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Since opening in 2014, beloved industry favorite ABV, in San Francisco’s Mission District, often lands on best-bars lists, wins Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards and draws drink industry regulars to its lofty laid-back space. But gazing down over ABV’s bar is a cozy upstairs mezzanine that has generally remained unused. Not anymore. ABV’s Ryan Fitzgerald, Erik Reichborn-Kjennerud and Todd Smith just opened Over Proof on February 2, with Flip-Flop being the first of its four themed bars rotating through the intimate space, each built around a single spirit category, offering a reservations-only tasting-menu format.
“Over Proof has been an idea we’ve been kicking around for some time, even before we opened ABV,” says Smith. “We’ve got such an incredibly talented group of people working with us, and launching Over Proof is a way to give our staff ownership to create something new and a little crazy. I mean, we are essentially opening four bars in one year. That’s a little insane, but it will be a lot of fun.”
Rum is one of the best representations of overproof spirits and a spirit that has satiated Americans since colonial days. So it makes sense the crew started here. “We figured people would expect us do mezcal, tequila or whiskey,” says Fitzgerald. “So we took on rum as a challenge, as well as a surprise.”
Naming the rum pop-up bar Flip-Flop, which runs until April 20 starting with a 7:30 p.m. seating on Thursdays and Fridays of five cocktails paired with food. But none of this is meant to be a strict tasting menu. “We’ve experienced tasting menus where these magical [food and drink] combinations are expected but aren’t always so ... we want people to have a good time and have an experience they wouldn’t necessarily be able to have downstairs,” he says. So imbibe and engage interchangeably as you wish.
It’s no surprise the first theme already shines with drinks inspired by classic rum cocktails, like the Jungle Bird inspiring their Pink Flamingo cocktail (rhum agricole, lime, pineapple gum syrup, absinthe and ABV’s Tiki-Tivo, a house blend of aperitivos) or a killer play on a Cuba Libre, a bottled and lightly carbonated combination of El Dorado 12-year-old rum, Bonal French apéritif and Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, which shockingly mimics the taste of Coca-Cola with refreshing complexity. There are also drinks like the Coconut Daisy, featuring Denizen three-year-old rum fat-washed with toasted coconut chips and mixed with Yellow Chartreuse, lime, simple syrup and a splash of bubbly.
At Flip-Flop, history and facts about rum, dishes and locations where rum is distilled play out whimsically in details like tropical glassware, bamboo and placemats sporting a map of the Caribbean islands and countries rum hails from. And vintage rum and beach-y vacation posters line the walls and ceiling.
On the steal of a $66 menu (including all food, drinks, tip and tax), six generous bites partner with five cocktails and a few shots of the featured spirit. Chef Collin Hilton and sous chef Nick Salazar craft a six-course food menu that nods to famed rum regions like Trinidad (Trini chow mein served in a Chinese takeout box), West Indies (smoked lamb curry and puffed rice on a fried plantain) and New England (clam Stuffies, a New England-style clam and andouille sausage stuffing baked in a cherry stone clamshell). There’s also a Hawaiian twist of house-made Spam musubi in rum hoisin sauce and a scene-stealing snack of banana chips dehydrated in Angostura bitters.
Each of Over Proof’s pop-up concepts will run for three months, with one week to turnover in between. The third and fourth themes for 2017 are yet to be revealed, but the next will be a worldwide whiskey bar (running May 1 through July 20), set to moody lighting and wood paneling. Each concept will be a complete design and menu overhaul with new spirits and themes, but there will only be four bars in total as part of Over Proof. After 13 months, Over Proof will end and make way for an entirely new concept in that upstairs space, a secret concept the team has also had planned since before ABV opened.