A bar like Bon Voyage takes time to create. Especially in San Francisco, where timing is a fluid concept often held hostage by permitting, and in Bon Voyage’s case, unforeseen construction delays that dragged on for months.
But, like the persona invented by BV Hospitality founders Josh Harris and Morgan Schick, Bon Voyage is up for anything. They even created a persona for the bar: a word traveler exploring Southeast Asia and Africa in the 1950s, collecting art and mementos along the way, who then settles in 1970s Palm Springs to throw fabulous disco parties with great Chinese food and creative cocktails. And just like that, a bar is born.
The intricate creation of a bar with a personality, a story, a whimsical interior, and drinks to match shouldn’t be a surprise coming from the team behind Trick Dog, whose bi-annually rotating menus already take up a large portion of the duo’s creative brainpower, and is the precursor for their new cocktail lounge and restaurant, whose menu will also see constant seasonal rotation.
Part of the magic: Inventive bitters, cordials, syrups, and tinctures that are brewed in-house by Alfie Spears, the group’s head of R & D. Spears has been with the company for four years, turning a simple prep job into a more intensive position and acting as a driving creative force within the company. Big picture cocktail creation is largely driven by Schick, but involves all players, including Bon Voyage general manager Kimberly Rosselle and bar manager Elliot Clark.
At Bon Voyage, “world flavors” are the common thread that binds together the cocktail menu, which includes influences from Africa, Asia, and its subcontinents. Though sometimes tropical, the drinks don’t fall squarely into the tiki category, says Schick.
“Tiki focuses primarily on rum and we decided to use all spirits,” says Schick. “It’s more brandy and gin focused than rum, but without being exclusive.”
“We started with classics then changed the flavors,” says Schick. “It’s the post-modern practice of reinvention.”
Thus, a martini with kiwi vermouth is on the menu, accompanied by a “Bananarac!,” which is a sazerac made with rye, brandy, banana, banananisette, and bitters. An entire section of collinses (including Joan, Phil, Edwyn, and Bootsy) offer simple, fizzy sips with flavors like pandan and pineapple.
There’s also a Thai iced tea with cashew milk made from cashews soaked in pineapple juice. A date shake is made with dates that have been stewed with cinnamon, cardamom, clove, and cumin, blended with rum, Scotch, and Carpano Antica, then topped with an avocado foam and a “life everlasting flower.” The Marbella is a margarita at its core, but made with Van der Hum, a South African liqueur typically made from African tangerines that Spears makes with papaya instead.
Sustainability is also top-of-mind when creating cocktails at both Trick Dog and Bon Voyage. “We’re trying to be more conscious of those things,” says Schick. That includes the addition of the “garbage sling,” inspired by the trash tiki from the no-waste cocktail pop-up Trash Tiki, which includes gin, tepache, rice milk, ginger, honey, and BV! sour, and utilizing waste to create components like a syrup made from roasted avocado pits.
Wines are all natural, a broad term but which by Bon Voyage standards means “all native yeasts, not necessarily certified biodynamic or organic, and sulfites are ok.” On the beer front, Oakland’s Ale Industries collaborated with the team to create the “Sling Beer,” a Kolsch-style beer with pineapple, cherry, and ginger. Otherwise beers run the gamut from Budweiser to Stiegl Lemon, which can be paired with a shot of soy sauce (“trust us,” the menu advises).
Accompanying the cocktails’ extreme variance of flavor and style is a menu of Chinese food from chef Wilder Marroquin, a veteran of kitchens like Betelnut, Chubby Noodle, and China Live. A section of the menu is dedicated to items “from the wok,” like kung pao chicken, salt and pepper prawns, and fried rice. Dumplings like xiao long bao and potstickers, and a selection of “other things” like Szechuan eggplant and fried pork spring rolls compose the remainder of the menu, which will be served til 2 a.m. nightly. (Check out the menu here.)
The space that is now occupied by what will surely be one of the Mission’s hottest new bar openings in years, was once the home of restaurateur and chef Charles Phan’s original location of the Slanted Door, and most recently Urchin Bistrot. Now, it’s undergone a renovation at the hands of designer Wylie Price (The Progress, Ramen Shop), bringing Harris and Schick’s dreams to life. Two levels with two bars create a buzzy space with seats for dining, drinking, and mingling.
Harris, who is an avid hunter of vintage treasures, scoured the Alameda Flea Market, estate sales, and the internet to bring home an array of exotic animals, from an enormous wood-carved lion shipped from Florida to the wooden zebras and giraffes that line the bar. An enormous disco ball dangles from the ceiling, giving the room an extreme retro party vibe.