The Dark Horse Inn, 09.16.2016

Note, this is a collaborative post authored by both Missus and Mister Flannestad.

Aside from Old Bus Tavern, the place you are most likely to find the Missus and myself on a Friday night is The Dark Horse Inn on Geneva near Mission St in the Excelsior District.

Our exceedingly cool next-door neighbors also find themselves there on a regular basis, so we recently plotted to head there together to celebrate our shared discerning local expertise. It was great fun to enjoy the glee of their 5 year old son as he raced to the door in anticipation of the Dark Horse Inn’s secret kid’s menu item “chicken fingers”.  It was also hilarious when, in the spirit of buying rounds, we ordered him another glass of milk and he sighed, “I don’t need ANOTHER milk” when it was delivered.  It was not a double milk kind of night.

Last Friday night, we had the good fortune of being spotted at the bar by another friend (and a longtime Dark Horse regular) who graciously waved us over to join him and his wife at their table.  It turned out to be a wonderful night of trading stories, Midwestern brat haus experiences, and shared musical interests.  It was only after we realized that there were others waiting on our table, that we were able to tear ourselves away, and depart the good company.  On our way out we traded hellos and hi-fives with another regular at the bar who laughingly accused us of stalking him.

It’s this sort of friendly neighborhood atmosphere that reminds me a lot of the Taverns and Bars that the Missus and I grew up with in Wisconsin.

Dark Horse Inn keeps their beer taps filled with tasty and interesting local beers like Epidemic Ales’ Brain Bash, Local’s Hetch Hetchy IPA and St. Florian’s Bella Rosa Engine Stout (find Dark Horse’s always evolving tap list on BeerMenus.com). They also have a very good beer bottle list.

(For those of you for which only hard liquor will do, note The Dark Horse Inn is Beer and Wine only. Plan ahead, or bring a flask, if you really need a post work Martini or Manhattan.)

Most of all, their hamburger is our current favorite in San Francisco.  The Missus, (a beer geek who enjoys the eclectic tap list and evil eyes anyone at the bar who ignorantly orders an Old Style,) argues it’s consistently the hands-down BEST BURGER IN SF! They also offer unique daily salads, custom burgers, and other specials advertised via Instagram teasers. Chicken & waffles! Sunday night dinners! Brisket! We need to step-up beyond our regular Friday night visits to take advantage of these opportunities in deliciousness.

The non-alcoholic drink list isn’t fancy, but provides good options for grown ups, (even if the Mister would rather not have the taste of rose petals in his lemonade). Also, the free re-fills on regular non-sugary iced tea is an (un)sweet deal.

Dark Horse Drink Menu
Dark Horse Drink Menu

The Mister’s current go to non-alcoholic beverage is Milwaukee’s finest root beer, Sprecher Brewing, available at all times.

Sprecher Root Beer at the Dark Horse.
Sprecher Root Beer at the Dark Horse.

There are many options at the Dark Horse Inn beyond beverages, whether sitting alone at the bar or with a table of your ten best friends. Along w/ a few TV sets airing sports games there is always one screening esoteric film classics. What a pleasant array of options!

Whether you are craving a burger, the “Kimchi Reuben” (made with house smoked pastrami), interesting beer, good company, or all of the above, The Dark Horse Inn is a great place to go. Sit at the bar. You’ll probably make some new friends.

Is This Thing On?

Tap, Tap.

Check One, Check, Check. Is This Thing On?

Hi, my name is Erik Ellestad, and I write this blog.

Up until a couple years ago I wrote a Cocktail Blog called “Savoy Stomp“, worked as a bartender at restaurants like Heaven’s Dog, The Coachman, South at SF Jazz, &c., and helped host Savoy Cocktail Book nights at Alembic Bar.

However, as I was getting older, for various reasons, I was finding the balance of my ambivalence about cocktails, spirits, and drinking, was tipping towards, “You know what, the cons are now outweighing the pros.” So when The Coachman closed, I also decided to take that opportunity to take some time off drinking.

A sucky first month of not drinking turned into a good second month, and pretty soon it was a year. Now it is almost two years.

Up to this point, my strategy for not drinking has been primarily, to stop buying booze, stop making drinks at home, and to stop going out to bars. Period. Effective, easy; but I have friends and family that drink and I have friends in the bar industry that I miss, so I’ve started to slip back in, and sit at the odd bar stool. I’m talking again to friends I knew while working in the industry and realizing I do miss the social aspect of working and hanging out in bars.

However, the first thing I notice as a new teetotaler, is, outside of Food and Bev, myself and my old friends in the industry often don’t have a lot to talk about. Or we need to find new things to talk about. We worked together, navigated tough Saturday night after Saturday night, but small talk was more often about the drink nerdery, than what the kids are up to or what our hobbies or interests are. I mean, booze WAS my primary hobby there for the 10 years I was writing the Savoy Stomp blog. Partially my fault for being a bit of an obsessive personality.

Another thing I notice as a new teetotaler is that non-alcoholic drinks are often relegated to “Kids’ Menu” status in most bars and restaurants. If you’re lucky, a few lines at the end of a menu, and mostly drinks that are not very interesting to an adult palate. Literally, “Kid Stuff”. Sweet saturated fruit flavors with little challenge or bitterness.

Finally, I am noticing more that there are quite a few people who work in the Food and Bev industry who don’t drink for one reason or another. Or who are at the very least trying to work out a way to cut down on their drinking.

So, while learning to play clarinet at a grade school level is satisfying on some levels, I felt like there was something interesting to do with the experience I had with cocktails, the drink industry, and the fact that I was no longer drinking.

Maybe I could go out to bars and restaurants and look with new eyes at what they offered for non-drinking patrons, and be an advocate for giving more respect to non-drinkers on the menus and in the drinks they serve. Talk to some friends who didn’t drink about their choices while working in an industry that is pretty well pickled. Maybe post some recipes for actually tasty ADULT beverages without alcohol.

And most of all, kill the term “MOCK-TAIL” with fire.

Join me, won’t you?

We Must Drink Something

Talkative old lady (drinking a glass of milk, to enthusiastic teetotaler, who is doing ditto), “YES, SIR, SINCE THEY’VE BEGUN POISONING THE BEER, WE MUST DRINK SOMETHING, MUSN’T WE!”

Reluctant Teetotaler
Talkative old lady (drinking a glass of milk, to enthusiastic teetotaler, who is doing ditto), “YES, SIR, SINCE THEY’VE BEGUN POISONING THE BEER, WE MUST DRINK SOMETHING, MUSN’T WE!”

An-Ti-Ci-Pa-A-Tion

The worst part of not drinking is anticipating events and circumstances where I would previously have drunk copiously.

The days, and moments, leading up to these events, often find me grumpy and anxious, as I wonder what I will do if I don’t drink.

Once I get in the events, though, I find, they are pretty much the same, drinking or not.

I just have to let go of the compulsion to walk around with a beer, and the fear that I won’t be liked if I’m not imbibing.

It’s not a big deal.

I’m the same anti-social misanthrope, whether I drink or not.

We’ve Got 30 Years, That’s All We’ve Got

Back at the dawn of time, when I was young, the drinking age was 18.

Actually, it had changed to 21, but somehow, I ended up “grandfathered in” to the 18 Year Old Drinking Age.

To celebrate turning 18, I went out and bought myself a six pack of Augsburger Dark, hid it in the garage, and over the next several weeks, attempted to teach myself to like dark beer.

I turned 48 a few years ago.

I’d been cutting down on the drinking, sporadically, for the last few years.

At 48, I just thought, 30 years, that’s plenty. Maybe it is time to take a break.

I tried off and on, and probably did drink quite a bit less, but I still had the odd bout of binge drinking.

In fact, drinking less overall, nearly made the occasional binge drinking almost inevitable. Once you start surrendering your tolerance, (which was never really much of a tolerance to start out with,) then practically any drinking ends up being binge drinking.

Made it to 50 towards the end of 2014, still thinking, “enough drinking is enough drinking”.

But, the holidays are a hard time to stop drinking.

However, my wife and I usually take January off from drinking anyway, or at least try to. I don’t think, especially since I started bartending, that I’ve ever made it more than a couple weeks, without drinking at all.

So I thought, well, I at least need to prove it to myself that I CAN not drink.

I’m a grown up, I should be able to handle it, if I can handle it.

So, starting with January 1, 2015, I’ve been dry.

Plus & Minus

Over the last year or so, I have been thinking a lot about what I did and did not enjoy about bartending.

I actually enjoy talking to strangers.

Medium level acquaintances aka “regulars” can be the tricky ones.

Best example I can think of was a regular couple I found amusing, even if they did drink a little too much, especially the guy.

They’d come in and ask for dealer’s choice vodka cocktails. They always pretty fun to hang out with, despite requesting vodka cocktail after vodka cocktail, and stipulating that I never repeat a cocktail. Hey, I like a challenge as much as the next guy.

Then they got pregnant.

They continued to come in, often with a friend or two.

The wife would not drink, rather grumpily, while the guy continued on his quest to get as plastered as possible on vodka cocktails. Eventually, the wife would retire up to their room, leaving him down there with the friend or friends. Eventually, you could tell, even the friend wanted to go home, but the guy would just plow on. “One more for the road!” after “Just one more!”.

I just wanted to shake him and say, “Dude, wake up! Your wife is mad at you and your friend here wants to go home. Give it up!”

Yep, that’s me, “Mr Spectacles Judgy Guy”.

To an extent, sometimes I see a certain sadism to being a bartender. Some bartenders seem to enjoy and encourage other people’s bad choices. And customers just LOVE that sort of bartender, but the wreckage left behind always bothers me.

Especially, since I was always the one who would end up cleaning up the vomit after Mr Startender took an early powder.

Bartending, Not Drinking

“I mean, there are some people who enjoy bartending and making drinks, and do it without drinking, right?”

It’s funny, the people I work with in Tech are far more puzzled over me retiring from bartending than the bartenders I know.

Anyway, there are different classes of not drinking bartenders.

First, there are bartenders who don’t drink while working.
Second, there are bartenders who don’t drink with customers.
Third, there are bartenders who don’t drink.

In the first and second case, sometimes it is easier to say you don’t drink, than to risk offending someone by telling them you don’t want to drink with them or try to explain that you are a professional doing an actual job and don’t want to get wasted while you are at that job. A lot of bartenders have fairly elaborate and complicated methods for appearing to drink that shot you really want to drink with them, while at the same time only taking the tiniest taste. Me, I’ve never been very good at turning down free drinks or resisting the social pressure to drink. We all have our faults.

In the third case, yes, there are some professional bartenders who do not drink at all. Though, to be fair, most of the non-drinking bartenders I know have moved on to be managers, consultants, or owners, and don’t do a lot of actual day-to-day bartending. But, there are a few unicorns among the herds of stallions, mares, and asses.

In fact, when I’ve managed to get away with it, I enjoy bartending without drinking far more than I do bartending while drinking. But, you still have to taste your drinks and the products you’re pouring. So, if you have weak will power, like myself, and enjoy drinking, it is a very slippery slope.

Finally, most of the “good stuff” the bartending life throws at you is pretty firmly in the “free drinks” or “party lifestyle” category of experiences.

As I’ve said before, as a happily married, middle-aged, fairly prudish, (hey, I grew up Lutheran,) now non-drinking male, there’s just not a lot that the drink industry comes up with that is targeted at my demographic.

Pretty much every educational seminar or sponsored event I’ve attended for the booze industry could be summed up as, “free drinks with snacks”. If you’re lucky, there might be entertainment. If you’re not lucky, you’ll have to listen to someone drone on about the intricacies of what supposedly makes the industrial process they use for creating their product unique. But, mostly it is the free drinks, and for most people, this is an excuse to imbibe copiously. Wouldn’t you, if you had to listen to a presentation on the nitty gritty details of industrial gin distillation while hanging out with a bunch of people you don’t know very well?

I am lucky that I have had several different careers in different industries and, if I don’t bartend, I have other jobs I can fall back on.

On the other hand, nothing is certain. Perhaps in 5 years, when the tech industry bubble finally bursts for good, I’ll be back to bartending (or even cooking).

Psychic Anaesthetic

“What’s with the Water?”

“Booze tends to take the edge off. I want to stay angry.”

Best quote I’ve heard from “True Detective, Season 2”

“Psychic Anaesthetic” or “Emotional Prophylactic”.

Whichever you prefer, booze often gets a rap as emotional novacaine.

Somehow, drinking seems to make the emotional stress of dealing with others less.

I don’t really buy this one, at least in the long term.

I think it just puts off dealing with processing your feelings.

And if you just keep drinking, you can just keep putting it off.

Tales of No Cocktails

Haven’t done a status update in a while, so here goes.

I was working three nights a week at a restaurant called “The Coachman”. Had a few drinks on the menu. Good staff, good food. But, it didn’t take off. So they cut down bar staff and I ended up with only one or two shifts a week.

Then we were traveling for my birthday in October, 2015, and planned to be out of town with family for the December/January holidays. I told them to put my weekly shifts on hold, that I would just cover when people needed time off.

Shortly after we got back from the holidays, they decided to close The Coachman.

At that point, I was at a loss. I could look for more bar shifts elsewhere or I could try to find more hours in tech work.

I talked to my (Great! Excellent!) boss in tech and asked how likely it was that he would be able to find more hours for me at my day job. He said, maybe, but give him some time to shuffle things around.

I worked only part time at my tech job for a few months, then finally things started to work out with my day job and I got back to being a full time day walker.

So far, so good.

Which brings me around to the other thing.

As you’ve probably been reading, I’ve been ambivalent about the role drinking has had in my life for the last couple years.

But I just couldn’t get away from it while I was working in bars. You at least have to taste the drinks, wine, and spirits, which ends up being a slippery slope.

So, along with not working in bars, I decided to take this opportunity to take some time off from drinking. The first couple months sucked, but after hitting about the six month mark, with support from friends, family and the awesome Mrs Flannestad, I am becoming comfortable with it and feel better in my own skin than I have in years.

Haven’t decided whether I will go back to drinking and try to do “moderation”, but at this point…

So far, so good, why mess with a good thing?

PS. Perhaps you are thinking, “Yeah, that’s great Erik, but I don’t really give a flying fuck about you, what about the Savoy Cocktail Book Project and SavoyStomp website??”

Unfortunately, after one platform move and three hosting moves, the code behind the website had become unstable. Frankly, the database is corrupt, probably because of excessive spam comments or related factors. In any case, I took it down before someone really hacks it. Eventually, I would like to turn it into a static website, (Or a book! Illuminated Savoy Cocktail Book, anyone?) However, at the moment, I just don’t have the time (or the inclination) to revisit those 10 years of my life and dig through them again. If you’re looking for cocktail information, I’d suggest buying Martin Doudoroff‘s “Martin’s Index“. It’s an excellent app and most of the technical and drink information I uncovered over the years can be found there. You’ll just be missing my pithy personal insights and incorrect measurements. Maybe if everyone downloads his app, he eventually will be convinced to create an Android or web version. Ha!

The Wrong Drugs

My teacher was commenting on my somewhat quavery clarinet tone and I told her I had accidentally drunk too much coffee that morning.

Her reply was, “Coffee!? Why on earth would you drink coffee, you’re already highly strung?”

She went on to mention she drinks tea if she needs caffeine, but admitted that tea and coffee had different effects.

Anyway, she’s right, I am already highly strung. Why am I drinking something that makes me even more shaky?

Thinking back, I just thought coffee was cool and started drinking it as soon as my parents would let me partake. All the adults I knew drank it, so I figured I should be too.

Lately, I’ve been thinking along similar lines about alcohol.

I know for some people, alcohol makes them more outgoing, but for me, it makes me even less likely to engage with other humans, especially to talk with them.

Why have I been drinking all these years?

It’s the same. It sounded cool, I’d been reading about it. As soon as I was able, I taught myself to get used to the flavor. In the end, however, I really can’t think of much about drinking that takes my life in a better direction or gives me a good effect.

It is time to make some different choices.