Dreaming up drinks for more than 15 years on the West Coast, Marjan Simovics, 35, has a few tricks up his sleeve. He has to—managing a bar in San Francisco necessitates pushing the envelope. It’s a mixology scene that includes a customer base full of cocktail connoisseurs.
To keep the drink menu relevant, cocktails rotate quarterly, and Simovics is always on the lookout for new elements to incorporate.
“I get inspired by the ingredients and exotic small-batch spirits that are available in the Bay Area, like Terroir Gin by St. George Spirits,” he says. “Many of my cocktails are ‘farm to bar.’”
Simovics has an experimental streak, too—consider the boundary-stretching, squid-ink-based Octopus’s Garden.
“Squid ink was probably the most unusual ingredient I’ve used in a cocktail,” he says. “It seemed a bit outlandish at the time, but its saline character turned out to be a great complement to this Tequila- and amaro-based cocktail.” Simovics has also turned to radishes, as in the Root for Brute cocktail, made with spicy radishes, brut Champagne and unaged whiskey—but he’s currently loving vinegar.
“As much as there’s nothing revolutionary about [vinegar] anymore, vinegars are underutilized, considering how great of an addition they can be to a citrus-based cocktail,” Simovics says. “It’s a different type of acid, with more depth and flavor than lemon or lime could provide.”
And while unusual ingredients pique customers’ curiosity, Simovics also enjoys the more traditional side of tending bar.
“I find great pleasure in creating well-balanced drinks with a layered flavor profile while using the least amount of ingredients possible, which [is] considered to be more of an ‘East Coast style’ approach to bartending,” he says.
Bourbon & Berry
Courtesy Marjan Simovics, bar manager/beverage director of B Bar SF, San Francisco
“My goal with Bourbon & Berry was to showcase early-autumn flavors while making sure the base spirit—a rye-driven Bourbon in this case—doesn’t get overpowered by the berry-like character of the Sirah,” says Simovics. The cocktail also features vinegar, one of Simovics’s go-to ingredients.
1½ ounces Bulleit Bourbon
½ ounce Petite Sirah
½ ounce Bonal Gentiane-Quina
½ ounce lime juice
1⁄3 ounce maple syrup
3 dashes Angostura Bitters
1 dash Peychaud’s Bitters
12 drops Big Paw Mission Fig
Balsamic Vinegar (available at bigpawgrub.com)
Fresh mint leaf, for garnish
Combine all of the ingredients, except the mint leaf, in a cocktail shaker over ice and shake 20 times. Double strain the mixture into a chilled coupe glass, and garnish it with a fresh mint leaf.