Bartender and bar owner Kevin Diedrich has come to help define the modern San Francisco cocktail scene. Before launching Pacific Cocktail Haven (colloquially known as PCH) and Kona’s Street Market, Diedrich has spent over two decades in the industry, logging stints at legendary bars like Clover Club and PDT in New York City, before relocating to his old stomping grounds in the Bay Area. In the years since, he’s been awarded American Bartender of the Year by Tales of the Cocktail Foundation’s Spirited Awards, as well as a recent nomination by the organization for Best U.S. Bar Mentor. PCH has racked up its own impressive array of plaudits, including Liquor.com’s Best Craft Cocktail Bar of 2022.
Now, Diedrich is embarking on a new project with a revival of San Francisco Cocktail Week, an event that first launched in 2007, originally in partnership with the nonprofit Barbary Coast Conservancy of the American Cocktail, which stated an aim to “reserve, promote and advance the Cultural Heritage of saloons and their cocktails in the San Francisco Bay Area.” While the original run of S.F. Cocktail Week ended over a decade ago, the loss of the event created what Diedrich considered to be a longstanding hole in the city’s cocktail culture.
His relaunched experience, which will run from May 8–11 2023, will be reimagined as AAPI Cocktail Week, focusing on the cultural contributions of Asians, Asian-Americans, and Pacific Island cultures to San Francisco’s bar scene and beyond. We caught up with Diedrich to talk about what prompted his decision to revive the event, his focus on showcasing the AAPI community’s impact on the Bay Area, and where he hopes to take things from here.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
The original S.F. Cocktail Week ended over a decade ago, long before you even launched Pacific Cocktail Haven. What do you feel has changed in San Francisco’s cocktail scene, or even more specifically, with the AAPI influence on the city’s drinks culture, since then?
I mean, culturally, you know, S.F. has always been growing with cocktails, from the veteran bartenders to the younger bartenders. And one [of the] greatest things that we’ve been seeing culturally, not just in San Francisco but in a lot of cities, is people embracing their heritage and embracing those cultures and pushing those flavors forward. Not just AAPI, but everywhere around.
I think that there is just more awareness and it has built more community, because community is all built from cocktails and food, right? Communion—eating communion and drinking communion—this is all just a way to pull all the cultures together. Launching AAPI Cocktail Week was about aligning with the month of May, but also representing the strong heritage that we have in the Bay Area, that’s a melting pot of Asian heritage.
PCH is known for its use of Pacific ingredients—you’ve jokingly referred to it as “Pandan Cocktail Haven.” What do you feel that bartenders from around the U.S. and the rest of the world can learn from AAPI Cocktail Week and the culture of San Francisco, and bring to their own establishments around the globe?
A lot of it is just highlighting the culture and the flavors and the different stories that everyone has. You know, everyone, every bartender, has a story. Every bartender has a cultural heritage. I think telling those stories and sharing those personal experiences is what eventually evolves into flavors and evolves into a cocktail.
When we talk about memories of food and memories of cocktails, it’s always about nostalgia. That’s what we always hit for. We aim for the experience, you know. It’s not always about making the best cocktail, it’s trying to evoke an experience in a memory for everybody, because remember, at the end of the day we’re in the relationship and experience business. We can convey that through a drink and through a bite of food. I think that’s just a way of sharing culture.
Eventually, the goal of S.F. AAPI Cocktail Week is to start bringing a lot of people from across the U.S. and smaller markets, even from Asia, to kind of share their stories as well. So we’re just in a community of sharing techniques, sharing different flavors, and sharing different types of stories for this culture. I think it’s important to drive this forward, especially in the Bay Area where we haven’t had anything like this for over a decade, as well as some of those smaller, or non-coastal markets.
"Every bartender has a story. Every bartender has a cultural heritage. I think telling those stories and sharing those personal experiences is what eventually evolves into flavors and evolves into a cocktail."
Speaking of that goal to bring in others from outside of S.F., you’ve got a bar from Phoenix coming in for the relaunch?
Yeah, that’s KHLA, in Phoenix. They came across my board and they’re just like this really inspired, like, pan-Asian cocktail bar, and I was just like, “Oh, that’s amazing. That’s in Phoenix.”
That’s kind of what I was gearing for, was to eventually be able to bring out people from different regions that are doing amazing things and highlighting them in a place like S.F., because it’s all still cocktail culture. It feels like it’s always San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Boston, or places like Los Angeles or Miami, that are getting all the attention. But bars in other markets are doing amazing things. This is a way to try and put that on a platform and highlight them in our city.
So yeah, they’ll be coming up to San Francisco, and doing a pop-up where they take over Kona’s [Street Market] with these super awesome eight or so cocktails from their menu, and show people their style of service and hospitality, and share what they do in Phoenix.
Who else is coming in?
So, Tuesday [May 9] is Thunderbolt coming in from Los Angeles. I got this opportunity to work with them about a month ago, and the bar manager, Tom Liu, is super talented and awesome, and I managed to talk him into coming up and making some drinks. Then Thursday is a ticketed event, where we selected 10 bars in the Bay Area—I’ve got a bar from Fresno coming, a bar from San Jose coming, and then some other bars in San Francisco like Alchemist, Members Only, Good Good Culture Club, Derrick Li from Dragon Horse, Will Cao from The Progress, Suzu from Wildhawk… there’s about 10 of them setting up shop in Kona’s for that Thursday, just highlighting their drinks.
What made you decide that this was the moment to launch AAPI Cocktail Week? And where do you plan to take it from here?
Honestly, I just got this seed in my head and was like, we have to do it now, because if I put it on the back burner for next year, who knows what’ll happen? But the goal is to keep this going and growing over time because it’s something the city has been missing.
Like, Brooklyn has BCB [Bar Convent Brooklyn], and New York is very connected to Europe and European bar culture. I’m hoping to create that relationship with the West. Representing friends from Singapore, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and be able to tap into the Pacific side of everything, from Thailand to the Philippines—to really be able to highlight the “PI” of AAPI, which gets left out a lot of time. I’m hoping to create that kind of beacon for San Francisco and the Bay Area, for the culture.