January 17, 2017 – “The Bitter Liberal” is not just an apt political descriptor for most of us right now, it’s also the name of drink you can order on the new bar menu at Soif Restaurant and Wine Bar in downtown Santa Cruz. After securing a liquor license last summer, Soif has been quietly introducing an eclectic cocktail menu for patrons who frequent the wine-centric restaurant. Owner Patrice Boyle, who just celebrated Soif’s milestone 10th anniversary, says, “We are rolling out the cocktail program and I feel as though we are finally solid on that front.”
“Solid” was certainly my impression when I first visited the bar and ordered something other than a unique grape varietal, admiring the careful stirring, muddling and general joy-for-concocting that our young bartender displayed. That first round of drinks was memorable, and I now have a hard time going back to wine when I visit.
According to Alyssa Twelker, Soif’s wine director, the idea behind the cocktail bar is to “parallel the aesthetic behind the wine selection, but with spirits. For instance, we have a large list of vermouth and amari that were procured from an old cellar, all bottled in the 60’s and 70’s.”
That appreciation for the rare, interesting and special is what Soif is all about. But until recently, the approach was limited to wine. Twelker explains, “The wine bar was founded on the not-so-simple premise of bringing very specific wines to the Santa Cruz community and providing a great place to meet, procure, and consume them. The wines are reflective of their place and their culture, that’s what we set out to do, and it is definitely the funnest thing we do. The spirits and cocktails provide a new venue for exploration!”
They enlisted two friends from San Francisco to help design the current cocktail list and put together the bar. Former Santa Cruzan, Megan Daniel, who manages the ultra-hip White Chapel Gin Bar, and her partner Matt Huang, bar manager at Kin Khao, remain on-call as consultants. But, Twelker says, “Going forward, we expect that our new lead barman, Manny Hernandez, a Watsonville local, will be creating new drinks and adding classics to the menu as well.”
And more collaborations are in the works, highlighting our talented local spirits community with some exciting events coming right up. On January 24th, Soif is hosting a cocktail event with Sean Venus of Venus Spirits and Katie Blandin Shea of Bar Cart and Golden Bear Bitters. This is a natural meeting of minds as both companies adhere to the small-batch, terroir-driven philosophy that Soif presents. “We already use Venus in a number of our house cocktails, so this is a fun opportunity to experiment with new recipes. The Golden Bear Bitters and Tonics are so unique and delicious, and they are all made from local fruits and botanicals,” says Twelker.
Also, on February 25th will be “The Chartreuse Experience”, a thorough tasting for only 15 guests in the upstairs dining room, covering the history of Chartreuse “through a series of craft cocktails that take us through the seasons,” Twelker says.
Additionally, they are working on a collaboration with Liz Birnbaum of The Curated Feast. Liz came up with the idea for a special Soif “mini feast” to create a sensory experience to illustrate an article coming out in Santa Cruz Waves. She provided them with a list of key ingredients from the story and they created the rest, including a cocktail by Hernandez, and an entree and dessert by Chef Mark Denham. Exact dates are still being nailed down, but expect it to be offered sometime in February and March.
Like I said, it’s hard to stick to wine at Soif these days. And that tendency could actually be a real concern for a restaurant whose whole reputation was built on the stuff. But Twelker explains, “We’ve found that there is a bit of a throwback to the days of having a cocktail first, and then wine with dinner. The first cocktail slows the dining experience. Guests are as enthusiastic as ever about our wine selections, but now they can also have a perfect martini before sitting down to their dinner and delicious bottle of Cornas. I do love hearing ice hit the bottom of a shaker behind the bar on a busy Friday night…it’s exciting and energetic and entirely new for Soif.”