Dirty Habit at dusk.
If you find San Francisco rooftop bars chilly or the vibe a tad exclusive, then the relaxed atmosphere and heated outdoor patio at Dirty Habit, Hotel Zelos’ Asian-themed restaurant and craft cocktail bar in SOMA, might be the perfect alternative. Perched on the fifth floor, it exudes a secluded hideaway vibe with stylish film noir-themed photographs and dark wood interiors that suggest gritty days gone by. But San Francisco’s crowded cocktail scene demands more than ambiance, which is why Dirty Habit is getting “dirtier” than ever this season with its new lineup of golden-hued herb-inspired concoctions ($15 each).
My friends and I arrived on a recent Saturday evening and found the courtyard patio full and the space welcoming. We chose a spot near an elegant fire feature, but didn’t need its warmth—no fog or wind here. First up on our libation exploration was the Dirty Negroni, a twist on the classic Italian aperitif. The amber-toned swirl of spirits included the expected—gin, bitters and sweet vermouth—and the unexpected: dried matsutake mushroom shavings and a sprig of lemon thyme. The result, a compelling elixir.
Next was A Noble Soul, Dirty Habit’s version of a whiskey sour. The bourbon was there, but so were apricot, oolong tea, macadamia orgeat and rosemary, making it tart but woodsy too.
Since I’d heard about the bar’s popular Dirty Hour (cocktails drop to $10), I returned a few days later to check it out and meet the bar manager, Raul Ayala. Ayala started as a barback at Dirty Habit in 2014 and worked his way up to bar manager. He credits his Mission District high school immersion, where he was exposed to the elements of Filipino, Indian and Thai cuisine, for his wide-ranging flavor palette. But his own Mexican background plays a role too. “I always bring something from my childhood memories,” he says. “For example, this menu includes a drink called Harvest of the Tropics that includes chayote squash, something you don’t see often.” Ayala combines the chayote with mescal, pineapple, lime, maraschino liqueur and green Chartreuse, before serving it in an Old-Fashioned glass garnished with green Tajín and a pineapple flower. “I like to complicate my life a little,” he says with a grin.
Ayala says he wants Dirty Habit to be known as much for its Old-Fashioned as it is for its earthy craft cocktails. As I stepped back out into the bustle and grit of Fourth Street, it was Dirty Habit’s warmth and spirit of adventure that stayed with me—that, and its quest for the next big flavor.