Sometimes I stalk my sister’s Tumblr because she blogs and reblogs much more interesting things on that platform than I ever could. That’s how I found out about a new cocktail lounge opening in San Francisco this past weekend called Novela. While I admit that I’m not much of a bookworm, I was smitten with the idea of literary-themed bar. Books? Cocktails named after and inspired by legendary figures of bound print? It was a version of heaven I never thought I wanted. Also, who wouldn’t be dazzled walking into Jay Gatsby’s mansion? At least to me, it was like being transported to Baz Luhrmann‘s lavish vision of the recent film adaptation, with dressed-down couture by guests. That’s all I got. Maybe I’m tripping. Let’s just agree that the decor and ambiance is that of high class.
I don’t go out drinking often on Sundays and being that Novela only opened this past Friday, I made use of the online reservation system. Because we couldn’t get to the bank since the roads were closed off and we had to turn the car around, we anticipated arriving a little bit later than our reservation. I called the hostess and she knew my name right away—hence, I was probably the only loser who actually made a reservation for only three people! I told her that we’d be there about 10-15 minutes after 8:30 but she said “I’ll give you until 9, how about that?” We did get there at about 8:40 as I originally told her, but that was very generous of to give that extra time (Knowing me, I may have needed it).
The hostess knew who I was as soon as I arrived, so cue me feeling like a star and simultaneously feeling a little embarrassed that I actually made a reservation when probably no one else did. She said we could sit anywhere, but our main options were either the little corner right next to a bookshelf or the couch by the window—we chose the couch. We had the friendliest and sweetest server ever—I think her name was Samantha—who regularly checked in with us and answered all of our dumb n00b questions like “What’s a ‘flight’ of punch?” (Everything is just “by the glass” with me, okay?) and “Are those actual books you can take out and read?” (From where we were sitting, the books looked very illuminated, like they were lights themselves) She even went on to tell us that she helped put all the books in their shelves and how they went about getting them and making them look so nice and uniform, but I was tipsy at that point so I don’t remember the specific details. A+ service though—for their careful attention and kindness!
We started off with punch and did round two with cocktails. The menu lists a variety of punch selections; however, there’s only one house punch (a whiskey-heavy concoction known as Hemingway’s “Code Hero”) and the rest are all seasonal. Samantha said that the only one they had currently available was the pisco (pisco, tarragon, fennel, strawberry, lemon)—fine with me! It was just the right mix of sweet and sour and exceeded its expectations of satisfaction. I didn’t like Code Hero so much as the taste was too bitter for me but if that’s what gives your tastebuds life, then go for it.
The signature cocktails, as I’ve mentioned over and over again, are all named after some of the most famous figures in literature. You can take a look at the menu to see the composition for each of them but to tell you the names of their offerings, they are Leopold Bloom, Sherlock Holmes, Atticus Finch, Jay Gatsby, Huckleberry Finn, Holden Caulfield, Daisy Buchanan, Holy Golighty, Santiago, and the only non-alcoholic drink on the menu—THE Helen Keller. If you have a literary crush on any of these fictional characters, you can now ask for them and sip them dry. Sexy, huh? I chose Huckleberry Finn (Aged rum, grapefruit marmalade, angostura bitters, tonic, lemon) because I love me some adventurous Southern boys (Okay, the mix sounded the most tantalizing, but that statement is still somewhat true?). It was delightful—citrus-forward, so you couldn’t really taste the alcohol but it was still pretty potent. Then again, I am lightweight after all. The best friend had the Daisy Buchanan which was…frothy? The sister’s choice was the Leopold Bloom upon Samantha’s recommendation, and it was very interesting blend of salty, sweet, and bitter notes. My drink was the best by far though.
The massive book collection boasts some well-known titles, but mostly a lot of obscure ones. I started reading the first few sentences of The Taking of Pelham 123 out loud like I was back in high school English class before all of us had enough. However, that’s definitely one way you can entertain yourself and the people around you. The spell-binding trance music—which I’m sure was being played on someone’s iPhone because the tracks kept pausing and was replaced by a faint vibration in the backgrounds—was louder and there were no other parties nearby, so hopefully I wasn’t too obnoxious. You can always read silently too if socializing (at a bar?!!) isn’t your thing.
If you love both books and bars, Novela is your storybook land. Their vast in-venue library, creative drinks, stunning decor and design, chill and trendy atmosphere, and fairy godmotherly service are all magic. And hell, even if you’re much more into the “bars” part more than the “books,” you’ll still be swept away.