Bourbon & Branch

photography Justin Lew

The noble experiment

Long after Prohibition ended in 1933, the influence of the Capone Era still lingers in the historical Tenderloin District of San Francisco. Bourbon & Branch is a window into the 1920s, when the sale and consumption of alcohol was banned across the U.S.

Hit the buzzer on its unmarked wall today and unknowing bar hoppers will still find themselves being turned away at the door (hint: a secret password, given online, is required for entry). Butto be sure, the novelty bar is not as exclusive as it’s often made out to be—such aberrant behaviors are part of its undying charm.

Unwavering from the exacting codes of conduct set in stone since it’s creation, there are strict house rules that guests must abide by. For one, you must “speak easy”—a manner of quietly addressing the barkeep without raising suspicion. Further in keeping with the authentic speakeasies that managed to ward off prohibition agents back in the day, Bourbon & Branch is mapped out like a scavenger hunt with furniture that shroud hidden passageways: a revolving bookcase on its back wall opens up into a communal bar area.

Once starry-eyed patrons have had a chance to settle, a team of seasoned mixologists—guided under the supervision of bar manager Joel Baker—are at hand to assemble whimsical drinks that are as labor intensive as they are del-icious. This means you have to wait a bit longer than usual before your lips hit the glass. Appealing to both the novice and the not-so-novice drinkers, popular confections like Prelude to a Kiss,
Blood & Sand, and Death in the Afternoon make for perfect offerings to city-dwellers hardwired to be seduced by magic, all the while forgoing the political turbulence of the past.

– Kee Chang