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Chinese-Themed Pop-Up Cocktail Series Called Tiger and Crane Popping Off Next Week

It's a four-part series starting Monday night that brings together kung fu, cocktails, dim sum, and Monkey King.

Samuel Houston and William Tsui are Tiger and Crane.
Samuel Houston and William Tsui are Tiger and Crane.
Noelle Chun

In the continuing trend of pop-ups across San Francisco, there is a new craft cocktail pop-up series called Tiger and Crane quietly opening up in the East Bay this Monday, November 2 — and with kung fu references, steaming baskets of dim sum, and a classic Chinese Monkey King theme to boot. The cocktail brains behind the series are William Tsui (former bar manager at Jasper's Corner Tap and Kitchen) and Samuel Houston (former bar manager at three-Michelin-starred Saison). The duo worked together in previous pop-ups with Manresa chef de cuisine Mitch Lienhard and are known for incorporating unusual kitchen tactics to create unique cocktail ingredients.

This time, they're taking over Itaba, a sushi bar in Piedmont on Monday for one night only from 7 p.m. to when supplies last. Monday's pop-up, with operations run by Raymond Gee (Jasper's) will feature three original cocktails ($10 each) and hot plates of dim sum from Tsui's family friend — har gow (steamed shrimp dumpling), siu mai (pork hash dumpling), and a vegetarian dumpling ($5 each) — as well as cold bottles of Tsingtao Chinese beer. You can just show on up to get in on the fun.

Tiger and Crane is named after a classic kung fu movie from the '70s in which two styles of martial arts — strength and elegance — have to come together to achieve a goal. It's a fitting name for a pop-up series that is taking the ever-popular craft cocktail trend and bringing it to sometimes-forgotten Asian restaurant bars across the Bay Area, a setting not particularly known for cocktails right now. The pop-up series is themed to four mythical and beloved Chinese classic novels. The first theme for the pop-up is "Journey to the West," the well-loved fantasy about the Monkey King. "In the Monkey King story, he is bringing the scriptures across the bridge," Tsui said. "That's like us, except that instead of scriptures, we're bringing bomb ass cocktails." Each of the cocktails represents a different aspect of the Monkey King stories and incorporates ingredients that are common in Asia:

The Dragon Green Tea Collins

Samuel Houston's The Dragon King Collins. Photo: Noelle Chun

The Dragon King Collins is a tall and frothy combination of fortune cookie-infused Bombay Sapphire gin, Old Tom gin, matcha-infused rum, green tea simple syrup, fresh lemon juice, and soda, topped with coconut milk and a dousing of matcha powder as garnish.

Defiance of the Emperor

William Tsui's Somersault Cloud is named after the Monkey King's ride, which allows him to jump huge distances. Photo: Noelle Chun

The Somersault Cloud is shaken with cognac, egg white, coffee-infused Taiwanese grade B honey, and lemon.

Defiance of the Emperor Milk Punch

The Defiance of the Emperor is a clarified milk punch. Photo: Noelle Chun

The Defiance of the Emperor is a milk punch with scotch, gin, black tea, grapefruit, cantaloupe juice, cinnamon bark, black sesame, and demerara sugar syrup, all put through a clarification process using cream and coconut milk.

After the "Journey to the West" this Monday, the duo will run pop-ups tied to other Chinese classic stories familiar to many Chinese families (keep checking this Facebook event for future dates and locations). This includes "Water Margin," the story about 108 bandits who form an army; "Romance of the Three Kingdoms," which is a historical military novel that dramatizes the epic warriors who fought during China's feudal period in the first century; and "Dream of the Red Chamber," a steamy romance novel. Houston and Tsui will make a unique menu of cocktails to pair with each distinct theme, saving the Red Chamber for last. For them, the theme is a little sentimental, a little tongue-in-cheek, but also about expressing their style in a fun forum; it's meant to be less serious and more of a creative exercise. "This is about the journey," Houston told Eater. "But it's also saying, ‘Welcome to us.'"