As the sun set on an unseasonably cool Sacramento evening, signs of life sprouted all along the R Street corridor on Thursday night. Anthony Giannotti buzzed the hair of a client in a barbershop chair at Bottle & Barlow, while craft cocktails flowed at its adjacent bar near the corner of 12th and R streets.
Bottle & Barlow, a hybrid bar and barbershop, was in the midst of a series of “soft openings” to fine tune its service and work out kinks before opening to the public on Saturday. Meanwhile, down the block at the Warehouse Artist Lofts, its public market was buzzing with customers. By 8:00 p.m., word started filtering to Bottle & Barlow that Fish Face, the poke bar run by Kru’s Billy Ngo, was near sold-out of product.
But it was all a taste of activity that’s expected to blossom more as the R Street corridor continues to develop. Amaro Italian Bistro & Bar, which is overseen by the team behind Shady Lady, is expected to open at 11th and R streets by year’s end. Other nearby buildings are slated for redevelopment, and along a slate of restaurants which recently opened down the street (Iron Horse, Roxie and Dos Coyotes), R Street is quickly becoming a key destination for local food and drink.
Thursday’s soft opening of Bottle & Barlow attracted a who’s-who of Sacramento food and adult beverage industry to sample cocktails and perhaps size up the competition. Attendees included members of the de Vere family, plus personnel from the Paragary Restaurant Group, Shady Lady, Red Rabbit and other watering holes. But one of the most refreshing aspects of the local craft cocktail industry is the lack of player hating among businesses. Instead of muttering between sips about an increasingly crowded playing field for cocktails, or nitpicking the drinks themselves, many of these folks took to social media to “check in” or post cocktail-themed selfies in praise of Bottle & Barlow.
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The bar at Bottle & Barlow remained fairly slammed through the evening. The drinks themselves are an excellent addition to Sacramento’s acclaimed cocktail scene, with a variety of housemade tinctures, bitters and mixers that result in creatively refreshing cocktails. The “Ponzu Scheme” adds a touch of umami flavor by including a mixer that’s based on soy sauce and citrus (but minus the usual bonito shavings in ponzu). Coupled with a pour of smokey Scotch, Cocchi Americano and orange marmalade, this multi-layered drink could soon become a Sacramento signature. The “Machete” was also a hit, which takes mezcal through a touch of tiki with coconut cream, lime and green Chartreuse.
The space itself is sharp and crisp, like a newly purchased Fred Perry polo shirt. The rectangular-shaped Bottle & Barlow is filled with steel fixtures and a slight edginess in the midst of its modern decor. The men’s bathroom is decorated with oversized reproductions of punk rock flyers from Sacramento’s past. (Full disclosure: A flyer listing a Dead Kennedys two-night stand at Club Minimal came from my collection). Along with rekindling memories of mosh pits from years gone by, the flyers also highlight a keen sense of localism and slice of Sacramento’s cultural history. They remind of a time when Sacramentans often had to make their own fun, whether it was renting the Clunie Clubhouse at McKinley Park to throw a homegrown punk rock show or heading to the aptly named Club Minimal - which is now an auto body shop next to Track 7 Brewery Co. in an industrial section of Curtis Park.
But 2015 is a much different time, with a flurry of places opening to imbibe and play. Entrepreneurship seems everywhere, a craft cocktail just about wherever you turn in the central city. The sidewalks are already filling with foot traffic on R Street through this trickle of business openings. Enjoy the elbow room while you can.