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SEVEN OVENS BLOG
July 3, 2024

Raise A Glass: Tony’s And Capo’s Summer Cocktail Menus Are Here

by Joe Bonadio

While we are probably equally known for our Italian food, it’s anything but a secret that North Beach is a cocktail-friendly neighborhood. From Vesuvio to Tony Nik’s, from Specs’ to Gino & Carlo and more, North Beach’s lineup of legacy watering holes would be the envy of any neighborhood. Our very history is intertwined with our taverns, lounges, and yes, dive bars; these businesses have hosted our best and worst moments, our triumphs and peccadillos, for generations.

A refreshing new take on the summer cocktail, the Mommenpop Spritz at Tony's Pizza Napoletana

A refreshing new take on the summer cocktail, the Mommenpop Spritz is now on the menu at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana. | Photo: Joe Bonadio

Against a backdrop like that, it’s not easy for a cocktail bar to distinguish itself. And for the past dozen years, Tony’s Pizza Napoletana and Capo’s have proven to be two of the neighborhood’s favorites.

I recently sat down with the people responsible for the cocktail lists at both of those places: Nick Lawlor at Tony’s, and Isabel Sandoval at Capo’s. As it happens, they’ve both just introduced new cocktail lineups for the summer, so the timing is spot-on.

I started with Nick, who likes nothing more than showing off his new creations.

Joe Bonadio: Hey Nick, good to see you. I understand you’ve been hard at work on the new list. What do you have for me this time?

Nick Lawlor: Well, we’re going to start with the Let The Man Go. This is yogurt-washed Woodford Reserve, lemon and mango, and we add a little agave to get the sweetness up. Those are pistachios along the rim to add a little earthiness. 

The way we do the yogurt wash is cool. I take a pack of goat’s milk vanilla yogurt, and we put it in a bottle of Woodford. I shake it up to agitate it a bit, then I put it in the fridge for a while. Then it goes through a coffee filter. And that not only gives the whiskey a little more body, it also imparts some acidity, along with the vanilla from the yogurt.

Having a few laughs with Isabel Sandoval, the terrific Bar Manager at Capo's in North Beach

Having a few laughs with Isabel Sandoval, the terrific Bar Manager at Capo’s in North Beach. | Photo: Joe Bonadio

JB: Yes, the acidity makes it….it’s got an almost citric element. I could definitely drink these.

NL: Yeah, it’s a super-crushable cocktail. Refreshing.

JB: That’s awfully nice.

NL: Yeah, I love that one. The next cocktail is going to be the Mommenpop Spritz. Mommenpop is a great company up in Napa that makes aperitifs from wine, and this one is made from 100% chardonnay grapes. Most people think of Aperol for a spritz, but this one is drier than Aperol. And somehow it’s more full, and juicier too. 

We do add some bitters to give it a little more depth of flavor. And just soda and prosecco. For someone who might normally order an Aperol Spritz, but is looking to try something just a little different, this one’s a nice alternative.

JB: Very tasty. I think I prefer this to Aperol.

NL: Right? Okay, the next one is the Dirty Girl. It’s basically a Vesper, like the James Bond cocktail, which was pretty much a gin and vodka martini. Gin, vodka, Lillet and vermouth.

But we wash it with olive oil: we put a certain amount of olive oil in each batch, and let it sit in the fridge for a little bit. Then we strain it out, so that it’s clear like you see here.

JB: So you’re removing the oil?

A new spin on the classic Vesper, the Dirty Girl is washed with olive oil, giving it a unique body and flavor

A new spin on the classic Vesper, the Dirty Girl is washed with olive oil, giving it a unique body and flavor. | Photo: Joe Bonadio

NL: Yes. But it’s the same thing as the yogurt—this gives it more body. It also takes away some of the bite. 

JB: I like the green highlights on top.

NL: That’s for looks, pretty much.

JB: You can really taste it, though. 

NL: When you sip it down, yes. That’s basil oil that we make in house. 

JB: Nice touch.

NL: We use Botanist gin in this one, which is made by Bruichladdich Distillery in Islay, Scotland. They mostly do scotches, but they make this one gin, and it’s really good. Definitely more of a spirit-forward cocktail. It’s all booze. 

JB: This is perfect for the food here, too. 

NL: Absolutely. And as you can see, Botanist provided us with these beautiful glasses, with the inlay. 

JB: Very elegant.

Nonna's Paloma is a beguiling combination of Madre mezcal, Amaro Montenegro, coconut, grapefruit and lime

Nonna’s Paloma is a beguiling combination of Madre mezcal, Amaro Montenegro, coconut, grapefruit and lime. | Photo: Joe Bonadio

NL: Sexy—that’s a sexy drink. Yeah, I’ve been really happy with all of these drinks. You know, for each menu I try to make it a little better. 

Now this last one is going to be Nonna’s Paloma. It’s made with Madre mezcal, Amaro Montenegro, coconut, grapefruit and lime. It’s almost like….an Italian tiki Paloma.

And we serve them up in these little cantarito cups. Really pretty. It’s one of those drinks that when people see them coming out, everybody wants one. It just looks festive.

JB: Well, they say you eat with your eyes first. Delicious, I’ve never had anything quite like that.

Nick, thanks again for taking the time, it’s always fun.

Just a few days after meeting with Nick, the neighborhood celebrated our legendary North Beach Festival. This was the 70th Anniversary of our biggest street fair, and I kicked off the merriment by completing my cocktail tour, this time checking out the new lineup at Capo’s.

Bar Manager Isabel Sandoval was nice enough to make a little time for me before opening on what was certain to be a hectic Saturday afternoon—and soon we were off to the races.

Saturday was a fantastic opening day at the North Beach Festival, as the scene just outside of Capo's illustrates

Saturday was a fantastic opening day at the North Beach Festival, as the scene just outside of Capo’s illustrates. | Photo: Joe Bonadio

Joe Bonadio: Thanks for doing this on such a crazy day, Isabel.

Isabel : No, I’m happy to.

JB: So how long have you been bartending?

IS: I’ve been serving drinks for three and a half years. Before that I was a server, and when I first started working here at eighteen I was a food runner.

JB: Wow, I had no idea.

IS: Yeah, when I first started working here it was so fun. I had no idea that the crew here would be so great, and every crew that we’ve had here over the last six, seven years has been wonderful. And I’m really grateful for our little Capo’s family.

JB: That’s great. So is this your sixth cocktail menu here?

IS: Yes. I would definitely say it’s the one I’m most proud of. It’s the most balanced—every type of liquor is covered. Every flavor profile you might be looking for is there. We try to stay with the trends, I guess you’d say. For example I’ve got an Espresso Martini, because everyone loves those nowadays. (Laughter).

We also have an Oaxacan Old-Fashioned, because those are getting to be quite popular, and people love mezcal. We use Mexican chocolate bitters instead of Angostura, and then maple syrup. But we use maple syrup for all of our Old-Fashioneds here, because we do them “Prohibition-style”.

JB: Ahh, makes sense. Okay, let’s taste some cocktails, shall we?

IS: Alright, let’s do that. I’m going to start with the Birds of a Feather. This one is gin, grapefruit juice and St. Germain elderflower liqueur. I love elderflower–I try to use it every summer in a different way, because it goes so well with everything, and it’s a beautiful and underrated flavor. It also gets a sprig of rosemary for the nose, which really helps bring out all the other elements.

JB: That’s gooood.

IS: Thank you! I knew I wanted to do something with grapefruit juice, and like I said I always try to work in something with elderflower Germain every summer. So I went through a few iterations combining those two flavors, and gin, because it’s so botanical, fits really well with both. And then the rosemary: Bam! It was the finishing touch.

Desert Magic is a blend of tequila, prickly pear syrup, lime juice and something called fire tincture

A blend of tequila, prickly pear syrup, lime juice and something called fire tincture, the Desert Magic was right up my alley. | Photo: Joe Bonadio

JB: That’s really nice.

IS: Yay! And I love the pilsner glass, it makes it look really fun and
summery, like you’re sitting on the beach soaking up the sun. I mean, we don’t get a whole lot of sun here, but…

JB: …this is our time.

IS: Exactly! Now I’m going to make you the Bonzai Blossom, which is Flor de Caña white rum, lime juice, Liquid Alchemist tamarind syrup and just a bit of simple syrup. And that’s it: super easy, and super delicious.

JB: That is a nicely sour and very delicious cocktail. I can barely taste the alcohol–very sneaky, in a Tiki way. I like.

IS: Yeah, that’s a good one. Now we’re going to do the Desert Magic. This one’s tequila and prickly pear syrup, again by Liquid Alchemist. A little bit of lime juice, and two dashes of the fire tincture. Only two….because otherwise nobody will be able to drink it.

JB: It’s hot?

IS: Yeah, they’re spicy bitters. If you do one too many, the drink will be undrinkable. It’s made by Scrappy’s, they’re pretty cool.

JB: So it’s firewater bitters? I want this in my house.

IS: It’s really good. We finish this one with a tajin rim.

JB: Man, look how pretty that is. And that does have some heat to it—very nice indeed.

IS: I told you, those fire bitters are real.

The Hot Ginger is just what it says on the tin: a heady mix of vodka, lemon juice, hot honey and ginger liqueur. Wow.

The Hot Ginger is just what it says on the tin: a heady mix of vodka, lemon juice, hot honey and ginger liqueur. Wow. | Photo: Joe Bonadio

Okay, now this next one is the Hot Ginger. It’s vodka, lemon juice, and a little of the hot honey. It’s the same hot honey that they use on the pizzas,
and they make that in house. And ginger liqueur—Domaine De Canton. It’s that funky bottle that you see in the back of the bar that nobody uses anymore.

We paint the rim with a little bit of hot honey, and dip it into a cinnamon and sugar blend. It is so good.

JB: That’s rad. And such a nice presentation.

IS: Thank you! Lastly we’ll do the Capo’s Collins. We specifically use Lo Siento tequila—they’re a wonderful brand, and they sponsored this cocktail because they liked it so much. Then I bring in Giffard Lichi-Li liqueur, which is a very subtle flavor. 

JB: Oooh, lychee.

IS: A little lemon juice, and a little simple syrup. And that’s it, because you really want the lychee liqueur to shine through. I’ve had this on the menu for a while, because people liked it so much that I didn’t want to take it off.

JB: That’s delicious, nice round flavors. Serious drink though—not to be trifled with. Isabel, thanks again for taking me through the new list.

IS: It was my pleasure. I love making drinks, it’s fun!

 
The Seven Ovens blog documents the many stories and talented people behind Tony Gemignani’s burgeoning restaurant group. Make sure to bookmark us, and come back and visit soon.