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All That Remains Is the Glass

Scott Lucas | December 9, 2013 | Story Wine and Spirits

If the most famous thing about the old Tosca was Sean Penn, the second most famous thing was its signature House Cappuccino: a concoction devoid of coffee but topped with brandy, best sipped while sitting on a faded barstool, having the kind of bull session you haven’t had since college.

But when the near-century-old bar reopened in October under new owners, Ken Friedman and chef April Bloomfield of New York’s Spotted Pig—complete with a shiny new kitchen and a rustic-chic Italian menu—the cocktails had been glitzed up. And the faded barstools? Draped in upmarket red leather.

As for the House Capp, the now two-month-old version comes with Marie Duffau Bas Armagnac, Buffalo Trace bourbon, Dandelion chocolate ganache, and organic milk—a far cry from the old one, which used a charmingly brandless brandy (“Who knows?” a shrugging bartender said) and good-enough Ghirardelli chocolate.

Some things haven’t changed. There’s still no espresso in the drink, and it’s still heated with the original Dr. Seuss–style steam contraption. The bartenders even use the same six-ounce glasses that, in a 2011 San Francisco Chronicle article, owner emeritus Jeannette Etheredge complained were being hoarded by the Buena Vista cafĂ©. But progress does have its price. The Capp has doubled from $6 to $12 (making us wonder: if an apartment can have rent control, can’t a cocktail?).

The Capp certainly tastes better now, but it also turns the bar banter from ruminations on Allen Ginsberg to debates over the merits of single-origin chocolate and the mouthfeel of the foam—a bull session for the bohemians of 2013. 242 Columbus Ave. (near Broadway St.), 415-986-9651

Originally published in the December issue of San Francisco

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