Getting Serious About Cocktails

Kingman’s Germain Jackson is good for your soul.


Photo by Lori Eanes

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Sometimes the invasion of Oakland by San Franciscans isn’t that bad.

Take Visa Victor, for example: A veteran of such storied (and in many case, late) West Bay bars as St. Mary’s Pub, Skip’s (now the Lucky Horseshoe), Sadie’s Flying Elephant, and the Argus, Victor now thrills the afternoon shift at Kingman’s Lucky Lounge with the benefit of his experience. “I used to work some closing shifts, but got tired of going to bed at 4 a.m.” Now he works on fixing up the house he bought in West Oakland, hits the Jack London and Lake Merritt farmers’ markets for seasonal ingredients, and then mans the bottles at Kingman’s on Saturdays and Sundays, 2–9 p.m.—“good drinking hours”—with a different menu each weekend.

Victor considers himself a boozologist: “I’m really sloppy. I’m not a mixologist.” That said, he doesn’t taste his drinks, but rather relies on his 16 years as a bartender, finding the niches no one is filling to make just the right mix of just the right drinks for the weekend in question. For December’s cocktail of the month, for example, the runner-up was the Confession, a truth serum concocted of Maker’s Mark, Fernet Branca, agave syrup, and lemon-chocolate bitters: The agave gives it a round sweetness, the textured herbaciousness of Fernet stimulates your imagination, the lemon and bitters remind you of dirty secrets, and the bourbon and chocolate sweet-talk them out of you.

Or, as the lady up the bar squealed when I gave the rest of mine away to her (such are the vagaries of cocktail journalism, when one must keep one’s laptop on straight): “It smells like Christmas!”

But the true star that shines above Victor’s inventive holiday stable is the Germain Jackson, which he came up with, years ago, at the Argus. “It’s like a Cosmo but that’s putting it down a little bit; like a lemon drop but there’s no lemon in it. It’s like when you were kid, and they make you drink the blood of Christ, which is always Welch’s grape juice. That’s why I came up with it—I wanted to do something with grapes. No one was doing anything with grapes.”

This is a vodka drink for non-vodka drinkers—a candy-sweet treat with a ginger kick to keep you warm through the turn of the year.