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Drinking in Healdsburg’s cocktail scene
Updated 4:28 pm, Monday, February 13, 2017
Photo: Peter DaSilva
Duke’s Spirited Cocktails, on the Plaza, is Healdsburg’s newest drinking destination, serving up artisanal cocktails and Bud Light with equal ease.
For a town of about 12,000, Healdsburg has an astonishing number of great drinking establishments. Smack in the heart of Sonoma Wine Country, the town has evolved into a cocktail destination, starting in 2005 with the ambitious bar at Cyrus by Scott Beattie.
The options range from locals’ hangouts like the B & B Lounge and the Bar at Dry Creek General Store to tourist favorites like Barndiva, Willi’s Seafood & Raw Bar, and Spoonbar.
The newest drinking destination on the Plaza, Duke’s Spirited Cocktails, is a hybrid: a bar that serves Bud Lights as righteously as it does artisanal cocktails made with locally sourced (and often homegrown) produce. The Night Vision ($13), for example, combines a homemade carrot-caraway cordial with lemon, Spirit Works aged gin from Sebastopol and vermouth from San Francisco’s Sutton Cellars. It’s more floral than earthy and way too easy to drink. Good thing it’s healthy.
Owners Tara Heffernon, Steven Maduro, Laura Sanfilippo and Cappy Sorentino are friends who know one another from their time behind the bar at Spoonbar down the street. More important, it was where they met their silent partner, and the bar’s namesake.
If the location seems familiar, it might be because it’s been one incarnation of a bar or another since 1933. Most famously, it was the original location of John & Zeke’s, a local favorite that closed when the building was sold. John & Zeke’s hopscotched to Healdsburg Avenue to the old B&B Lounge space when that bar relocated farther up. After that, the space became Scout, an infamous bar with waterbeds and dance-club atmosphere that never clicked with residents and closed in 2015.
As they developed Duke’s, one element the owners knew would be vital to success was being a part of and serving the community of Healdsburg. In the six months it’s been open, Duke’s has so far managed to strike the delicate balance between accessibility and creativity — a challenge when some customers have strong brand preferences.
“We’ll have a couple (of brands) that you know, we will have a lot of cool things we would love for you to try, and we’re educated enough to tell you, ‘Well if you like this, then you will like this,’” says Heffernon.
On a recent visit, the bar was filled with a convivial crowd of locals and tourists as afternoon light streamed in from large windows facing the plaza.
A wall full of gleaming bottles, running the length of the bar, showcases the large inventory of liquor, but the secret sauce is in the unassuming taps below them. The system dispenses homemade tonic water and ginger beer, but also a rotating selection of six carbonated cocktails, including the extremely popular Fool's Paradise (tequila, passionfruit, Dolin Blanc Vermouth, bay laurel) that drinks like a tropical version of the Paloma, a classic tequila and grapefruit soda mixture. These tap cocktails ($10-$12 each) allow the group to dispense drinks they find interesting using ingredients that may not be familiar to the public. Another bonus: They can offer customers a taste before ordering, eliminating the intimidation barrier of the unfamiliar.
“People love that,” says Maduro. “You go somewhere to drink wine or beer and you can get a taste of those, but a lot of times you can’t try the cocktails like that.”
Duke’s Spirited Cocktails: 111 Plaza St., Healdsburg; (707) 431-1105. www.drinkatdukes.com. 4 p.m.-midnight Monday-Thursday, until 2 a.m. Friday, 2 p.m.-2 a.m. Saturday, 2 p.m.-midnight Sunday. Happy hour: 4-6 p.m. Monday-Thursday.
Lou Bustamante is a Bay Area freelance writer and author of “The Complete Cocktail Manual.” Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Barhopping in Healdsburg
More under-the-radar places to grab a drink.
Alley 6 Distillery: Located in an industrial part of town, right off Dry Creek Road is Alley 6 Distillery, a small distillery run by Jason and Krystle Jorgensen. They specialize in whiskeys, including an excellent rye and a couple of gins using wild foraged ingredients. Tours and tastings are $10 per person and include a taste of all their products. 1401-D Grove St., Healdsburg; (707) 484-3593
Campo Fina: Even in the cold and rain, people flock to the light-drenched heated patio outside, though the small bar area up front is in the heart of the action, especially for people watching. The cocktails lean toward classics and well-made variations on them like the Manhattan inspired Rollin’ Oranges that arrives with a large single ice cube. 330 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg; (707) 395-4640. www.campofina.com
Chalkboard: They’re known for their creative (and extremely popular) happy hour that showcases a different region or cuisine each time, offering a creative cocktail outlet for the bartenders, like a fernet-spiked variation of a Moscow Mule on their recent Italian themed menu. Classics cocktails and elegant variations on the regular menu are also a worthy detour, especially when paired with the pork belly biscuit appetizer. 29 North St., Healdsburg; (707) 473-8030. www.chalkboardhealdsburg.com
Fermentation Bar at Healdsburg Shed: While the food (rightfully) gets a lot of attention, chef Perry Hoffman’s influence on the short list of low-proof cocktails shouldn’t be missed. Utilizing the same produce and homemade ingredients from their farm as the kitchen, the cider- and wine-based cocktails are creative counterparts to the food, like the homemade kimchi. 25 North St., Healdsburg. http://healdsburgshed.com/eat/fermentation-bar/
Sonoma Cider: The new large and airy taproom from Sonoma Cider includes a covered patio that teases summer lounging potential, and showcases a large selection of their ciders. They vary in style, flavorings, and strength with a rotating menu of 18-plus ciders, many of them light and dry. You can enjoy them by the pint, or you can survey a nice range of them with a flight of six, including the limited Apple Jacks-cereal-influenced Jax Cider. 44-F Mill St., Healdsburg; (707) 723-7018. www.sonomacider.com
Healdsburg locals’ bar crawl
John and Zeke’s: Near the plaza and open until 2 a.m. every night, the inexpensive drinks and shuffleboard make this a popular spot, particularly with the restaurant industry folks after work. 420 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg; (707) 433-3735.
Bar at Dry Creek General Store Bar: Nestled in a building constructed in 1881, this watering hole has an eclectic patina of old knickknacks and dive bar charm that draws in the nearby post-work winery staff. 3495 Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg, (707) 433-4171. www.drycreekgeneralstore1881.com
B & B Lounge: Even located in a new building further up Healdsburg Avenue, the B & B maintained its easygoing vibe along with cold drinks and pool tables. 1239 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg; (707) 433-5960.