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Cocktail Crazy

Artisan tipples are flowing across the bay and into downtown Walnut Creek


Annabelle Breakey; food stylist: Jeffrey Larsen

The first time I ordered a drink at Oakland’s Flora, I waited. And waited. Ten minutes later, I took a sip of the best cocktail I’d ever tasted, a balance of sweet (agave nectar), tart (lime), and spice (chili tincture). It was my first artisan cocktail—an intricate mix of high-quality spirits, house-made syrups, and fresh ingredients.

The artisan cocktail movement started in San Francisco and slowly trickled east. These days, that trickle is flowing right into downtown Walnut Creek. Led by ambitious cocktail programs at several new restaurants and a few old classics, a new wave of drink making is thriving within a compact four-block radius.

“It’s good for customers because there’s so much variety,” says the Yacht Club’s Jason Crabb. “And for us, it’s great because we can drop by all these places and get different ideas.”

These mixologists often draw inspiration from Prohibition-era recipes while stressing fresh ingredients that complement spirits, rather than mask them. The goal is to take the time to produce a drink that blows away your typical Grey Goose martini, according to Modern China Cafe’s Joshua Goldstein. “You can get a martini anywhere,” he says. “For me, it’s about turning a trip to the bar into a unique experience.” 

Pictured Above, Left to Right: Hot Lips Cocktail: El Jimador tequila, homemade ginger syrup, fresh lime juice, cilantro, and Fresno chilis. Typically served up. Courtesy of Vesu restaurant. Manhattan: bourbon, cherry Heering liqueur, Carpano Antica vermouth, Angostura bitters, Luxardo Maraschino cherries. Courtesy of Modern China Bistro. Ginger Man: Basil Hayden’s bourbon, Peychaud’s bitters, fresh ginger, lemon juice, and agave nectar. Courtesy of Modern China Bistro.

Bar Breakdown: Diablo’s cheat sheet to seven downtown Walnut Creek cocktail programs

» Élevé: The emphasis is on clean cocktails using high-quality ingredients. Order the El Diablo: tequila, lime juice, cassis, fresh ginger syrup.

» Modern China Café: Using A-list ingredients, manager Joshua Goldstein whips up creative twists on classics. Order the Manhattan: (above).

» Prima: Bar guru Gwyneth Hogarth stocks over 100 whiskey labels. Order the Police Gazette: bourbon, vermouth, Curaçao, cherry liqueur, bitters.

» Sasa: Unfiltered sake is mixed in with many drinks. Order the Sake-rita: tequila, lime juice, agave nectar, Tozai sake.

» Va de Vi: A classics-centered seasonal program. Order the Sidecar: armagnac, Cointreau, lemon juice, simple syrup.

» Vesu: Bar manager Doug MacKay’s cocktails focus on brown spirits: bourbon, scotch, and whiskey. Order the Hot Lips Cocktail: (above).

» Walnut Creek Yacht Club: Fresh ingredients complement 75-plus rum labels. Order the Arawak: white and dark rum, lime and pomegranate juice, ginger syrup, cilantro, serrano chili.

 For seven winter cocktail recipes, go to diablomag.com/cocktails.

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