It’s 11:30 AM, I’m hungover from drinking too much at The Trappist in Oakland, and I just scarfed down a Korean burrito for “breakfast”. I’m standing in a line about half a block long. There’s a guy asking people for money in line, but not for beer or drugs, god forbid, no it’s for arts materials for “the kids.” Everyone replies no, or so I would imagine. Welcome to the Tenderloin, home of Mikkeller Bar SF. Also, the guy in the following image:
I finally get in about 45 minutes later. There’s a little waiting area and as you’re walking to the bar, on a large wall above and to the right, you’re greeted by the wonderful artwork of Keith Shore. You know, the guy who draws the cartoon characters for Mikkeller labels who wear the sombreros and the shirts that have the beans on it.
The place looks like a fancy Chipotle… that serves beer. Wait, I mean serves better beer, way way way better beer. At night it almost looks like jazz would accompany it nicely, like it’s a speakeasy or a bar that looks like an alleyway and has an awesome tap system. There’s a pretty good selection of seating, wall space to set drinks onto, the actual bar, communal tables and some booths. Additionally, there’s a sour room downstairs with another table. It was all metal, brick, and wood, like I said, it looks like a Chipotle. But unlike Chipotle, there were no burritos I saw on the menu, in fact, I didn’t eat at the bar at all on opening day. I came to drink.
I ask someone for today’s beer list. I check it out and look at the specials they’re tapping today. I know what I want, it’s the first grand opening special they’re tapping and everybody wants it: Cantillon Iris. I ask the bartender to queue up an order and I get a “Hold on, it’s going to be a minute.” I wait about 30 minutes before I get it. It comes out and it’s absolutely fucking beautiful. The wait is worth it, and it’s at a perfect temperature because of this flux capacitor system they have. What’s a flux capacitor? Let me tell you! It’s this rad system by Beachwood Brewing & BBQ where pressure/temperatures can be set for every beer on tap. Those unfamiliar with what it looks like when it activates, please view the following:
I see a couple bottles of an Oude Geuze going around, one red one I haven’t seen and another one with a 3 on it, and I remember. Oh shit. Drie Fonteinen Oude Geuze vintage bottles. Let’s fucking do this. I check the bottle list and there’s 1998, 1999, and 2001. I’m chatting with this dude I just met and we decide to go in on one. The cork fucking pops as soon as it gets touched. Radical. In fact, I think the rest of the day snowballed into a bunch of dudes just deciding to go in on Drie Fonteinens for the rest of the night. So 1999 and 2001 eventually popped. I met a bunch of friendly beer dudes and thought well, hell, the beer scene is alive and well in San Francisco!
If anyone cares, I was kind of obsessing over the glasses. They weren’t available to purchase, but they had shirts. They only had the grey one at the time, it that has the same rad logo they splatter all over the place (coasters, t-shirts, glasses, door, internet).
But a rundown of all the glasses: there are 4 different sized glasses (3 with Mikkeller SF etching on them, 1 blank) at the bar: a 20cl glass (blank with no mention of Mikkeller on it), a 25cl glass, a larger (I’m guessing 10 or 12oz) glass, and a 50cl glass. The 25cl’s are for most of the beers on tap, 20cl’s for the stronger beers (such as the oppressive 18% Mikkeller Black), the larger glasses for bottles, and the 50cl glasses for pints (Only beer on the list that had this was the Ninkasi IPA) & water.
I think a few of us decided we want to just get down on the Cantillon St. Lamvinus (pictured) when that gets tapped at 2pm before heading out. So here we were washing down our 1998-2001 gueuze lined throats with even more sours. Life felt great. I don’t even know why I wanted to even leave. I’m punching myself in the dick as I’m typing this now for not drinking more.
I head downstairs to the bathroom. I have to say this feels like you’re walking into a dungeon or some German setting from Wolfenstein or something. But there aren’t hounds or anything, just beer. I was ready to leave and I ran across the sour room and I forgot that this was a thing! It was a goddamned mess of open bottles that were killed. It was amazing. I was confused. It was beautiful, but I was kind of in shock at the ridiculous amount of bottles there were down here besides the ones that were on the table.
I think I exclaimed “What the fuck?!”
These dudes/ladies did some work down here and made me wish I was partying with them earlier! Here’s a photo of some of the 3Fonteinen Vintage 1998 they had open. (At the end of the night, I’m pretty sure the amount of these bottles on the table had doubled)
I head out to another bar and decide to come back for round 2. I catch up on the Cantillon they just tapped, another beer, and realize I’m a mess. Day one is pretty much done as I’m drunk and try to have some sensible slurred conversation with people and decide I need to leave before I might get recognized as some vagrant that hangs out around these parts.
Day 2: Mikkeller Bar SF / Mission Chinese Brunch
I met a couple friends here in the morning and we got to experience what it was like to sit in a booth for brunch. (If you really care, it was just fine!) The brunch included some alcohol because brunch isn’t brunch the way I brunch without having booze. I somehow forget this later and don’t order anything until I realize that, yes, they are a bar and happen to have a bunch of taps. The 3 Fonteinen Vintage Gueuze 1998’s are out (Great job to whoever tackled that task.), but the 99’s and 01’s are still game.
But when the day started, I was drinking some Mikkelladas they provided. Yes, that’s right, a take on the fantastic Mexican drink, the Michelada, that I describe as a bloody mary with beer. I kept forgetting to ask what it was, but eventually (drunk later in the night) I found out that it was the Mikkeller Tenderloin Pilsner with some sort of mix. Short review: it tastes like a chili beer with that pepper bitterness and it has a little heat, but not something someone who wants a michelada wants, but a nice homage. This definitely shined through some of the provided dishes for sure, for me it was the Kung Pao Pastrami Hash.
A bunch of swear words and beers were thrown around amongst us and we all left. Brunch was great and I had a bunch of beer before 5pm, we were all kind of drunk, and everything was fantastic. The sour room was christened at 6pm that night, but I think the proper event was actually the night before where everyone blasted through a bunch of bottles and it was quite fantastic. The day after was the dinner I didn’t bother getting a ticket for. After I finished up hanging around the city and I decided to come back for a proper stout flavored nightcap. I have to add a note that the communal seating tables they have set up are great and the staff were really attentive when I was at one.
I spent most of my San Francisco trip at Mikkeller Bar SF, and it was great. I’d definitely recommend it as a bar that’s actually nice on the edge of the Tenderloin. The inside feels like a romantic, dark Chipotle that wants to buy me dinner before getting me drunk and taking me home. They have a rad tap list and a surprisingly large bottle list of Cantillon, or at least for the grand opening.
But I’d definitely go back, next time I’m in the city and want to smash some rad beers.
Mikkeller Bar SF
34 Mason St
San Francisco, CA 94102