The Drinking Scene in San Francisco By Way of Poblacion
It’s one of those blink-and-you’ll-miss-it places, especially as it is situated alongside the brightly lit raunchier places in the Poblacion area. The signage is discreet, and the outdoor seating looks more like a summer house patio, different from the requisite table and stools of the other bars.
Still, Roy Murakami laughingly shares that there have been some confused patrons that have wandered into Bar Mathilde, looking for their specific idea of a ‘good time’. “You can spot them right away, and I sit and wait for the realization to come over them that this is not the kind of establishment they were looking for. They order one beer, then kind of look around and go ‘oh’. They finish the San Mig, and just head out. They are confused by the name perhaps, laughs. So I watch them sit there and get befuddled. I think that is one of the things that I like to watch for.”
The bar’s vibe is actually patterned after his favorite watering holes in San Francisco, where he is from. “Those were the places where you can just drop in and order a drink and you know that everyone there is like on your same wavelength.” More than just the drinking culture, he misses the culture of the city itself, especially now that it has become so gentrified by the tech boom in the area that even the hippies of Haight-Ashbury are feeling out of place.
“Before, you can go into a bar and get into a discourse, there was a certain level of intelligence among the patrons who are socially conscious and are articulated. That might be changing; the culture and arts are slowly dying due to the tech companies relocating there.” This, therefore, is the kind of clientele that he hopes to attract at Bar Mathilde, the low-key kind, who know what they want when it comes to drinks, food and ambience.”
There is no TV blaring a UFC match and no dart boards. Instead, thought-provoking paper art by Lala Gallardo hangs on the wall. Beer is not served by the bucket, and they specialize in drinks made with carefully chosen ingredients.
The choice of drinks also stems from Roy’s SF roots. As managing editor of review site Yelp.com in his past life, he was able to distinguish the good, bad, and ugly. “You have to keep your game buttoned up or you will get trolled online and people at San Francisco will not hold back on you online.”
On the job, he found a surfeit of the mixology and craft beer trends and this led him to gravitate towards out-of-the-way dives like a bar that specializes in a mean Bloody Mary or a bar with a surly bartender that adds to the character. There is too much pretension, he laments. “I don’t care if you do somersaults while you mix my drink, I don’t care if you foam a quail egg for my drink—fantastic, but at the end of the day, does it make my drink any better? No!” he grimaces.
He recounts an experience in a Hong Kong bar where he was served what he describes as the vilest old-fashioned cocktail that was red and syrupy. In another place, he was served a sour whiskey in the girliest glass on the planet with a maraschino cherry on top. “They assume it’s the ladies who will order it,” he explains. This is why he came up with the Bar Mathilde policy on drinks. “We don’t cut corners or take short cuts, and we always find the best spirits for your drink.”
The Darker Don
Barrel-Aged Corn Whiskey Negroni
His list then contains a curated lineup of mixes made with good quality ingredients such as American bourbons and ryes (try the deliciously potent corn whiskey Negroni , we had no hangover the next day). They have hard-to-find hardcore stuff like moonshine and California Common, the steam beer that is said to have started the whole craft beer buzz. Their whiskey sour comes with the disclaimer that it doesn’t come with “that tart, red premix bs” and the Cosmopolitan’s description instructs customers to keep the Sex and the City quotes down to a minimum.
Bar chow choices on the Sustenance list are lean and mean, headlined by their thin-crust pizzas that one will crave for long after that night of boozing. The Forestiere with ham, mushrooms, and a creamy egg is a must-try. A bit of heat can be found in the Dy-no-mite sticks and the Papas Bravas. Their lightly battered calamari is something out of the ordinary, where Roy made sure that it is not a repeat of the extremely rubbery one he had in the past where he had to go on chewing for a good 20 minutes.
He explains the philosophy he shares with his business partners Borgy Manotoc and Andrew Garcia, who thankfully agreed not to include someone’s gimmicky idea of putting in a chocolate-chip martini. “It is really a no-BS approach, even with the food. We assume that people of a certain level of taste will expect a different level of what is usually offered. We don’t have to dress it up, we keep it honest.” He shrugs. “If people don’t get it, it’s not for them. If they are looking to watch UFC and have their buckets of beers with sisig, I would gladly point them to the sports bars down the street, maybe there they can even find some warm company,” he jokes.
Bar Mathilde is at 8483 Matilde Street Corner Kalayaan Street, Poblacion, Makati City.