San Francisco is undoubtedly a drinking town, and all that booze can add up, inspiring Hayes Valley resident Dinah Sanders to begin researching low-proof alternatives to her favorite cocktails. Her new book is The Art of the Shim, which has been nominated for the 2014 Spirited Awards’ Best New Cocktail/Bartending Book. We caught up with Dinah to talk favorite Hayes Valley drinking holes, local cocktails and the changing face of the neighborhood.
What inspired you to write this book? What's behind the low alcohol trend?
"A love of cocktails inspired me. I'm a huge fan of 'brown, up, & stirred' drinks like the Manhattan as well as other heavy-hitters like a good gin Martini, but at 5'2" there's a distinct limit to my capacity for them. I began collecting serious, low-alcohol cocktails as a way to enjoy more drinks in an evening while still keeping my wits about me—and the next morning unimpaired."
What are your favorite spots in the neighborhood for a drink? Any favorite drinks in particular?
"We are incredibly fortunate in our neighborhood drinking spots. Off the top of my head, and hoping I don't forget anyone, here are some favorites:
Two of the opening menu low-proof drinks from Two Sisters Bar & Books, The Iggy and the Port of SF, are featured in my book, and Michael Cecconi was one of my bartender-models for the photos. I'm also a huge fan of Matty Conway and the team at Brass Tacks; my favorite drink there is the sherry-based Spanish Prisoner. At Absinthe I'm partial to the Inner Peace, which packs a bit more kick despite its mellow name. My fellow Spirited Awards nominee Smuggler's Cove is absolutely reliable for world-class cocktails, both tiki and otherwise; let them show you what a Daiquiri really can be. Boxing Room's NOLA-chelada at brunch is a winner and I love carrying a Vieux Carré from South into a show at SF Jazz. Oh and I must call out the great beer choices, especially the deep dark stouts, at Fig & Thistle. Now I'm thirsty!"
How long have you lived in the neighborhood, and what do you like best about it?
"I am a happy Hayes Valley resident. I moved here first in 2002, then was in the Castro for a few years, came back in 2007 and have no intention of leaving. What drew me to the neighborhood, and keeps growing better and better, is the sense of local community. That doesn't come without effort and I'm enormously grateful to those who've fought to tear down the freeway, create Patricia's Green and Proxy, establish the chain retail ban, and play hardball with developers to allow the neighborhood to grow without becoming generic. Our next challenge is to maintain diversity in the face of success as rents go up and long-time merchants and residents are at risk of being priced out."
Anything else we should know about you, your book or your background?
"My background, like the world of cocktails is eclectic, and just as I've found my life can encompass bookstore ownership, a library degree, software product management, and booze writing, so too is there room for drinks mild or strong, sweet or dry, casual or fancy. With The Art of the Shim, my goal is introduce people to the full spectrum of cocktails and help those who might otherwise not get to enjoy this classic ritual to find the right drink for them."
You can find The Art of the Shim online here, or around town at Books Inc., The Booksmith, Cask, Umami Mart at The Perish Trust, plus Nosa Ria Market and The Green Arcade in Hayes Valley. If you see Dinah around town, be sure to raise a glass.
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