Behind the Bar Snap Shot

3 Great Cocktails from the Most Anticipated Rum Bar Opening of 2019

Jesus Gonzalez mixing the Obispo de Cuba at San Francisco's Obispo Image: Tim Nusog

If Thad Vogler is known for one thing in the cocktail world, it’s his faithful devotion to spirits with a sense of place. His San Francisco venues Bar Agricole and Trou Normand are built around this ethos, showcasing spirits with an agricultural origin such as Armagnac, calvados and rhum agricole. Selecting each spirit from barrel tastings, he imports directly from small producers into the U.S. Meaning that if you order a cocktail at one of his bars, chances are it’s made with a product you can only find at one of his bars.

Vogler’s latest focus is rum, which anchors the cocktail list at his long-anticipated Obispo in San Francisco’s Mission District. “I’ve always loved rum and have worked, lived and traveled extensively in rum-producing areas,” says Vogler. “I enjoy the simple eating and drinking style in places like Cuba, Puerto Rico, Belize, Guatemala and Martinique.”

Obispo. Tim Nusog

Vogler says he has long wanted to open a place in San Francisco that captures the food and drink he has encountered in his travels to this part of the world. “Nothing too culturally specific,” he says. “Not a ‘Cuban bar.’ Just a place that takes inspiration from rum and rum-producing areas.”

That may seem like a tall order, but it’s one that Vogler has spent a long time preparing for. These are three cocktails that tell the story of Obispo.

Tim Nusog

Criollo Mojito #1

White rum, mint, lime, sugar, aromatic bitters

Three Mojitos grace the menu at Obispo, each featuring a different spirit. But these aren’t Vogler’s own takes on a single classic. All three Criollo Mojitos appear in “Bar La Florida Cocktails,” first written in 1935 by the Cocktail King of Cuba (and Ernest Hemingway’s preferred bartender), Constantino Ribalaigua. “Many people don’t know they were made with rum, gin or cognac in the original book,” says Vogler.

Obispo has a straightforward but appealing food menu—empanadas, Cubano sandwiches and the like—something Vogler kept it in mind while developing the cocktail list. “I really wanted to have a session drink for under $10 that people could drink while they eat,” he says.

True to form, Vogler was particular about the rum in Criollo Mojito #1. “It’s a Royal Standard rum, a proprietary blend created with Pacific Edge Wine & Spirits. We participated in the development of this blended dry white rum, and we’re excited about it.”

Dedicating three of his seven cocktails to Mojitos is a statement, but Vogler stands by the drink. “Mojitos fell out of favor in the ’90s and the aughts, but in Cuba, they’re still totally relevant. People have never stopped drinking them. Made correctly, tart and with a dash of bitters, it’s the world’s best Collins.”

Tim Nusog

El Presidente

El Dorado three-year-old white rum, Bordiga bianco vermouth, grenadine, dry curaçao

El Presidente is one of the great dry, spirituous rum drinks,” says Vogler. “We weren’t trying to be particularly innovative when we put it on the menu. This is a classic, and when it’s well-made, it’s invincible.”

As you’d expect, Obispo’s version comes down to the ingredients. For rum, Vogler uses El Dorado three-year-old, which, he says, “is the most like the Havana Club three-year-old, a great white cocktail rum.” It’s rounded out with Bordiga bianco vermouth from the Piedmontese Alps. The grenadine is house-made, and Vogler had a hand in the curaçao, too. “This recipe relies on a dry curaçao that we developed with our friends at Marian Farms here in California.”

Tim Nusog

Obispo de Cuba

Hamilton Jamaican pot-still gold rum, California red wine, lime

The bar’s namesake drink is also a Vogler discovery. Spotted by Erik Adkins, the bar director at San Francisco’s Slanted Door Group, it’s a cocktail documented by prolific midcentury cocktail writer Charles H. Baker Jr.

Having opened a bar featuring only Baker drinks—the now-shuttered Heaven’s Dog—Adkins is a veritable Baker scholar. He’s hardly the only one in the bar world, but the Obispo de Cuba had gone more or less undiscovered until now. “It doesn’t show up in ‘Jigger, Beaker and Glass’ or ‘The South American Gentleman’s Companion,’” says Vogler.

The drink itself is simple: Hamilton Jamaican pot-still gold rum, lime and red wine. “We had already named the place Obispo, so the name is fortuitous, to say the least. And the recipe, which Adkins found in an old magazine, calls for California red wine. What could be more perfect?”