The hotel business proves difficult
Not long after his move to San Francisco, Kevin interviewed with Todd Smith at the newly opened Bourbon & Branch. “I went in and sat at the bar for one night and he made me cocktails and they were awesome. I told him this was exactly what I wanted to do.” He got the job.
After Bourbon & Branch, Kevin continued to hone his skills at Cask and Michael Mina’s Clock Bar before returning to DC to open Bourbon Steak (and, more importantly: to finally convince the woman who is now his wife to go out with him). Kevin came back to SF in 2010 to help concept and build out Burritt Room, a hotel bar in the (then-) Crescent Hotel.
“I have a huge soft spot for hotels and hotels bars,” Kevin says. “So it’s always been a dream of mine to do a classic hotel bar.” Unfortunately for Kevin, the management groups at the hotel bars where he worked kept changing -- three times in total.
Then, when the Crescent was purchased by Charlie Palmer, he moved to Jasper’s Corner Tap in the Serrano Hotel. After the hotel that owned Jasper’s also switched management companies, Kevin was scooped up by Kimpton. A few years later, he thought he’d finally found a home at Union Square’s BDK Restaurant located in the Hotel Monaco, but after just a few months, that hotel and restaurant also underwent a management change and, once again, Kevin was on the outs.
Even in face of such disappointment though, Kevin said he tried to stay positive and passionate about his craft. But he couldn’t help but start to wonder if maybe San Francisco just wasn’t for him. “After we lost BDK, I was helping friends around the city and trying to figure out what my next step was.” He and his wife were about two months out from moving to Hawaii when he got a call from Sidecar Hospitality (Press Club, Schroeder’s) co-founder Andy Chun about a little bar in Union Square called Cantina, where Kevin and his dog Kona liked to hang out.
Andy had recently bought Cantina and asked if Kevin would be interested in managing it. Kevin was definitely interested, but added, “I don’t want to manage a bar anymore; my next step is owning something.” So he, Andy, and his partner Jan Wiginton sketched out a vision for Cantina as co-owners.
But there wasn’t a lot of money to do anything, which is how Kevin came up with the idea to run Cantina as a pop-up for a few months.
“It was a good way to get the old regulars back in the bar while making some money,” he explained. “I’d probably never do it that way again though -- operating and renovating at the same time. It was a hard four or five months, waking up at four or five in the morning, demoing until noon, and then cleaning everything and opening at 5pm. It was like that seven days a week for months.”
The hard work paid off; when Pacific Cocktail Haven finally opened under its new name, it did so with zero debt and a very loyal clientele who’d watched the entire transformation. The neighborhood cocktail bar was instantly popular with locals and tourists alike.
“My bartending and cocktail style is elevated; it’s hard for me to dumb down the things I do in terms of cocktail presentation and garnish, so I wanted to have all of that, but also have a neighborhood bar with an unpretentious attitude,” he said. “People can come in and be friends with the bartenders and regulars, but also have an amazing experience with the ambiance, glassware, ice, and cocktails, but without being too opulent or stuffy.”