Seek out these creative twists on classic drinks from Peninsula bartenders.

The Admiral Kay from Amandine—a sweet, frothy, full-bodied scotch drink. (Photo by Zack Fernandes)

Spring is here and the Peninsula’s sidewalks, parklets and dining rooms are beginning to fill with people tired from a long year cooped up at home, drinking wine in sweatpants.

On the cocktail front, there’s something to be said for the classics — after all, they’re classics for a reason—but we also love to find bartenders willing to take a winning formula and mess with it a little bit. After a year of routine, it’s a welcome change.

So put yourself back in the capable hands of the Peninsula’s most creative bartenders and venture out to try one of these ten riffs on the classic cocktails we know and love. They prove you can teach an old cocktail new tricks.

A tall, iced drink with black, brown, and white toasted coconut flakes on top
Battavia arrack, a spirit originating in Indonesia which is distilled from fermented rice and molasses, forms the deeply flavored base for Ettan’s Sarakku, the restaurant’s take on the piña colada. (Photo by Zack Fernandes)

Sarakku — Ettan

At the Palo Alto restaurant Ettan, the cocktail menu is designed to complement the “Cal-Indian” flavors of Michelin-starred chef Srijith Gopinathan’s menu.

The Sarakku is cheekily named after the colloquial catch-all term for booze in Tamil, a South Indian language, and is Ettan’s take on a piña colada. Built on a base of Battavia arrack instead of rum, with pineapple and lime juices, Liquid Alchemist coconut syrup and nutmeg, the tall drink goes down quickly, especially on a warm evening.

If you’d prefer not to imbibe, Ettan also offers a “sober” version of the Sarraku, swapping out the booze for Seedlip Grove 42, a non-alcoholic distillate made with orange, lemon, lemongrass and ginger.

Ettan // 518 Bryant St, Palo Alto; 650.752.6281

An enamel mug filled with an iced cocktail, topped with a maraschino cherry, a dried lime wheel, and a large sprig of mint
San Agus’ tiki interpretations include agave-based spirits instead of rum, like in the Polanco, which is made with both tequila and mezcal. (Photo by Eusebio Pozos)

Polanco — San Agus

Having pushed their customers off the beaten path of margaritas to try other Mexican-inspired cocktails, San Agus in Palo Alto has set its sights on another category of drinks ripe for experimentation: tiki. On Thursdays, San Agus offers tequila and mezcal-based variants of the boozy, chuggable, citrus-packed rum drinks that typify the genre.

In the Polanco, blanco tequila is mixed with La Luna mezcal, elderflower liqueur, Benedictine D.O.M. (a French herbal liqueur), lemon and lime juices, bitters and house-made pineapple-ginger and passion fruit-sage syrups for a supremely complex tiki drink with a strong influence of agave.

San Agus // 115 Hamilton Ave, Palo Alto; 650.847.1334

A coupe glass with a frothy head, and a dehydrated kiwi as a garnish
The ingredients used in the Sequoia Sour are rotated every few weeks at Nighhawk, taking advantage of whatever is in season. (Photo by Zack Fernandes)

Sequoia Sour — Nighthawk

Nighthawk, in downtown Redwood City, is serving up seasonal variations on the classic whiskey sour.

For their Sequoia Sour, the bar combines Larceny bourbon whiskey with kiwifruit, ginger, black pepper and rosemary, which is then infused under gentle heat, sous vide, before being mixed with lemon juice, agave simple syrup and egg white and served with Amargo Chuncho Peruvian bitters. The infusions rotate every two to three weeks to feature new seasonal fruits.

Though it’s not a classic (yet), Nighthawk also serves their version of White Claw, the canned flavored malt beverage that you’ve probably seen encroaching on the beer selection at your local supermarket. To make the drink, aptly named the Nightclaw, the bar clarifies passionfruit purée in a centrifuge and mixes it with vodka and seltzer to serve as a highball.

Nighthawk // 2033 Broadway St, Redwood City; 650.503.8025

Pandan, seen here as the garnish, imparts an earthy sweetness to the Black Pandan Old Fashioned at Avenida. (Photo by Zack Fernandes)

Black Pandan Old Fashioned — Avenida

At Avenida in San Mateo, the old fashioned gets a big Filipino twist. The star of the drink is its base of lambanóg, a Filipino liquor distilled from coconut palm nectar. To that, the bar adds a mix of white, aged and overproof rums for additional body, with the drink’s subtle and earthy flavors coming from house-made toasted black sesame and pandan syrups.

Avenida also serves the Lipa Coffee Boulevardier, a riff on the classic boulevardier, a cocktail usually made with whiskey, sweet vermouth and Campari. The cocktail takes its name from the city of Lipa in the Philippines (which was named sister city to Fremont in 1972). According to Avenida, Lipa’s early reputation as “coffee capital” of the Philippines serves as inspiration for the drink’s key substitution: the replacement of Campari with a gentian amaro infused with Philz Coffee Philharmonic grounds, which the bar makes themselves.

Avenida // 201 E 3rd Ave, San Mateo; 650.781.3637

A beige cocktail served in a coupe, with a sprinkling of nutmeg and a dash of bitters on its frothy head
The Admiral Kay is a pleasantly sweet, frothy, full-bodied scotch drink. (Photo by Zack Fernandes)

Admiral Kay — Amandine

Amandine opened in Los Altos in late July of 2019, promising its customers a “Japanese-inspired cocktail experience” before shuttering at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, the bar and its vest-clad bartenders are once again inviting guests to sip and savor in its plush, exquisitely comfortable interior barroom and heated parklet.

The Admiral Kay is a flip — a category of drinks that’s usually served hot, sweet and with tons of body and mouthfeel from the addition of a whole egg. At Amandine, the Admiral Kay is served cold, with lots of flavor coming from a base of Scotch whisky infused with masala (a blend of spices), vanilla syrup, cream, bitters, an egg and a house-made allspice tincture, shaken and served up in a coupe. It’s perfect as liquid dessert or a nightcap, but not too sweet to enjoy as your first drink of the evening. As Amandine prepares to rotate their cocktail list, you can ask a bartender for the Admiral Kay even if it’s not printed on the menu. The bar says that the drink will always be around.

You could also try one of Amandine’s cocktails on tap. They serve a black Manhattan which, though not original to this bar, is a popular variation on the classic Manhattan that substitutes Amaro Averna, a bitter Sicilian liqueur, in place of sweet vermouth. Also on tap is Amandine’s Gran Negroni, a symphony of bitter and sweet flavors made with gin, Campari, St. George Bruto Americano, Tempus Fugit Gran Classico and Carpano Antica Formula as well as Punt e Mes vermouths.

Amandine // 235 First St, Los Altos; 650.204.9222

A deep golden rum drink in an old fashioned glass, with a large clear ice cube and topped with an orange twist
Timber & Salt’s Aged Rum Old Fashioned is a complex bittersweet alternative to the classically spiritous old fashioned. (Photo by Zack Fernandes)

Aged Rum Old Fashioned — Timber & Salt

Though Timber & Salt in Redwood City is known for its rotating seasonal craft cocktail menu, often entirely based on a pop-culture theme of the bar staff’s choosing (their current cocktails are all named after Neil Young songs) there’s one spin on a classic that hasn’t left the menu since the bar opened over six years ago: the Aged Rum Old Fashioned.

The drink abandons the classic old fashioned’s base liquor of whiskey for an eight-year aged Barbancourt rum from Haiti. But the star of the cocktail’s complexity is a housemade mauby syrup, based on a bitter drink consumed in many of the Caribbean islands. Timber & Salt’s version of mauby is made by boiling the dried bark of the mauby tree with spices and citrus zest before sweetening the infusion with both brown and white sugars. The bar uses the intense bitterness of the mauby syrup to round out the vanilla notes of the aged rum.

Though you could get the drink as part of Timber & Salt’s to-go cocktail menu, you’re better off enjoying it at the restaurant, where it’s served over a perfectly clear, hand-carved cube of ice. The bar staff whittle individual cubes down from a large block that can usually be spotted behind the bar, tempering as the night goes on.

Timber & Salt // 881 Middlefield Rd, Redwood City; 650.362.3777

A champagne flute filled with a peach-colored cocktail and a lemon twist garnish
Slightly bitter, delicately perfumed and plenty refreshing thanks to the addition of Prosecco. The perfect patio or parklet drink. (Photo by Zack Fernandes)

Lovely Bubbly — Faith & Spirits

Faith & Spirits, which opened in San Carlos in the middle of the pandemic, bills itself as equal parts craft cocktail bar and live music lounge, complete with a raised stage and piano in its interior.

If you don’t fancy yourself talented enough to jump on their stage but still want to feel like a crooner, you can order a classic gin martini, Frank Sinatra’s second favorite cocktail (after Jack Daniels on the rocks), which Faith & Spirits says they take pride in.

For a twist on a classic, try the Lovely Bubbly, a drink reminiscent of a French 75, but lighter and more aromatic, with the flavor of lemon swapped for grapefruit. To make the drink, Hendrick’s gin is perfumed with pamplemousse liqueur and topped with Prosecco for the perfect patio spritz.

Faith & Spirits // 765 Laurel St, San Carlos; 650.394.8466

A plastic cup filled with a red bloody mary
Alpine Inn’s Bloody Mary features a base of smoky tomato juice for welcome depth of flavor in a perfect patio pounder. (Photo by Zack Fernandes)

Bloody Mary — Alpine Inn

Tweaks on the Bloody Mary are usually limited to the variety of garnishes a bar chooses to adorn the drink with. Last year, one Minnesota bar attempted to set a world record by offering 219 different garnishes.

At Alpine Inn (affectionately known to locals as Zott’s) in Portola Valley, the bar keeps the garnish simple with a green bean and cherry tomato, and looks to their smoker to imbue additional flavor to their take on the brunch cocktail staple (available on the weekends).

To amp up flavor, Alpine Inn leaves whole tomatoes in a smoker before they are juiced and mixed with Tito’s vodka and lime for their Smoked Bloody Mary.

Alpine Inn // 3915 Alpine Rd, Portola Valley; 650.854.4004

In the background, a bottle of Old Monk rum. In the foreground, a jar being filled with Thums Up cola, being poured from a can
Even the simplest cocktails are worth tweaking. Old Monk rum and Thums Up stand in for white rum and Coca-Cola in Mortar & Pestle’s Rum & Thums. (via Instagram)

Rum & Thums — Mortar & Pestle Bar

The simplest drink on this list comes from Mortar & Pestle, the bar attached to casual Indian eatery Curry Up Now. With two locations in San Mateo and San Jose, the bar offers an Indian-inspired twist on the Cuba libre (also known as a Rum & Coke).

The drink is recreated at Mortar & Pestle with two Indian products: Old Monk rum and Thums Up cola. Old Monk is an extremely popular Indian dark rum, distilled in the country’s state of Uttar Pradesh and aged for at least seven years in barrel before bottling. To balance the intensity the rum, Mortar & Pestle mixes it with Thums Up, a cola brand founded in 1977 to serve the Indian market after Coca-Cola left the country due to local regulations. Though the Thums Up brand was eventually purchased by Coca-Cola, the company continues to sell Thums Up due to its distinctive taste (it’s less sweet and more intense) and popularity in the Indian market. You can also buy it by the can at Curry Up Now.

If you’re not a fan of soft drinks, Mortar & Pestle also offers the Husband & Wife, a shot of Old Monk served alongside a beer.

Mortar & Pestle // 130 Main St, San Mateo; 650.830.5310

A red cocktail in a glass with a large frosty ice cube and an orange twist garnish
Local booze from St. George Spirits in Alameda and Lo-Fi Aperitifs in the Napa Valley form the base of this riff on the classic, bittersweet Negroni. (Photo by Zack Fernandes)

Dry, Old & Bitter — Gentry Bar & Eatery

At Gentry Bar & Eatery in Cupertino, the Dry, Old & Bitter is a riff on the classic Italian Negroni with lots of local influence.

The cocktail begins with St. George Dry Rye Gin, made in Alameda, and is notable for its use of distilled rye as a base. According to the producer, this gives the gin “structure, spice and an impossibly rich mouthfeel.” And in place of typical Italian vermouth, Gentry uses a sweet vermouth from another local producer, Napa Valley’s Lo-Fi Aperitifs. Purists can rest easy, though — the drink still uses Campari to preserve its classic bittersweet character. And while it’s named the Dry, Old & Bitter, the drink is also gorgeous, refreshing and pleasantly complex.

Gentry Bar // 19429 Stevens Creek Blvd, Cupertino; 408.216.0550

Editor’s note: Gentry Bar closed on May 9 2021, after this article was published.


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Zach Fernandes Profile Photo

Zach Fernandes

Bay Area transplant by way of Singapore and Philadelphia. I make burgers by night. Find me @zachareats on Instagram and at zackfernandes.com

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