Jacques Bezuidenhout landed in San Francisco in 1998, having moved first from his native South Africa to London. He has since made a permanent mark on the cocktail world, first bartending, then training Kimpton Hotels’ bartenders and launching Kimpton bars around the United States, acting as a brand ambassador for a few spirits and traveling to distilleries around the world. Now, he’s back to his roots at The Forgery, a cocktail bar he opened in May with Ken Luciano and Plumpjack Group (run by Hilary and Gavin Newsom).
The chic-yet-relaxed Forgery is lofty but warm, with lots of wood and a soundtrack that ranges from ‘90s hip hop to The Flaming Lips and Johnny Cash. The cocktails are grouped by Classics & Twists, Forgery Originals and Friends, the latter showcasing one national and one international cocktail from industry friends around the globe. In the opening weeks, those drinks were Tommy’s famed Margarita from SF and Charles Vexenat’s Green Beast (Pernod absinthe, lime, sugar, water) from Bar 1805 Ibiza in Spain.
We talked to Bezuidenhout about why he made this move now, the magic of a good bar and why comfort is not overrated.
Forgery specializes in equal-opportunity drinking with cocktails like the El Vampiro (a smoky mix of mezcal, Manzanilla sherry and blackcurrant liqueur) as well as great beer and wine selections.
The Forgery seems like a big leap in a different direction for you. What made you sign on?
This was less of a plan and more like a really great opportunity. I was ready for something new. Joining Plumpjack right now feels like it did when I joined Kimpton ten years ago. Right now we’re in northern California because it’s our backyard. But the plan is to grow—and continue to grow. We already have keys for Lexington [a classic Mission dive bar], which should open in September.
Having launched and traveled to bars worldwide, what kind of bar did you envision creating when the Forgery was being conceived?
You’re never going to find the perfect space or create the perfect bar. You take the space you find—or that finds you—and you make it what it is. When you sit down, are you going to feel comfortable? How do the people there make you feel? So none of that geeky, uncomfortable [approach] to appease ourselves.
Right. Which bars make you comfortable?
When I look at the different bars I’ve seen in the world—top ten or 50—many different things inspire me. New York’s Attaboy. San Francisco’s Comstock Saloon. London’s Artesian and Montgomery Place. At Montgomery Place, you feel comfortable whenever you walk in there. And no one ever gives you a hard time if you don’t want to drink a cocktail. It’s funny, we get people at The Forgery who say, “I’m really sorry, do you mind if I don’t order a cocktail?” Please, we encourage you. The goal is to offer something for everybody: good wine, good beer, good spirits. Stuff that we essentially love to dig into.
So you’re clearly interested in drinks that go beyond cocktails.
We spent a lot of time on our wine and beer list, not just the cocktails. There are local beers on draft, international wines and seven sherries by the glass.
There’s something special about the cocktails, though. Like the Friends section. You probably know everyone in the industry, so that section of the menu must be one big opportunity.
Totally. I just wanted fun drinks from our friends that have a little bit of a story. Every month or so we’ll switch out the Friends drinks—we’ll always do somebody national and somebody international. Next month I’ll probably do the Breakfast Martini from Salvatore Calabrese.
Virginia Miller travels the world in pursuit of good food and drink. She has judged countless cocktail competitions and visited distilleries and bars in over 20 countries. Alongside her site, The Perfect Spot, she was Zagat’s SF Editor, the SF Guardian’s head critic and is currently Table8’s VP Content/Senior Managing Editor. She freelances for Food Republic, Liquor.com, Whisky Magazine UK, Drink Me Magazine and Eater.
Jacques! Such a great article. You were so so innovative, such an creative power in SF back in the day, and of course world wide. I am thrilled to see your accomplishments and influence and your new