San Francisco’s first cannabis cocktail bar blooms at Cafe Flore
Flore in the Castro is ground zero for the legalization of medical marijuana movement, where pot activist Dennis Peron and Brownie Mary met and began their fight to make medical marijuana available to AIDs patients legally. To honor that historic meeting, the cafe is now serving cannabis cocktails—but they’re probably not what you think they are.
The café and bar along Market Street in the Castro known for its expansive patio, is serving cannabidiol CBD spiked drinks. CBD is one of the primary cannabinoids present in marijuana (another being THC), but lacks the psychoactive properties you associate with cannabis. It’s hard to not dismiss it as a gimmick, like hemp liquor and all the other legal marijuana products advertised in your spam folder. Even with its history, or perhaps because of it, the idea can feel a little like a marketing stunt.
“We realize we are the first and being scrutinized from a lot of different corners of our city,” said Terrance Alan, co-owner of Flore on Market, and chair of the city’s 22-member legalization task force.
“For that reason, we have been following strict dosing protocols coming from the Colorado experiment and ones that I believe we will find to be overly conservative once the excitement and fear around cannabis fades from the public discourse.”
At the West Hollywood location of Gracias Madre and its upscale restaurant sibling Gratitude in Newport, they began serving hemp stalk-derived CBD spiked cocktails last year. What makes the drinks at Flore unique it that they are using CBD concentrates extracted from six different strains (OG Kush, Jack Herer, Sour Diesel, Gorilla Grape, Red Hindu, and Lemon Cookie) complete with their aromatic terpenes.
Alan and his business partner Aaron Silverman worked with Chris Emerson, Ph.D., co-founder of the pot extract company, Level, to create the CBD concentrates. Emerson’s company makes cannabis concentrates sold at dispensaries, mostly cannabis oil cartridges for vape pens. The CBD concentrates Level makes for Flore are a further purified version of what they already make, so it didn’t require any more process development. What’s notable about the concentrates is the distinctive flavors and aromas from the various strains remain present.
“Each individual flavor profile from a given terpenoid blend absolutely comes through,” says Emerson.
Alan and Silverman also hired 2015 Chronicle Bar Star Christopher Longoria and Uzziel Pulido to develop the cocktails, the duo who shake up creative drinks at 1760.
“We developed a menu that focused mainly on light refreshing cocktails that could be enjoyed on a patio under the San Francisco sun,” says Longoria. “I wanted to make a menu of easy crowd pleasers that work well with brunch and groups.”
For Longoria, working with the concentrates was all about exploring new flavors, and learning to coax and work with them appropriately. In the drinks, some concentrates became overwhelmingly dank or vegetal, in others they became too lemony or piney. The challenge was to create a menu of drinks that were tasty with and without the CBD concentrates. Each cocktail is appropriately matched to a particular strain to complement the flavors.
In a drink called the Castro Cup, the OG Kush CBD concentrate gave the Pimms Cup variation a lightly floral flavor. In the excellent Tenderloin Teardrop, the Sour Diesel aromatized in an elusively familiar herbal taste, like an Italian version of herbes de Provence.
“As an ingredient, it benefits the cocktail by creating a high citrus note or a vegetal or grassy note,” says Longoria. “It was a challenge because I wanted a balance of flavors. I didn’t just want each cocktail to taste like you’re drinking cannabis. That’s where I feel the use of cannabis would get gimmicky.”
Despite the passing of Proposition 64, the initiative that legalized recreational cannabis, the use in cocktails served at bars has remained prohibited—a fact that’s remained true even in states where marijuana has been recreationally legal for years. The drinks exist in a tricky legal grey zone.
You don’t need to have a medical marijuana card to order the CBD dosed drinks at Flore served at 4:20 p.m. happy hour. Each one of the 11 drinks ($12 each) on the menu at Flore can be ordered as a simple cocktail, or with a CBD upgrade for $6 more.
The upgrade nets you 3ml of concentrate added to your cocktail, which ends up being about 5mg of CBD per drink. One drink will run $18 total ($16 during happy hour), which is pricey for any cocktail in San Francisco. But is the effect worth it?
The effect of the CBD in the cocktails is unique. There’s a mellow and warm feeling that is best described like a warm towel after a swim on a cold day. It’s a comfortable, fuzzy feeling that seems to override or twist the buzz of the alcohol into a somewhat more pleasant buzz than simply liquor. It could be partly the effect of the terpenoids, whose effects are harder to tease out and quantify.
Is it worth the money? It depends on what you’re looking for. Those seeking the same kind of high you’ll find in medical marijuana dispensaries will be disappointed, but those curious to survey the effects and flavors of cannabis beyond THC will find something to explore.
The question now will be how these legal cannabis cocktails will fit in to the bigger picture once regulations for medical and recreational cannabis come into effect at the local and state level. THC in alcoholic drinks served behind the bar may never be legal, but Alan and Silverman see their efforts as part of the dialogue as everyone gets used to cannabis as part of the adult world.
Maybe that’s enough for the time being.
IF YOU GO
Flore at Market
2298 Market Street (at Noe)
Open Monday – Friday, 10 a.m. – 10 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Happy Hour Sessions: $2 off all cocktails Monday – Friday 4:20 p.m. – 7:20 p.m.