A Twist of the Lion’s Tale
Bar Three Fifty-five resurrects a vintage cocktail with bourbon.
Patrick Lynch pours a mean Lion’s Tail.
Photo by Lori Eanes
Even for those of us who have been living and drinking in Oakland for more than a minute, it may be hard to remember when, exactly, the bar crawl that is now the Uptown officially began its life as such. I mean, we know when the Fox opened, and we know when The New York Times and Wall Street Journal climbed on The Town’s nightlife bandwagon. But there was a moment in 2010 when what had been a ghost town of shuttered watering holes suddenly lit up and sparkled. The first nightlight to wink awake was The Layover, quickly establishing itself as a prime spot for late-night dance-floor shenanigans. The second was Bar Three Fifty-five.
“To be honest, it was not the first place we looked at,” says co-owner Patrick Lynch. They tried to get into some other spots, but none worked out; then one day, his partner, Travis Dutton, drove by what looked like an old bar on 19th Street. The space itself has been a bar for at least 60 years. In previous incarnations the space had been Softnotes, Don’s Cactus Room, and Al’s Cactus Room. The latter two of those were sports bars—Raiders bars, specifically.
As Lynch is a musician, the days full of footballers have segued to nights of pre-gaming Fox indie rock shows and eclectic DJ sets ranging from yacht rock to ’60s soul, French pop to blue-collar ’70s radio rock, much of it spun by Bay Area musicians.
The bar’s cocktail menu pays homage to the building’s long libational history with the kinds of twists on classics that Oaklanders love—Three Fifty-five’s most popular drinks are Manhattans and a G & T featuring the bar’s housemade tonic. For this issue’s cocktail of the month(s), Lynch is resurrecting an old recipe he found in Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails: the Lion’s Tail. The book ascribes the drink’s name to the term “To give the lion’s tail another twist,” meaning to test the British spirit, but, having taken down a full coupé of the aromatic, foamy concoction, I’d say its name comes from another Britishism, this one a bit premature for this issue but perfectly suitable for this cocktail, given its slightly acidic forefront and sweet afterglow: March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. The Lion’s Tale is built on the barrel-selected Buffalo Trace bourbon that Three Fifty-five chooses based on regular samplings from the distillery, but any good Kentucky bourbon will suffice. Absolutely essential is the allspice dram, which Lynch admits is quite expensive. “I can only use a little bit, otherwise we’d have to charge $12. It’s not San Francisco yet.”
The Lion’s Tail
2 ounces barrel-selected Buffalo Trace bourbon
1/2 ounce fresh-squeezed lime
1/2 ounce gomme syrup
1/2 ounce St. Elizabeth allspice dram
Two dashes of Angostura bitters
Shake all ingredients over ice. Double-strain and then pour into a coupé, neat. Garnish with lime wheel.