The best cocktail in Berkeley right now is also the hardest to order, seeing as it doesn’t, technically speaking, have a name yet. It’s made of strained tomato juice, cilantro syrup, lemon juice, and Rancho de Oro tequila, and it’s the creation of Nat Harry, Revival Bar + Kitchen’s bar manager — and, it should be noted, usually a fairly brilliant drink-namer, having come up with many a deliciously old-fashioned cocktail appellation, each wonderfully Hemingwayean in their definite-article-aided formality: The Brooklands, The Tomcat, The Inflatable Raft. But in this case, she’s stuck. Suggestions welcome.
Until 2010, Revival was Downtown, a buttoned-up kind of place with considerably less charm than the space’s current incarnation, a lovely and perpetually lively bar-restaurant that gives short shrift to neither side of the hyphen. My friend Emma, speaking of names, thinks it’s a reference to a new vision for downtown Berkeley, which certainly makes sense, though I feel like I’ve heard somewhere that it has something to do with the restaurant’s whole super-locavore, snout-to-tail thing. But either way, the place does feel like a revival of sorts, though what exactly it’s reviving is of the intangible and unplaceable variety — a sort of nostalgia for a drinking experience that we’re all too young to remember and which in fact may never have actually existed in the first place, when drinks were named with consideration and everything in the world was sepia-toned. The bar, set off from the dining room with a smartly placed high table, is made of zinc, with the oxidation rings to prove it, and when the summer-night light tumbles in through plate glass, everything inside appears to sparkle, people included. The bartenders, meanwhile, win the prize for least obnoxious post-1940s use of bowties and bowler hats.
The as-yet-unnamed tomato cocktail comes served in a dainty stem glass, light red but certainly not pink, with a wry little cherry tomato on a bamboo toothpick as garnish, and it tastes like basically magic: a little sour but for the most part sweetly vegetal, also in that unplaceable way, and unlike anything else I’ve ever drunk. I suggested the name Victory Garden, which was met with some measure of approval (Harry said thus far, the vast majority of suggestions have been puns on the words “cilantro” or “tomato,” so the bar has apparently been set comfortably low); my companion suggested some play on the word “dirt,” the details of which now escape me, but that was quickly and politely discarded by everyone. I’m sure someone will eventually come up with something perfect, but in the meantime, don’t be shy about striding up to the bar and asking for it anyway.