It’s fondly known as PCH, like the storied coastal highway that leads up to San Francisco from Los Angeles. But the bar’s acronym instead stands for Pacific Cocktail Haven, and the throughway it provides is between Asian and Pacific flavors and the bar’s classically inspired contemporary cocktails.
“We jokingly call it ‘Pandan Cocktail Haven,’” says the bar’s owner, Kevin Diedrich, in reference to the number of drinks flavored with the aromatic leaf that have consistently appeared on the bar’s menu since it opened in 2016. He cites pandan, ube, and calamansi as among his favorite ingredients to use in cocktails; it’s difficult to spot a drink on the menu that doesn’t feature a flavor from Asia or the Pacific Islands. Among his inspirations, he cites his own Filipino heritage and his wife’s Japanese-Hawaiian ancestry, as well as friends and colleagues from a variety of backgrounds. “A lot of it has been my travels, and the flavors that I’ve gravitated to in my personal taste, and my personal growth and my journey as a bartender,” he adds.
Diedrich’s bartending C.V. includes Bourbon & Branch in San Francisco along with Clover Club and Please Don’t Tell (PDT) in New York City. The former two provided a solid foundation in classics and modern classics, while the latter inspired him to push the flavor envelope with culinary-inspired creations. From those experiences, he gained both the cocktail know-how and the confidence to incorporate the Asian-Pacific ingredients that, when PCH opened, were found in drinks much less commonly.
“It’s been a seven-year journey of exploring these flavors and finding new ways to incorporate them,” says Diedrich. Calamansi, pandan, and ube are very different ingredients, he says, and it initially took several months of experimentation to find optimal ways to use them. “But once I got it, it was like the music was all lined up in this beautiful harmony of figuring out how to use these ingredients. Every day I’m trying to challenge myself with finding different ways to use them. It’s always been a journey, and it continues.”
That journey has produced signature cocktails like the Leeward Negroni, which Diedrich describes as “done the way a Negroni is supposed to be served,” which is to say, equal-parts spirits over ice, without any citrus or sugar. PCH’s version puts a tropical spin on the classic, however, with coconut oil working in harmony with pandan’s vanilla and buttery notes. There’s also the Thrilla in Manila, mixing bourbon, calamansi, coconut cream, shiso, and li-hing mui (salty sour plum, an Asian staple that’s also popular in Hawaii) into a tropical, creamy cocktail that’s simultaneously sweet and savory. And the Kinako Sidecar, inspired by kinako balls, a Japanese snack his wife enjoys, which are anko (or red bean) covered in ground soybeans. He plugged those flavors into a Sidecar by infusing cognac with red bean, adding Licor 43, coconut liqueur, and lemon juice, and rimming the glass with the kinako powder. “I love Japanese cuisine because it always rides the savory-sweet line,” he says.
For the past several months, PCH has operated out of a new location. One year ago, a fire shuttered its original space, right after it had reopened following the pandemic shutdown. It was a total loss for the bar, but also a chance to start fresh in a new space, just a few doors down from the original.
It might be tempting to invoke the proverbial phoenix, a bar rising again from literal ashes. PCH’s new home is much larger, and the bar is twice the length it was before. It now has banquette seating, soaring ceilings, and even an outdoor courtyard. And yet some guests don’t even realize the setting is new; they’ll come in and ask whether the bar has been remodeled, says Diedrich. He appreciates that the space seems so familiar to returning guests, but the bar’s new incarnation was designed and built from scratch. “We went full-on in terms of brighter colors and a brighter space, trying to embrace what PCH is,” he says. The result is tropical-leaning but tasteful, a space that encourages the sense of escapism the bar has always tried to provide.
That escapism is built into the team’s philosophy of hospitality as well. “We’re known for our drinks and we’re in the drink-making business, but the business we’re really in is the experience business and the relationship business,” says Diedrich. He likens a visit to PCH to seeing a movie. “For the 90 minutes that you’re [there], you’re escaping reality to feel better, and that’s what we like to provide our guests,” he says. “It’s about making it warm, making it cozy, and trying to extend ourselves to make a great experience.”