Meet Jennifer Colliau: Bar Manager of The Interval at Long Now

Jennifer Colliau, Long Now Salon's Founding Bar Manager
Jennifer Colliau, Long Now Salon’s Founding Bar Manager. Photo by Catherine Borgeson

Long Now welcomes Jennifer Colliau, one of the Bay Area’s finest cocktail experts, as the manager of our new bar, cafe and social space: The Interval at Long Now. The doors will open to our one-of-a-kind cafe/bar/museum/library at San Francisco’s Fort Mason Center in May 02014. So Jen is hard at work helping finalize everything for the space, working closely with our architect and design team.

When I asked the best people I knew in the bar industry who they knew with the background and ability to take on this role for us, Jennifer Colliau was the top suggestion that came back from everyone. It soon became clear she was uniquely suited for this role. We are honored to have someone who understands both the history and the future of beverages for our project.
— Alexander Rose, Long Now’s Executive Director

Jennifer is a veteran bartender and bar consultant in San Francisco who is a recognized authority on classic cocktails and contemporary mixology. She has been written about or written for publications such as The New York Times, Wired, 7×7, The Washington Post, and Imbibe Magazine. She also makes sensational non-alcoholic cocktails, which have been featured in Food & Wine, often using the artisanal syrups she produces for home and bar use with her company Small Hand Foods.

The Interval under construction at Fort Mason. Photo by Catherine Borgeson

I spoke with Jennifer about the bar design, classic cocktails, booze-less drinks, tea, time, ice, furniture, and vinegar, amongst other topics. We met at the construction site at Fort Mason where The Interval is taking shape.

New infrastructure for the bar-to-be is in place: trenches for power and plumbing lines, old walls gone, new walls framed.

Jen described what will come next: where the espresso machine will go, the place a barrel of whiskey will be suspended from the ceiling (finer points still being worked out), and of course the robots. There will be two of them, one behind the bar and a ‘chalkboard robot’ writing the day’s specials (and more) on the wall above.

And then we talked about ice. And freezing water it turns out is one of the hottest things in bartending right now. Jen hinted at an experimental ice-making technique she hopes to try at the bar. She says appreciating the importance of ice is one of the major drink-making innovations in recent years. “Once you know that you can’t unlearn it, you can’t go back. You have to have good ice.”

Photo by Small Hand Foods

Quality of ingredients is vital for Jennifer. She launched Small Hand Foods for the cause of making authentic Mai Tais and Jerry Thomas’s 1862 “Japanese Cocktail” recipe. A key element to both drinks, orgeat syrup, was only available as a mass-produced product made from almond flavoring rather than actual nuts.

So Jen researched, experimented and formulated her own orgeat, at first made in small batches for her own use. Soon numerous bartender friends tried it, and they had to have it, too. Upping production and figuring out all that was needed to make a commercial bottled product was another challenge, which she mastered.

Today Small Hand Foods produces pre-Prohibition era ingredients like grenadine and gum syrup that are widely used in the Bay Area and distributed to stores and bars in 5 states. Thanks to Jen’s careful reconstruction of these century-old syrups, extinct cocktails have been revived and others reestablished to their true taste profiles. As you’d imagine, her experience in cocktail deextinction pretty much cinched her getting the job as Long Now’s bar manager.

Long Now members can look forward to a longer interview with Jennifer in the upcoming Quarterly News later this month. But here’s a little excerpt….

Q: You’ve created some wonderful non-alcoholic drinks (like the Almond-Fennel Cooler), what’s your approach to those kinds of beverages?

A: I want them to be delicious. Too often those drinks are made just sweet and fruity. I’ve tried to explore other types– things based on tea, drier things… there are syrups you can make and others on the market that are amazing, taste-wise as good or better than the equivalent liqueurs, and with no alcohol. So I want to have those on hand to use in all kinds of drinks here.

Q: I know you are still working on it, but what can you tell us about the drink menu for the bar?

A: Well, “Time” will be a theme throughout. You have Chartreuse which has been made since the 18th Century, for instance, and then types (or families) of drinks like Shrubs (drinks based on a syrup that includes vinegar) that are at least that old and again offer a non-alcohol option. These are fantastic ingredients with loads of history.

But I’m also looking at smart ways to make punches, another venerable drink family, which can take days to prepare correctly. But there are things we can do ahead of time so that our customers can enjoy it right away (without it being laborious or wasteful on our end). They get an authentic punch without the time constraints… it’s a bit of a time hack in other words.

Tending her first Long Now reception at SFJazz. Photo by Mikl-em

Speaking about time, a conversation about cocktails with Jen is a free flowing chronological shuffle: one minute she cites a 19th Century Jerry Thomas recipe and the next a blog post on the precise science of cocktail shaking.

Her attention to detail started early. At age 9 she made every recipe in the “Candies and Confections” section of The Joy of Cooking. And tracked down obscure ingredients without the benefit of a search engine. Yes, we’ve found the right person to run the The Interval at Long Now.

Jennifer’s creativity with booze and her work with long-lost cocktail ingredients prove that she’s an ace at using the past to rethink the future. She’s the perfect choice to work at the Long Now bar.
Adam Rogers, editor at Wired magazine and author of Proof: The Science of Booze

Welcome Jennifer! Now there’s a fittingly time-based exercise in patience for us all before our first chance to taste the drinks she is designing. The Interval opens in May 02014. Special member and donor events will precede the general public opening–stay tuned for details.

Anyone who donates before opening (levels ranging from $10-$10,000) is a charter donor and receives special benefits around opening.

You can follow Long Now’s blog and Twitter feeds (@longnow, @longnowsalon) for more Interval news.

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