For the Love of the Craft
San Diego is well known for great weather, beautiful beaches, sunny dispositions and exceptional beer. In the cocktail world, it hasn’t always been on the radar. Now a homegrown movement is fully under way and credit for the spark can be given to a local favorite, Polite Provisions.
Polite Provisions was founded by a cocktail mammoth, Erick Castro. It’s located up the hill from where the San Diego Chargers play and just down the street from where I went to elementary school, in the neighborhood of Normal Heights. It is not your average dive and not even your average upper level cocktail bar; it is in fact a truly extraordinary locale and has garnered nationwide accolades. Along with being voted locally as the “Best Bar in San Diego,” it was also awarded “Best American High Volume Cocktail Bar” at Tales of the Cocktail. More recently, it made the Imbibe 75, Cocktail Bar of the year for 2014. Yes, you can say that this spot is legit.
This “Manufacturer of Local Tonics, Elixirs and Cures” is unique in a city that hasn’t always been a cocktail mecca. Riding a wave of enthusiasm for our craft and for all things fresh, it has helped turn the tide in America’s Finest City. In many ways, it has not only met but has also shaped the demand of its patrons. I spoke with Lead Bartender Brian Prugalidad about the resurgence of drinking unique and local. He mentioned, “Our clientele has begun to demand the fresh. From our house-made simples, sodas or artisan root beer, we think that there is always room for more; we want to stay ahead of the curve.”
When I visited Polite Provisions, I was fortunate enough to have Brian show me all of the goods. He made me some wonderfully executed cocktails, powerfully prolific punches and deviously devised non-alcoholic delights. He finished with the results of their draft cocktail program. This is just a small part of being “ahead of that curve” as Brian mentioned. These cocktails on draft are something that they’ve been doing for years now. Out of the five different draft cocktails that they feature, I tried many of them which were delicious and easily replicable by the bartender. One impulsively good standout was the “Mr. Brownstone.” Even though I had 8 cocktails in front of me, this delicious cure for the common whiskey & coke was not left unfinished. Made with smooth Irish whisky, bitters, winter spices and a house-made cinnamon soda, this gem was abound with drinkability!
Part of the genius of Polite Provisions is that they are able to balance service while effortlessly giving the craft experience. It’s very too easy for bartenders to be bogged down with numerous intricate multi-step cocktails that were designed by people who never have to make them. Polite Provisions doesn’t fall into this trap. What they do is the epitome of having good ideas and actually being able to produce them. While they do artfully create unique cocktails, they are also acutely focused on the execution and the speed of service. Along with the cocktails on draft, one other tool they employ is the classic punch bowl. Deriving from the Hindi word for 5, they are abound with more ingredients. Along with being an homage to the first cocktails ever, they bring people together with communal drinking and enable a harmonic, triumphant and euphoric buzz!
There was not an ounce of pretense when I was at this very “cool” place. It can be a hard balance to strike for many, but even with all of their accolades they are somehow able maintain their perspective. They strive to give a complete and encompassing experience and therefore are not afraid to buck trends as long as the outcome is tasty. They have several sparkling wine libations on the menu, along with some obligatory yet very interesting beer cocktails. The one category that has been shunned by many cocktail snobs also has a proud placement on the menu, the Dessert Cocktail.
As I mentioned, they want to be all encompassing and are even thinking about the alcohol averse. For many of us booze-centric imbibers it is hard to even fathom the nondrinker, but at Polite Provisions they are steadfast in giving the complete experience and provide many nonalcoholic options. One of the many artisan sodas on draft are sure to quench your thirst while their own house-made soda options give a tasty sense of place; from the Tropical Phosphate, the Balboa Park Fizz or the famous Egg Cream, they can all make your wagon ride feel much more comfortable.
As Brian clearly yet confusingly described, the concept of Polite Provisions is, “Roman bath house in the golden age of soda jerk, pre-repeal of the Volstead Act.” This characterization did hit the nail on the head. Polite Provisions has a unique yet familiar feel; it takes notes from a lot of eras with a classic American & vaguely European aesthetic. The vibe was hip yet welcoming and centered on quality of product and experience. Next time you are in Normal Heights please put it on the top of your list. In a town with a lot of things to do, Polite Provisions is the worthiest of options for lovers of all things craft.
4696 30th St.
San Diego, CA