By Brandon Hernández / Photo by Kristina Yamamoto
At first blush, Erick Castro seems like a transplant, some big-name soda-gun-for-hire brought in to lend cocktails and clout to a spirited new cocktail haven hitting America's Finest. It's true, time spent rocking out topshelf pre-Prohibition cocktails at renowned San Francisco speakeasy Bourbon & Branch has earned the inventive mixologist nationwide notoriety, but he's more than a mixology mercenary.
Castro has San Diego roots from his days spent studying at SDSU and nights spent tending bar around town.
"The difference in the bartending scene from when I left San Diego in 2004 to now is night and day," says
Castro. "Lemon Drops were getting popular, and the most complicated drink I was making back then was a margarita."
When visiting San Diego over the past eight years, Castro has been impressed by the astounding expansion of the local craft cocktail contingent. Analyzing that growth, he credits spirit world innovators, tipple-focused venues and...brewers?
"I think San Diego's progression into a more creative cocktail scene came very naturally, because there is such an incredible beer culture here," he says. "People already have these great palates due to the fact they were able to experience amazing craft beers in their own backyard."
Fittingly, it's a collaboration with Consortium Holdings - the San Diego company responsible for alcohol-fueled hotspots Neighborhood, Noble Experiment and Craft & Commerce, operations that led with craft beer before taking craft cocktails to the next level in a big way - that inspired Castro's southern migration.
Now, the group is opening a pair of neighboring venues, Polite Provisions and Soda & Swine, at the intersection of 30th Street and Adams Avenue in North Park. Castro will reign over the former, a modern take on the old-time, soda fountain-adorned neighborhood drugstore that will feature 46 taps, most of which will dispense spirits and cocktails, beer-tails, craft spirits and sodas.
"I love the idea of reviving the golden era of the pharmacy, focusing on Old World values and craftsman culture," Castro says. "It opens up a whole new realm of cocktails and beverages like the old-fashioned
soda pops and fizzes that we'll make in-house; milkshakes and malts, both non-alcoholic and spiked; as well as cocktail elements such as house-made tonics and bitters as a nod to those ingredients' medicinal uses. It opens the floodgates for creativity."
He hasn't been back in town long, but this mixologist is already poised to shake things up (or make a stir, if you prefer). Cheers to another Aztec homecoming!