What makes a bar sustainable — that is, outlast its peers, gain a slew of loyal regulars, and one day be deemed a “legend,” “icon,” or “institution”? Beyond the kind of bar where everybody knows your name, this bar is one that people rally behind to save in hard times; the one that gets memorialized in movies and television shows; and a place people visit just to say they’ve been there. For the trio behind Casements, the two-year-old modern Irish bar in the Mission, theirs is an uncommon approach to getting there: building a bar made up of responsibly sourced, ethically made products.
Opened by Gillian Fitzgerald (Virgil’s Sea Room, WesBurger), Sean O’Donovan (Mission Bowling Club, Driftwood), and Chris Hastings (the Lookout, WesBurger) right before the world changed in January 2020, Casements has been repeatedly written about as a “different kind of Irish bar.” But that difference goes beyond its sophisticated aesthetic and upscale, creative pub menu, extending to how the team approaches all the sourcing for its bar, down to the spices used in a cocktail. A new bar menu at Casements highlights liquors like Jin Jiji from Goa in India; Limavady Irish single malt whiskey; Paranubes rum out of Oaxaca; and the woman-owned and produced Yola Mezcal.
“It’s not the easy way to do things, that’s for sure,” says Fitzgerald. “To curate it takes a lot longer, there’s a lot more money and effort put in. But I’d rather spend my money that way so that you the consumer spend your money that way. Our profit margins may suffer, but to me, it’s about the longevity of it — creating conversation, creating regulars. We want to be here for 50 years,” Fitzgerald says.
When Casements set out to create a new bar menu, Fitzgerald had recently opened a bottle shop in Palm Springs with other partners (PS Bottle Shop), and had been delving into portfolio after portfolio for sourcing; Fitzgerald estimates that 80 percent of the products carried at the bottle shop are women, BIPOC, or LGBTQ-created and owned. The bar has always centered Irish products — Fitzgerald says there are upwards of 45 Irish distilleries making “delicious” whiskeys, gins, ice apple wine, you name it. “One of the reasons we opened the bar in the beginning — it was right around the time of the housing crash, which was especially affecting Ireland — so we thought, how can we help over here? Pushing forward Irish hospitality, as well as showcasing new and emerging Irish products,” Fitzgerald says.
“First and foremost our bar is about community, about what an Irish bar is in Ireland. There’s no scene but there is a scene, you know? Everyone’s welcome. So we wanted to reflect that with our bar products,” says Fitzgerald. The Jin Jiji gin, for example, is the first of five gins Casements is stocking from India.
There’s a reason for that, Fitzgerald says. “Gin is very much a British spirit — a lot of its roots are in the U.K. and London. But the ingredients – juniper berries, cardamom — would have been sourced from Britain’s colonies, one of them being India,” Fitzgerald says. Therefore, they’re purposefully highlighting gins from India, rather than the U.K. A “Diaspora G&T” cocktail on the new menu is one of Fitzgerald’s favorites — “A simple drink like a gin and tonic can be one of the best cocktails out there, it just comes down to the ingredients.” The “diaspora” in the name comes from the coriander in the drink, which the bar toasts — it’s from Diaspora Co., where Casements sources a number of spices used in cocktails.
The new menu is more than just a showcase for thoughtful sourcing — it’s also a mid-century design moodboard. Casements worked with graphic designer Kristine Arth for it and other design work at the bar, like bottled cocktail labels, and Fitzgerald is emphatic about Arth’s role in building the menu of their dreams, influenced in great part by the iconic Pan American look from the heyday of flight travel, which Fitzgerald says the trio has had in mind since before they opened the bar.
It’s also the first menu the team has done collaboratively with the bartenders, and Fitzgerald emphasizes how much they all brought to the table. “We wanted to teach anyone who started working during the pandemic whatever they wanted to do, and that included learning bartending and creating drinks,” Fitzgerald says. There’s a collective ethos among the staff, Fitzgerald says, of promoting businesses they align with socially, which “not only makes for a better cocktail but brings awareness to folks about where their alcohol comes from and who actually profits from the dollar they are spending.”
Still, “I’m not trying to force anything on anybody,” Fitzgerald says. “But if people are interested in understanding and knowing who they’re supporting with their dollars, we’re a good spot for them.”