Make Westing is easily the best bar to open in Uptown in quite a while. It's not just me, either: The place has only been open for a month or so and is consistently packed.
Most of this has to do with the space itself. Except for maybe the newly-opened Vitus, it must be one of the biggest bars, square-footage-wise, within city limits. This, you guys, is crucial. It's easy to get so accustomed to the hegemony of the sweaty, gropey, impossibly crowded hole-in-the-wall dive bar that you kind of forget how great it is to walk into a place on a Saturday night and actually be able to sit down, move comfortably, and raise your arms above a fifteen-degree angle. (Spoiler alert: It is in fact really, really great.)
Owners Glenn Kaplan and Chris Foott apparently hired a pair of veteran design types to harness all that space — formerly a jewelry store — and turn it into a bar, mostly by virtue of dark surfaces, steam-punk-ish details, industrial-looking furniture, and a truly staggering amount of succulents. Overall vibe: inviting but not desperate; quietly trendy without trying too hard; relaxed but not lazy — a rec room with the metaphorical volume turned up to eleven (the actual volume, by the way, is nicely not too loud). It is all but impossible to feel uncomfortable here.
That's more or less exactly what owners Kaplan and Foott were going for, to hear them tell it. Kaplan comes from various bars in Brooklyn and Foott from the British pub scene, but before that, they both came from the East Bay. And with Make Westing, they said, they were looking to celebrate the city and the neighborhood with a relaxed, relatively no-frills place with cheap drinks and low-key merriment.
"I just want to make fun drinks that people can enjoy — and afford," Foott told me a few weeks ago. Mission unequivocally accomplished. The cocktail list, which was masterminded by Caroline Pagel of Sea Salt, manages to be both decently priced ($6 during happy hour, which runs 4-6 p.m. weekdays, or $8 regularly), and, by and large, unfussy and delicious. (Caveat: They can occasionally fall on the sweet side, but stick with beer or ask the bartender to go light on the simple syrup and you'll be happy.) The garden gimlet, in particular, is woodsy and refreshing and wonderfully un-sweet — perfect for summer, or whatever it is we're experiencing right now. Like everything at Make Westing, it's undeniably well-designed — the way the faint spiciness of the basil nestles up next to the coolness of the gin; the crispness of the cucumber slice floating on top — but it doesn't feel that way.
This in, essence, is the greatness of Make Westing: It's the kind of place that hires top-shelf designers to make tables salvaged from Urban Ore; that reels in brand-name mixologists to create four-ingredient, six-dollar drinks; that's unabashedly thoughtful without feeling over-thought.
The only downside to Make Westing might be its name, which is a little awkward and hard to remember. (A couple weeks ago, I was trying to meet someone there and texted him the name; he replied by asking if I meant to say I was at male wrestling. Laughs were had.) The moniker is well-intentioned, though — an homage to famous Oaklander Jack London, who wrote a short story of the same name (it's about a sailing expedition around Cape Horn to California, and it's pretty good — Google it).
In any case, ignore the name and go there immediately.
Good news for fans of sangria, limoncello, herb-infused spirits, and other fruity, spice-y, liquory awesomeness: Last week, Governor Brown signed a bill reversing an age-old ban on bars infusing liquor with their own fruits, herbs, and other flavorings. Take a sec to wrap your head around the double-negative and you'll see that the bill — SB 32, sponsored by State Senator Mark Leno — is a clear boon for drinkers and bars alike, both of whom have been stymied by the Prohibition-era state law. According to an online petition circulated in support of the repeal, "The original law was intended to control the production of spirits being distilled outside of the parameters of the government (i.e. those not paying taxes on illegally distilled spirits, or rather, moonshine). As we move farther away from this time, the spirit of that law couldn't be more irrelevant, while the letter of that law has proven incredibly problematic for a very large group of people — those hardworking and creative people in the bar and restaurant business." The petition only got 635 online signatures, but no matter: The ban was lifted immediately after Brown signed the bill — which means you can go ahead and order your infused liquors right this instant if you'd like. ... San Francisco Cocktail Week came and went last week. Boozy highlight: the East Bay Showdown, on Thursday, September 22, which pitted eleven local bars against each other in a crowd-judged drink-making contest and at which Flora emerged victorious with its Bulldog Smash (Bulleit, Cointreau, peach, mint, lemon juice, and sugar). Get pumped for 2012, East Bay.