We all know what Comic-Con is supposed to be: Cannes for Geeks. Still, aside from the fetishization of all things genre-related and the increasingly Hollywood-ized atmosphere, there’s something else it’s about: drinking! But one can grab a $12.00 martini or a $3.00 shot anytime in an upscale yet funky city like San Diego. It takes a Comic-Con for the dipsomanical masses to be able to slurp their way to oblivion with a Captain America, a Spicy Hulk, or drinks saluting the warring dynasties from George R.R. Martin’s “Game of Thrones.”
Which is not to say that the search for the great themed cocktails to be found in Comic-Con’s backyard was an easy one. At times I and my photographing buddy, Rodney Reynaldo, feared we might not have enough drinks to really make this piece sing but, as we trudged through what seemed like every bar in San Diego’s downtown Gaslamp district, we found plenty. Admittedly, we sometimes found ourselves making the news as much as we reported on it; some of these drinks are on the spot creations from some of the area’s more spontaneous mixologists. Still, most of these were created with plenty of forethought, most of them tasted good, and some were downright terrific.
The Captain America
I have to admit that I pretty much knew somebody would come up with an extremely sweet red, white and blue themed salute to good ol’ Cap. I never imagined it would induce near terminal brain freeze while tasting far better than this cocktail snob would have ever expected.
The Captain America, as crafted by Andrea of the Hard Rock Cafe on 4th Avenue, is actually three drinks. The blue is a pina colada featuring Blue Curacao; the red is a raspberry pina colada featuring Bacardi rum; and the white, and possibly the best tasting of the three, was an exceedingly sweet frozen daiquiri made with Bacardi’s Dragon Berry Rum. A million miles away from a classic daiquiri like I’d make, but what would I expect from a red, white and blue cocktail?
The Dark Knight
The Tivoli, which proclaims itself the oldest bar in San Diego, sticks to its old school image by an affinity with a certain reactionary-leaning caped crusader. The Dark Knight, crafted by the bar’s redoubtable Rosie (pictured uptop), was as dark as any black knight but it’s flavor might have pleased a fruit bat with it’s surprisingly refreshing combination of vodka, blue curacao, raspberry liqueur, and a splash of Rumple Minze 100 proof peppermint schnapps.
The Spicy Hulk
There are any number of green drinks named in honor of Bruce Banner’s ill-tempered alter-ego. Yet, it’s hard to imagine any would ever be tastier than this concoction. Whipped up on the spot by the very skilled Oscar Avila of El Vitral, the Spicy Hulk reflected our location just a few miles from the Mexican border with healthy dashes of cucumber, cilantro, serrano peppers, tomatillo, lime juice, agave nectar and, of course, blanco tequila. Nothing puny about this one.
The Marble Room Trilogy
We came to the Gaslamp in search of themed cocktails. We found our first themed bartender in Harlo Stompro of the brothel-esque 5th Avenue watering hole and restaurant. The man might be a joker, but he certainly took the time to come up an assortment of con-friendly libations.
The Alien Secretion contains vodka, both Rose’s Lime Juice and fresh lime, and triple sec. The bright green Romulan Ale might please Trek fans with a yen for another slight twist on a Kamikaze with blue curacao, vodka and fresh lime. The Darth Vader is an homage to a Long Island Ice Tea with vodka, gin, rum, sour mix, and Chambord sitting in for the traditional triple sec. Since I kind of hate Long Islands, I found the taste appropriately evil.
Superman, the Shot vs. Darth Jäger
Burger and booze joint Nicky Rotten’s might feature an organized crime theme, but red, white, and blue bartender Rico Bernabe nevertheless did his part for truth, justice, and the American way of life with this tricolored shot. The drink’s red sun was provided by Citroen Vodka, the blue came from DeKuyper’s Island Pucker, and a “drip” of grenadine. Not bad for a $3.00 shot.
The Darth Jäger was a “starship sized shot glass” dropped inside a “Force Drink” (i.e. Red Bull). Considering the fact that I don’t particularly care for either Jägermeister — actually, I slightly detest the stuff — or Red Bull, this was a lot more drinkable than I expected. (Don’t ask how much I’d already had to drink by that point, however.)
Don’t Make Me Angry
Our second Hulk-themed drink of the night was pretty tasty stuff. Especially as manager/bartender Ken Lindstrom of Hennesseys Tavern made our shots on the house, we weren’t even slightly peeved. Indeed, Ken was kind enough to later provide me with a complete recipe, which I may some day try myself for a Drink of the Week. Here’s a preview:
In a cocktail shaker mix:
1 part vodka
1.5 parts melon liqueur
1.5 parts Malibu coconut rum
shot of Sprite
top with whipped cream
Shake with ice and strain into a rocks glass.
The House Baratheon and the House Lannister
One of our many bartenders was cool enough to point us in the direction of Searsucker. We found there that Esquire-featured master mixologist Jen Queen had fashioned libations named for each of the four warring families featured in George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Fire and Ice”, better known to non-ultra-geeks as the “Game of Thrones” HBO TV series. Jen — who was extremely busy, supremely competent, and quite cool herself in what little time she had — made us two of the drinks in the set of four.
The House Baratheon was a beverage worthy of greedy King Robert. It was a clever twist on an old school non-blended daiquiri with a red hibiscus infused rum, fresh pressed lime juice and some sugar. “An angry, angry drink but impressive looking,” said Jen.
House Lannister was, I’m happy to say, a drink that certainly paid its debts. Featuring a cucumber-infused gin, “a really cruel lime,” a lot of fresh mint and a dash of soda, this was a tasty gin mojito that we think Tyrion Lannister would have the good sense to enjoy.
Tony Stark’s Iron MANtini, Superman’s Sucker Punch, and Thor’s Hammer
Still quite new, Cremolose could easily become about my favorite joint in San Diego though there are rumors of turnover in the bar staff. That would be very unfortunate seeing it this multifaceted eatery/drinkery combines an imaginative bar with all kinds of semi-obscure Italian classic cocktail ingredients (Aperol, anyone?), good desserts, and some outstanding thin and thick crust pizza and nice salads along with an intriguing, if pricey, dinner menu. Bartender Sean Landers pulled out all the stops for us with these three creations and did a fantastic job.
The Iron Mantini started off with two parts vodka, some pineapple, Red Bull, and was finished with a cranberry juice floater, which we were told made for a better presentation at the bar. Considering my non-love of Red Bull, I was surprised to discover my own surprising affection for this nifty cocktail.
The Superman Sucker Punch shot would seem to live up to it’s name as it contains vodka, gin, triple sec, and whiskey, not to mention a modicum of cranberry and pineapple and a tiny amount of our colorful old friend, blue curacao. Not bad.
Thor’s Hammer might be appropriately named, but it was also quite tasty. A clever upscale variation on a Moscow Mule, it features whiskey instead of vodka and ginger liqueur instead of ginger beer and lime juice. This was a drink even a demi-god could respect and certainly didn’t require a shawarma chaser.
Tags: A Song of Fire and Ice, Alien Secretion, Caitlin, Captain America, Chambord, Citroen Vodka, cocktails, Comic-Con, Cremolose, Darth Jäger, Darth Vader, Don't Make Me Angry, El Vitral, Game of Thrones, Gaslamp, Gaslamp San Diego, George R.R. Martin, Happy Hour, Hard Rock Cafe, Harlo Stompro, Hennesseys Tavern, House Baratheon, House Lannister, Island Pucker, Jägermeister, Jen Queen, Kamikaze, Ken Lindstrom, Long Island Ice Team, Nicky Rotten's, Red Bull, Rico Bernabe, Romulan Ale, San Diego, Sean Landers, Searsucker, Superman, Superman's Sucker Punch, The Dark Knight, the Marble Room, the Spicy Hulk, the Tivoli, the Walking Grateful Dead, Thor's Hammer, Tony Stark's Iron MANtini, Whiskey Girl