Someone recently told us about Bourbon & Branch, a speakeasy-themed bar in the Tenderloin. We heard tales of required reservations, passwords at the door, 1920s-style music and decor, and great cocktails, so naturally we had to check it out.
We made a reservation for Wednesday night, figuring it wouldn’t be too crowded, which it wasn’t. Crowding won’t be a problem in a reservation-only place like this, except that it may affect your ability to get a reservation in the first place. But getting a two-hour reservation at 8:00pm on a Wednesday was no problem at all.
We arrived at 8:00, gave the password, and were admitted into a very nice, authentic-looking space. The music was low, so we had no trouble talking, and the menu was extensive, with a nice selection of classic cocktails, house specialties, and whiskey flights, including some rare vintages. We stuck mainly with the classics — Old Fashioned, Manhattan, Sazerac — but tried a couple of the house specialties as well. They have a reputation for well-made cocktails and they definitely lived up to it.
In keeping with the speakeasy theme, the bar has no sign out front, but the building can be identified by the Anti-Saloon League sign at the corner. The entrance is to the right, a door with a peephole and buzzer.
I only have the one picture because photography inside is prohibited by the house rules, along with a ban on mobile phone usage, and a warning to “Don’t even think of ordering a Cosmo”. In fact, we overheard the bartender refusing to make a White Russian for someone while we were there, which was pretty amusing.
For those unable to plan ahead and make reservations, they have the Library available. The Library is a less formal back room with relaxed rules and no reservations required. Using the password “books” at the door will get you escorted back there, by way of a bookcase that swings open to reveal a hidden doorway. We didn’t go back there on this visit but from what I understand it can be a little crowded and noisy, at least on weekends. The menu is also limited in the Library, pared down to a dozen or so cocktails taken from the full menu available in the main room.
A lot of effort was obviously put into creating just the right atmosphere here, from the menu, which features only fresh juices and quality ingredients, to the old-fashioned bar accessories, music, and decor. And this leads to our only disappointment: given everything we knew going in, we expected a different crowd here, one with more vintage clothing and a prevailing style appropriate for the surroundings. Sadly, this wasn’t what we got; the crowd looked just like the people at any other upscale bar in San Francisco (and speaking of which, I’d like to see the ban on mobile phones extended to include people who wear Bluetooth ear pieces at all times1).
That’s a minor thing, really, and certainly not something that would keep me from going back. This place is a little pricey for an everyday bar but it’s definitely good for those occasions when you want something a little nicer.
1. This is referring to same guy who tried to order a White Russian.