We Tried Cocktails To-Go During COVID-19

Times are tough. And the distressing thing is that you can’t even visit a bar to drown your sorrows. We’re in the middle of a long “shelter in place” order that started mid March and is expected to continue at least until early May. During that time, bars and restaurants have been forced to close, with only a few skeleton crews running delivery and to-go services.

I mourn the bars especially. Home bartending does not replace being able to complicated drinks (honestly, 9 out of 10 times I just end up making a negroni because I’m lazy). It also does not replace the camaraderie and long chats that you can have with your bartender or the stranger seated next to you (if that person is not a douche bag – this can be hit or miss).

So when SFist published an article entitled “These SF Bars are Offering To-Go and Delivery Cocktails” I bookmarked it immediately. I have now read it enough that I think I have it memorized. The delivery and to-go cocktails are possible now under the ABC’s temporary relaxation of regulations for bars and liquor stores to sell alcohol, as long as it is accompanied by food. The hope is that it will allow restaurants to survive these few crippling months.

The one I was especially enthusiastic about is China Live, a massive complex that houses multiple restaurants, including a semi-secret scotch-centric cocktail lounge called Cold Drinks. Their three bar programs (their main bar, Cold Drinks, and the one at their premium Eight Tables restaurant) are all fantastic.

A shot I took in Cold Drinks (in China Live), in happier non-COVID times

The article did not have anything about which drinks would be offered, so we hiked to Chinatown to visit the restaurant in-person as a first stop on our post-apocalyptic “bar crawl”, with the thought that maybe we hit more than one of the cocktail destinations on the map.

When we arrived, we weren’t even sure the restaurant was open. The doors were closed, and the once-bustling restaurant appeared to be completely empty. We pushed the doors (making sure to use our sleeves instead of our hands) and entered to find long tables with tags such as “UberEats” and “Caviar” for delivery pickups fencing off the main restaurant. Far away, two or three chefs could be seen running around and preparing delivery items.

Interior of a very quiet China Live

A man bustled by, carrying several large bags of food delivery for the pick-up counter. “Have a look at the menu and let me know if you want to order online or with me!” he exclaimed as he rushed off again. We couldn’t find drinks on the menu, but the food menu had a lot of our favorite items (we’ve visited a few times) and we got their Sheng Jian Bao, Sichuan working hands dumplings, shan dong dumplings, and a crysanthemum salad. While we were waiting, we introduced ourselves to the man (Doug, one of the partners of China Live) and asked about the cocktail menu.

He brightened up. “We just started offering cocktails today!” he told us. “Hold on!” He returned with several hand labeled mason jars and announced them each as he set them down: English Gimlet (Roku gin and lime oleo), Grant Avenue Shakedown (whisky and pisco), Rob Roy & Tokyo Rose (scotch, bitters, lemonade), and a Cold Drinks Bar Shooter (rum, Ardbeg, lemon syrup, and lychee ice tea). The drinks all had instructions, such as “serve chilled” and “pour over ice” beneath the names.

Cocktails to go from China Live

We got the English Gimlet (delicious) and after chatting with Doug for a while (who was very excited that we had been the first to order cocktails), he let us have them all. It was a very generous thing to do, especially in light of how hard the restaurant is being hit. In our conversations with him, he told us that he had just laid off over 200 employees. Wow.

Seeing as we had enough cocktails to sink a ship, we called off our bar crawl and walked home with our food (half it it was eaten in the walk back home) and drinks (admittedly some of it was sipped along the way). Enough of the drinks remained, however, to then follow the instructions on the labels and enjoy the way that they were meant to: English Gimlet over ice and Rob Roy & Tokyo Rose with the addition of Yuzu, for instance.

English Gimlet and Shan Dong Dumplings
Chrysanthemum Salad (it made it home intact because eating salad with chopsticks while walking is very difficult) and Rob Roy & Tokyo Rose, served with just some Yuzu
These drinks went into the refrigerator for enjoyment the day after

Our favorite was the English Gimlet, with the Grant Ave Shakedown (surprisingly floral and pretty) as a close second. We didn’t have any soda water (only sparkling water), so we used champagne instead.

Over the next few weeks, we’re planning to order more cocktails from the SFist list. It may be hard to at first justify getting cocktail delivery, but think of it like food delivery. Yes, you can purchase ingredients and make your own meals, but after a while you get tired of the same easy stir-fry meal (or in the case of drinks, negronis). Just as importantly, it’s a great opportunity to show your local restaurants and bars support in this time. Many of them want to hire their staff back (or unfurlough them) as soon as possible. They want to make their rent payments so that they can survive the month of April.

So for once, go ahead and order! (We recommend ordering here from China Live – cocktails at the very bottom). If not (or in addition to!), hit the buttons below to visit the various fundraisers for bartenders.

And as for the other side of the bar experience – the social side – there’s a few more businesses starting virtual happy hours and virtual tastings. We held our own tasting the other night with the /r/scotch and it was an absolute blast. I’m hoping we can figure a way to keep everyone safe but also employed. Cheers!

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