TearDrop owner Daniel Shoemaker, a 14-year bartending veteran from San Francisco, doesn't feel quite at home in the Pearl on a Saturday night. He doesn't serve Red Bull and he has no use for Grey Goose. "No, we don't have any beer on tap" is his most frequently uttered phrase. But alongside longtime bartending buddy Ted Charak, he's in his element, encircled by the tear-shaped bar and letting his passion for mixology showcase what TearDrop's about.
The Wednesday evening I sat down in the open-air lounge, breezy with business-casual conversation, Shoemaker was looking to talk shop. He can spot a customer who's interested in what he's offering, not one simply looking to get sloshed.
"What kind of drinks do you enjoy?" he asked as I glanced over the single-page cocktail menu. "I like vodka," I replied, thinking this answer would make his job easier. Three hours and many discussions later, I realized I was lucky he didn't cringe.
Shoemaker first muddled me an Araby ($7)—vodka, fresh ginger, tamarind nectar and palm sugar, topped with Thai chili rings. While the green, mini-jalapeño-looking chilies added color—much like the fresh berries in TearDrop's $16-a-pitcher sake sangria, which are bought daily and changed according to the variety at the farmers market—Shoemaker's recipes are not about garnish or splash—edible flowers and candy-coated rims. His cocktail geekdom is in the chemistry of the cocktail—the gastronomy of the spirit, if you will.
According to Shoemaker, the perfect cocktail has spirit, acidity, sugar and bitters. He only buys ingredients that complement each cocktail (canary melons, Tommy Atkins mangoes), spending three hours each afternoon juicing his fruit and making housemade tonic water, pomegranate molasses and orangecello. No soda gun here—if Shoemaker needs Coke, it's the bottled kind from Mexico.
Shoemaker's idea of the perfect cocktail is the Sazerac ($8), its glass rinsed with the absinthelike Herbsaint and its contents stiff with rye whiskey, cherry-vanilla bitters and gomme (a.k.a. simple) syrup. Unaccustomed to drinking whiskey, I savored, sipped and experienced the Sazerac's complexity on my taste buds, and felt it shimmy down the back of my throat. Putting down my Collins glass, I realized TearDrop isn't about intimidation, but inspiration.
This is why Shoemaker didn't have to point out that the spirit I commonly order—tasteless vodka—was the least interesting of liquors. Pausing between sips to contemplate every Kamikaze and Cosmo I slammed in my youth, I figured it out for myself.