Note: This is the first of (hopefully) many posts introducing our readers to cocktail spots in the San Francisco Bay Peninsula and South Bay. Good cocktails have reached us here in the
sticks suburbs and country and we encourage locals to try these places. If you are out of the bay area, you can still read about some great drinks and get some inspiration.
For many bay area residents, downtown Redwood City is probably not the first place they would look for a gastropub. And if you are curious, “gastropub” is a recent term to define a British-inspired pub that features high-end food and spirits. Gastropubs are not “bangers and mash” joints, but truly high-end restaurants and bars that feature local, artisinal foods and quality spirits. Gastropubs led Britain’s unlikely charge to the heights of international cuisine, so it is a treat to have a good gastropub in the heart of the peninsula.
And this brings us to Martin’s West in Redwood City. Established in 2009, Martin’s West is a true gastropub located in the historic Alhambra building, a refurbished old-time saloon and theater, first opened in 1896. The current space features tall ceilings, and exposed bricks and beams, giving it an eclectic, pub-inspired interior. The main room features a long wooden bar with plenty of stools, multiple tables, cozy booths and even an alcove by the front windows. Martin’s West is a welcoming spot that feels comfortable like a pub, but also polished, refined, and slightly metropolitan.
In addition to the comfortable, welcoming atmosphere, Martin’s West features Scottish-inspired food from local ingredients, a great beer selection and a deep menu of single-malt scotch. We are big fans of chef Michael Dotson’s food at Martin’s West (the house-made pickles and charcuterie are favorites), but we are frequent visitors for the cocktails. Led by GM/partner Moira Beveridge, Martin’s West regularly features 10-20 cocktails with a good mix of old-time and creative, modern drinks using fresh, seasonal ingredients. We posted on the popularity of the Moscow Mule, and Martin’s is known for their interpretations of the Manhattan, and these drinks are worth a visit. But we were lucky enough to visit Martin’s West just as they added a few new cocktails to the menu.
We started with the “Sunny Brae”, a combination of Flor de Cana rum, cane sugar syrup, lime, grapefruit and maraschino liqueur served on the rocks with a grapefruit twist. This is an adaptation of a Hemingway Daiquiri, but the use of the Nicaraguan rum and cane sugar syrup adds welcome sweet and funky notes. The large grapefruit twist adds distinct citrus aromas and makes for an attractive presentation. The Sunny Brae is great cocktail for summer and a drink you could certainly make and enjoy at home.
The next creation we tried, the Argyll, takes us to the other side of the cocktail spectrum. A combination of Springbank 12 year old scotch, Cherry Heering and Green Chartreuse, the Argyll is a “night-time” drink. But this is a fascinating concoction. The question of using of single-malt scotch in cocktails is sometimes contentious (and potentially expensive). But respected mixologists like Gary Regan and Jim Meehan make the point that if done well, a drink with single-malt scotch provides a whole new range of flavors outside of most traditional cocktails. In this case, the scotch provides the dark, peaty flavors and some heat (Springbank 12 yr. is strong, boozy stuff), the Cherry Heering adds sweetness and fruit and the Chartreuse features herbal notes. The Springbank still leads, but the flavor profile is expanded beyond the scotch. The Argyll may not be for purists, but it’s a creative drink that many will enjoy.
Finally, we sampled the Kumquat Crofter. This cocktail is the most unique and interesting drink we tried and a good example of modern mixology. The Kumquat Crofter combines Azul Tequila, candied kumquat syrup, St. Germaine, Champagne and a dusting of black salt on the rim. The Crofter has balanced sweet, acid, sour, herbal and bitter notes. The black salt and champagne add a noticeable zing at the start and finish of the sip. Both of us had the same response- the Kumquat Crofter tastes like artisan gin, refreshing but with surprising citrus and botanical notes. Some may question the idea of a tequila cocktail that tastes like gin, but the Kumquat Crofter is truly intriguing and keeps you coming back for another taste. It’s an enjoyable drink and an example of how cocktails continue to evolve, and it is very, very tasty.
We encourage any food or cocktail enthusiast in the Bay Area to give Martin’s West a try. It is a quality destination for food and cocktails and a comfortable place to pass some time with friends. We will be sure to provides updates as Martin’s West adds new, seasonal drinks to their menu.