Going 10 Rounds With Top Bartender Megan Abraham
The lead bartender at the Commons Club inside Virgin’s San Francisco hotel tackles our speed round of questions.
What do you like to drink after a shift? “These days Chareau on the rocks. The brand gave me a few bottles after we made a commercial together for National Prosecco Day. On a whim, I added a few of my favorite things from my home bar; the result, the Genesis, ended up on the Commons Club menu!”
What is the all-time best dive bar jukebox song? “The short answer is Salt-N-Pepa’s “Shoop.” The long answer is “Purple Rain.” I started bartending in upstate New York to pay my rent at a little neighborhood watering hole on the side of the interstate called the Gathering Lounge. Jäger Bomb Steve would come in and play “Purple Rain” about four or five times at the end of every night. He would cry and drink Jäger Bombs while I cleaned and savored one quarter’s worth of peanut M & M’s. There was something sort of sweet and profound about the sincerity of his heartbreak. At Egbert Souse’s in Oakland my favorite jukebox song was “Step to the Name of Love” because it got the whole room bouncing, bobbing and happy. I like songs that are tied to memories.”
After all these years bartending and creating drinks, do you still enjoy going out to bars? “My recent version of ‘going out’ involves multiple Michelin stars: seeing and tasting what my peers are working on. I’m more interested in quiet time with familiar faces as opposed to when I started bartending when it was more about seeing and being seen. I also love spending time at home working on my garden and decorating. I find that to be more fulfilling than going out.”
Name the first good drink you ever drank and where you had it. “The classic: Nuts and Berries. It was in Syracuse and the equal parts of Chambord, Disaronno and cream tasted like a dream come true. Later, I turned customers in Oakland onto it and when they wanted me to make it stronger, I spiked it with tequila. It caught on like wild fire and they called it Meg’s Magic Tequila Milkshake. Yuck.”
What book on cocktails or spirits is your go-to resource? “I use The Flavor Bible religiously to develop content for upcoming menus—it’s an invaluable resource. I might know I want to do something with specific flavors, like fig, but not be sure what spice will work best. The Flavor Bible will suggest different combinations that have worked in culinary applications.”
What’s your favorite cocktail and food pairing? “I’m working on a Caviar Kumquat Martini to pair with Chef Adrian Garcia’s iconic caviar service at Commons Club. You’ll have to see it to believe it, but the garnishes are hollowed out kumquats filled with reserve caviar. Taking the savor of a Dirty Martini to a new bitter/brighter/umami level!”
What drink are you most proud of creating? “I’m really proud of the Womble Basher’s Wock, which is currently on the Commons Club cocktail menu. The concept is a deconstructed Piña Colada, but using a Whiskey Sour as the base. To achieve this, I used pineapple gum to make a more tropical Whiskey Sour and top it with a coconut cream foam. When you sip the two separate layers together, they combine with the nostalgic familiarity of a summer favorite.”
Is there one person (dead or alive) you’d like to make a cocktail for? “Beyoncé. Her recent documentary Homecoming was super inspirational for me. I love how she used her platform as an opportunity to celebrate diversity.”
What’s your favorite shot-and-a-beer combination? “Mezcal and as far as beer, I’m into sours and cider—but would not sip one with a shot. I’m more of a ‘Champagne-and-caviar’ kind of girl, not so much the shot-and-a-beer type.”
What is the one tool that you always make sure to pack when you’re traveling for business? “A left-handed corkscrew.”
Megan Abraham is the lead bartender at the Commons Club inside Virgin’s San Francisco hotel.
Interview has been condensed and edited.