jameson and—you know what? Better leave that one alone. Unless you’re in “the industry.” (R.F.H.)

Personal prohibition

How nondrinkers cope in a drunk world

It doesn’t matter why you don't imbibe alcohol.

Perhaps you're incubating a human life or you're a recovering addict or you abstain for religious reasons. Or perhaps it's for the sensibly simple reason that beer tastes like piss—even the craft-brewed $8-a-bottle ones—and mixed drinks taste like floor cleaner at best, no matter how much muddled basil or orange zest the “certified mixologist” adds to a cocktail.

So, how does the nontippling minority cope with being sober when the majority equates having a good time with consuming libations?

‘Just one drink’

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “More than half of the alcohol consumed by adults in the United States is in the form of binge drinks.” Binge drinking is defined as consuming five or more drinks in a row within a two-hour period for men, and four drinks for women. And when you're hanging out with friends, there's always someone goading you to have as much fun as they are by bottoming up, but “bottled courage” (or stupidity) can also come naturally. For example, hijack the garnish tray at the bar, and keep popping every olive, maraschino cherry and pickled onion until someone says, “This ain't a buffet, Kit!”—a memorable line from the classic prostitute-with-a-heart-of-gold “Cinder-'fucking'-rella” story, Pretty Woman. If no one is classy enough to recite that jewel, declare it yourself. This will convince the tipsy that you may have surpassed their drunkenness level. Or you're insane. Either way, you won't get hassled to drink—if you don't get kicked out of the bar, anyway.

‘What’s your poison?’ A cliché, apparently.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism states that “heavy drinking may have extensive and far-reaching effects on the brain, ranging from simple ‘slips' in memory to permanent and debilitating conditions that require lifetime custodial care.” And while having to have someone wipe a former binge drinker's debilitated 45-year-old ass sounds pretty sexy, there are other side effects, including impaired judgment that leads the drinker to coitus with an otherwise repulsive individual who gives the gift that never quits: herpes.

Water has never tasted so good.

‘Who the heck is Shirley Temple?’

At the party or bar, everyone's got a glass or a bottle in their hand. It's like an accessory: It punctuates gestures and can be raised to one's lips during awkward silences, and getting refills keeps everyone busy until the buzz sets in and they loosen up. Surely, you can't be social without it. First of all, don't call me Shirley (Temple), and second, don't be so self-conscious. Fill that ugly red-plastic cup with a less-poisonous liquid, or have the bartender concoct a liquorless drink. A house-made ginger ale will actually soothe your stomach while your pals retch their animal fries. Some places offer root beer in brown glass bottles, if you must keep your sobriety a secret. If you do get razzed, though, just say, sweetly, “Oh, are you trying to peer pressure me like a seventh grader to have a drink? That's so cute.” (S.)

It’s all fun and games until someone pukes

When the party’s over

Forget the hair of the dog: Here are four tips on surviving that killer hangover

Overdid it? Of course you did. The following are four locally tested (if not medically approved) methods for taming a bad case of the technicolor yawns.

1. Drink something green (that is not absinthe). You’ve been putting low-grade poison into your body all week, and your organs are not pleased. Peel’d, formerly a juice-delivery-only service, has a brand-new storefront inside Asha Yoga (1050 20th Street). Pump yourself with some kale and beets, and keep that liver on your good side.

Harlee DeMeerleer at Blackbird Kitchen & Bar would never overserve you, but should you overindulge elsewhere, check out SN&R’s hangover remedies.

Photo By wes davis

2. Not into vegetable and fruit juice? Go the opposite direction with The Shack (5201 Folsom Boulevard) and its BBB (hangover helper): a bacon, jalapeño and red-onion scramble on a buttermilk biscuit, doused in gravy, served with potatoes and a red beer (a beer plus tomato juice). It should be noted that you’re trading your hangover for heartburn, but the latter is probably the less-evil ailment, no?

3. Fit people are always telling you to “sweat it out.” I’m pretty skeptical myself, but if you’re feeling ambitious, or if you didn’t get enough dancing in the night before (are you still drunk?), there’s a Zumba class at Step 1 Dance and Fitness (1920 T Street) on Saturdays at 10 a.m. and Sundays at 9 a.m. It’s both ridiculous and fun, and more importantly, it’ll make you sweat like a beast. The drop-in rate is $10.

4. Laugh it off. Your hangover isn’t funny, I know. But how long can you feel sorry for yourself? Generate some endorphins at Sacramento Comedy Spot’s Open Mic Scramble (1050 20th Street, Suite 130) on Sundays and Mondays at 8 p.m., where you can sit back and watch or else regale the crowd with your own jokes (you are still drunk, aren’t you?). Sign-ups begin at 7:30 p.m., and the cover is $5. (D.D.)