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A Lazy Bear Mixes a Drink

At a new Mission district spin-off bar, cocktails get the full David Barzelay treatment.

A Melons Triple Lindy (mezcal, three melons, aloe, clarified lime juice, shiso, dill oil) alongside warm nuts with brassicas and Meyer lemon.

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A broiled oyster and a Late Bloomer (fermented pluot, rancio).

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When David Barzelay says he’s opening a cocktail bar, you can feel pretty confident it won’t be boring. Lazy Bear, Barzelay’s Mission district flagship, reimagined the modern fine-dining restaurant as a rollicking and slightly nerdy dinner party—the kind of communal meal where chatting with the strangers seated next to you is practically a prerequisite, and where guests poke around the open kitchen and jot down impressions of each dish in little notebooks that the restaurant provides.

How will that kind of spirit manifest itself in Barzelay’s new bar, True Laurel, slated to open in October on Alabama Street, just a few blocks away from Lazy Bear? With something rare indeed: a tasting menu that pairs cocktails crafted by co-owner and Lazy Bear head bartender Nicolas Torres with elegant, modernist-leaning snacks that are pure Barzelay.

Of course, there’s nothing new about pairing food with wine or beer. And you can hardly throw a tumbler in this town without hitting some upscale watering hole with an ambitious “food program.” Yet, as simple as the idea sounds, cocktail-and-food pairings just aren’t frequently done—and not with the level of synchronicity that Barzelay and Torres aspire to. The reasons for this are fairly straightforward. For starters, many classic cocktails are notoriously palate-numbing food companions. On top of that, serving a full-blown multi-course tasting menu at a bar is “probably stupid financially” on some level, Barzelay says, since each customer winds up sitting down for so much longer, and because so much more effort and manpower is needed to make sure that service goes smoothly.

That’s why the tasting menu won’t be True Laurel’s only offering. Instead, half of the room will operate as a standard cocktail bar with à la carte drinks and dishes like lardo-topped broiled oysters, aged rib eye steak, and ballpark-style garlic fries tossed in allium powder. But the bar’s crowning glory will be the ticketed cocktail tasting, where customers will sit down at an eight-seat bar-within-the-bar and enjoy somewhere between 4 and 15 cocktail-and-food pairings. (For now, Barzelay and Torres are keeping the details close to the vest.) The food will be portioned out as snacks—mind you, ultra-refined and labor-intensive snacks—and, according to Barzelay, the prices will be neither “interestingly high” nor “interestingly low.” (For context, a meal at Lazy Bear, without beverage pairings, will run you at least $165.)

Similar to its sister restaurant, True Laurel will place a big emphasis on interactivity—both with Torres, who will explain the inspiration and the process behind each drink as he prepares it, and with the other guests. As for the issue of cocktails being booze-heavy palate killers, Torres has garnered a reputation for delicate, hyper-seasonal drinks that are often engineered “backwards,” starting with a decision on how to highlight a certain fruit or vegetable rather than just adding flavor accents to a base spirit. Given the bar’s pedigree, it should come as no surprise that Torres plans to push the envelope, technique-wise, in his cocktails. For the Lazy Bear gang, there’s no such thing as a straight drink, even if they eschew obvious bells and whistles. 

After all, Barzelay explains, “If you go into an M. Night Shyamalan movie, you know there’s a twist at the end, so it’s less impactful when it comes. So if we can do something that looks pure and refined, and then when you taste it, you’re like, ‘Oh shit’? That’s more impactful.”


Originally published in the October issue of San Francisco 

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