Thad Vogler’s Bar Agricole has reopened on Mission Street at South Van Ness in the 40-story Fifteen Fifty building. For now, the main room is open by reservation only, but soon they will open the slightly more casual “package room,” along with a small retail shop selling the bar’s selection of spirits to go.
Customers consuming their drinks on-site can currently choose between eight cocktails, priced between $15 and more than double that, though adjustments to the menu should be expected. In the name of journalism, I tried them all.
Returning After a Rough Patch
The venue is Vogler’s one remaining business after shuttering restaurants Trou Normand, Obispo and Nommo during the pandemic amidst reports of lawsuits from unpaid vendors and from the city over health insurance payments, bounced employee paychecks and a volatile work environment. At the new incarnation of Agricole, Vogler says he is attempting a flattened management structure and a focus on the liquor store aspect of the business.
For years, Vogler worked with an importer to bring in bottles of French brandy and other spirits that showcase a sense of place, specifically to use in cocktails in his bars. These drinks only further showcase the spirits within them, rather than hide them among strongly-flavored syrups and sodas. At the new Mission Street location of Bar Agricole this cocktail philosophy is equally apparent.
Regular customers will recognize a few drinks on the menu, including the Rye Gin Old Fashioned and Ti’ Punch that embody the house style of spirit-forward, minimally-modified cocktails.
Easy Access: Showcasing Citrus
The most accessible drinks on the new bar’s list include a rich and mellow riff on the Brown Derby (bourbon, grapefruit, honey), which is called “Single Cask Bourbon, Citrus, Honey” here, and the Agricole Rum Punch (rhum agricole, red wine, lemon). Fair warning: It is dangerously drinkable and greater than the sum of its parts.
Double Up With a Comparative Cocktail Course
A single drink order can result in double fisting, as the Old Fashioned here is split into two drinks with different bourbons from Leopold Bros. in each. These whiskeys were made identically (same mashbill, age and proof) yet the drinks taste wildly individual, revealing the unsubtle range of flavor between one barrel and the next. One is grain-forward and floral; the other rich and slightly fruity. Though not listed on the menu, the Daisy—made with destilado de agave (uncertified mezcal) and plum syrup—can similarly be split into two glasses with spirits distilled from different agaves in each. One is briney and bright, like pickled green peppers; the other waxy and mineral-forward. As these are unaged spirits, this delicious exercise reveals the variation between similar distilled succulents.
Old & ‘Improved’
Drinks that would traditionally be served up in bowl-shaped cocktail (“Martini”) glasses here are instead offered in light and thin stemless glassware, reinforcing their preciousness. The prices do too—the spectacular Improved Cocktail with armagnac, vermouth, maraschino liqueur and orange bitters will run you $24. (The drink’s title is not a boast but a naming convention of the late-1800s wherein a simple cocktail is ‘improved’ with dashes of flavored liqueurs like absinthe and curacao.)
How ’Bout Them Apples?
The least expensive drinks on the menu are $15 and include the “Single Estate Apple Brandy, Pineapple, Lemon.” The cocktail—which comes with a secret splash of Chartreuse—has the aroma of a Swampwater or Chartreuse Swizzle, but tastes like a Sour Apple Martini for the rich and famous. And I mean that in the most complimentary way. It is great.
Going Big: The $32 Cocktail is Totally Worth It
The aforementioned Improved Cocktail, along with the elevated appletini were my favorites, but the drink with the heftiest price tag ($32) may just be the star of the show. The “100% Islay Single Cask Scotch, Cherry Brandy, Curaçao & Aromatic Bitters” borrows the flavor profile of the much-maligned Blood and Sand (scotch, orange juice, Cherry Heering liqueur and sweet vermouth in equal parts) and weaponizes it. It features Agricole’s Islay whisky selection, house cherry liqueur and sour cherry bitters, aromatic bitters, orange curacao and just a spoonful of lemon juice. In this drink, unlike in the others, bolder backing flavors are employed to stand up to the scotch, to great effect. It is smoky, rich, rounded and fruity; a flask of whisky and a cherry hand pie eaten next to a campfire.
540 Mission St., San Francisco
Camper English can be reached at [email protected]