Leslie and I recently had a chance to stop in and chat up the crew at the Sycamore Den in the heart of Normal Heights. We parked off street & ducked-in through the back entrance. The scene waiting inside made us look at each other & smile. Light from yellowed vintage glass fixtures are dimmed low. Bright orange leatherette, wood paneling, a warm fireplace & shelves of booze. Street traffic is creating reflections that dance along the long polished bar. I feel like I just stepped back in time.
Modeled after your Dad’s (Grandad’s) den (circa 1970’s) Sycamore Den is all things cool. Complete with vintage shotguns, guiiitars & banjos on the walls, all throughout the venue spaces. Spaces are broken up by polished brass, lava stone & all trimmed with gorgeous woodwork. Slip into the giant overstuffed leather booth while the snapshots on the walls take you back in time to another era altogether. Ten Speeds, target practice & flathead Harley D’s. The photo’s recall memories of dad… when dad was cool. Dad dressed like a dude & dad had a mustache…. Wait. Dad was a hipster? Before there were any hipsters? Ha! They also understand that Mom was a badass in her own right & Sycamore Den takes care to include the fairer sex wherever & whenever. Notice, even the Flat screen TV is cleverly disguised as your parents vintage console TV set. Old school pinball, video games & a Fortune Teller like in the film ‘BIG’. Genius. Unpretentious. Thoroughly enjoyable.
Jesse Ross Sycamore Den
We’re greeted by Jesse Ross, (bar manager for the past two years)… we’re given a quick tour of the venue followed by a brief history lesson. The sycamore Den is the Brainchild of Owners Nick Zanoni (a cool dad himself) and Eric Johnson… they got together with designers Bells & Whistles to create a space… nay… a community hub, known as Sycamore Den. Surrounded by other stylish pubs, eateries & variety of neighborhood businesses on Adams Ave., Jesse likes to call the Sycamore “A very safe space”… Where everyone is made to feel welcome. A space that finds great Music, DJ’s & even Burlesque on any given night. A gathering spot for the locals & a destination for the informed. The volume is kept low enough for conversation, but loud enough to be a scene… without being obnoxious.
The drink list is anything but boring. A masculine menu that’s got a heavy emphasis on top shelf whiskey, rye, and bourbon (in craft cocktails and on their own). Cocktail names like Crime of Passion, Scotch Pillow and Forbidden Root, dare you to sample. Leslie happily acknowledges the lack of sweet & sugary elixirs & funny named shots that years ago had us all puking in the bushes after a few rounds. The drinks are well thought out & well conceived – many reflect fresh local ingredients & the seasons… as best you can in San Diego (yeah, it was near 80 degrees in winter when we visited). I took notice of a solid lineup of local craft beers on draft. Tap handles including Beach Grease, Thirty Two North, Fall Brewery, Thorn Brewery, Coronado & Modern Times (to mention a few) shows off their knowledge & support of SD Brewers. Jesse explains how Sycamore looks forward to a possible collaboration w/ Thorn by this summer. He also gives mad props to Modern Times as a great example of, “A great San Diego company with a solid business model” He goes on to say… “They make a really great, straightforward beer, they hire good people, they open in smart locations” The conversation leads to sours, Bivouac Ciderworks and more consulting, but that’s for another story for another day…
We asked Jesse if he wanted to single out one top employee. He did & and his choice was quick. He wants to introduce Shelby – this issue’s featured mixolologist.
Shelby Atkinson is 25 years old and hails from San Antonio, Tx. She moved to San Diego about 6 months ago and started at Fairweather and You & Yours before finding her home at Sycamore Den. She started bartending originally at a cocktail bar in San Antonio called the Brooklynite. After that she started spending her free time studying cocktails and working on new recipes, at which point it became as much a hobby as it was a job. She’s a welcome addition to the Sycamore crew and the culinary flare to her drinks makes her a unique and very talented up and comer.
Forbidden Root – featured cocktail
1.5 oz Aquavit/Vodka blend 1 oz Fresh carrot juice 1/2 oz Fresh lemon juice 3/8 oz House ginger syrup 3/8 oz house turmeric syrup
Shaken, pour on the rocks, garnish with a lemon wheel and a few sprigs of fresh cilantro