This summer, I visited my cousin and sister in San Diego: a land of fusion food, cool culture and pretty places. My cousin is a fellow foodie, and more broadly, an experience seeker — from raved-about restaurants to trendy travels, I trust her to help make the most out of our time together. She wouldn’t necessarily call herself a big drinker, but rather, a social drinker, seeking out alcohol outings as unique as any other activity she engages in. When I visited San Diego in May, I had only been 21 for a few weeks, and my cousin was more than happy to help me enjoy my newly legal status. Up until that point, I had mostly only frequented 21+ establishments that were more club-like. I was hoping to experience something more akin to a dignified or sophisticated bar, and my cousin had just what I was looking for: Polite Provisions, “Manufacturers of Local Tonics, Elixirs and Cures.” Located on the corner of 30th and Adams, the bar plays up a glamorous, Prohibition-style place from the decor to the drinks, and it was the perfect first themed-bar experience for a newly 21-year-old.
Even if we visited on a Wednesday night and the restaurant is a respectable size, we still waited about half an hour to be seated. Our party waited in the temperate southern California weather while we perused the drinks menu, as well as the food menu of the connected sister establishment. Fortunate Son is similarly decked out in theme, embodying the 1920s style of San Francisco Chinatown with rich colors, lavish lanterns and decorations abound. Frequenters of Polite Provisions could order food from the American Chinese restaurant while they sip their drinks. (I know this is a drink column, but Hollieats would want me to let our readers know that the restaurant is nothing to write home about — certainly nice to scarf down fried rice, General Tso’s and crab Rangoons to soak up the alcohol in our stomachs, but I can give a list of better authentic and Americanized Chinese places on the east and west coasts.
The bar makes use of its corner location, opening up its shutters to the brisk evening air and letting polite conversation filter throughout the restaurant. Polite Provisions is dimly lit for ambiance and gold accents are the name of the game, from the tables to the drink display to the ceiling. Even the bathroom was decked out in gold and silver coins, reflecting the opulence of the time period. Our party oohed and aahed at the bottles lined up, row after row, on the shelves in the back, their designs mimicking the potions and elixirs in the bar’s name. Polite Provisions has truly thought of the theme down to the last detail, with ornate cocktails napkins in a lush green and embossed with “Polite as F**k” in bright gold. When we asked for extra napkins to take home, the waiter actually gave us large stickers with the same charming phrase.
But what we’re waiting for: the drinks. I loved how all the drinks sounded like elixirs and potions, because I honestly didn’t recognize half the ingredients. The menu was a respectable size, with beer and wine for those looking to keep it classic and cocktails designated “cool and refreshing,” “spirit forward,” “island vibes,” “draft cocktails,” “champagne cocktails” and even to-go cocktails. If you’re in a larger party — this drink specifies it serves three people or more — they offer the “promise of paradise punch bowl” for $50 with strawberry tequila, Aperitivo Cappelletti, lemon and sparkling rosé. If you’re looking for something to cool you down, order the special “lazy river slushy” with Mount Gay Eclipse Rum, mango, vanilla, pineapple, Peychaud’s and orange bitters for $15. In fact, I ended up ordering this purple-hued drink because the “two per person maximum” caught my eye. I have tried and enjoyed tropical cocktails with rum, mango and pineapple before, but the vanilla and orange bitters added a nice twist that made the drink more refreshing than sickly sweet, which juice-like drinks are wont to do. I do understand the limit, because I could not tell there was alcohol in the drink at all.
My sister ordered the Princess Peach daiquiri with pineapple rum, raspberry, lime and peach bitters for $12, and it was stronger and less sweet than I expected. If you don’t mind the bite of rum, it’s a yummy drink, but it certainly doesn’t mask the taste like the lazy river. My cousin tried the “purple haze” with London Dry gin, lychee, hibiscus, white peppercorn, pineapple, lemon, lime and orange bitters for $13. I’m glad she ordered it because it caught my eye as well, and the drink didn’t disappoint. I’m not sure if it was the lychee or the combination of the rest of the ingredients, but I was pleasantly surprised how unique the cocktail taste: refreshing, fruity and light. It was also the start of my fascination with gin.
I wish I could return to Polite Provisions whenever I want to revert to the sophisticated — yet obviously socially-troubled — 1920s, Gatsby-era. However, I’ll just have to mull over the cool cocktail titles thousands of miles away and look for a Prohibition escape somewhere closer.