The day before its third birthday last month, Polite Provisions got the best gift any bar could wish for.
On Feb. 17, the old-fashioned cocktail saloon in North Park was named one of 20 nominees for the James Beard Foundation’s 2016 Outstanding Bar Program award. While the Beard awards are the Oscars of the hospitality world, this is merely the latest accolade for CH Projects’ Polite Provisions, which is co-owned by proprietor/bartender Erick Castro.
Where: 4696 30th St., North Park.
Phone: (619) 677-3784
In 2014 alone, Polite Provisions was named Best American High Volume Cocktail Bar at The Spirited Awards and Cocktail Bar of the Year by Imbibe Magazine, and Castro made the list of Southwest magazine’s Best Bartenders in America. Also in 2013, the bar was listed among the nation’s top bars in Food & Wine, Details and Spirits Business magazines.
Polite Provisions is the first San Diego bar to be nominated in Beard’s Outstanding Bar Program category, which debuted in 2012 and expanded this year from five nominees to 20. Castro said Polite Provisions has probably been on Beard’s radar since 2013, when its editors picked his Mayan Concubine tequila cocktail as one of their favorites of the year. But because the Beard judges are sticklers for consistency, Castro said, they probably wanted to see if Polite Provisions had staying power.
“What they look for is excellent service, empathy, hospitality and quality over time,” said Castro, 37. “If you go in there in March and have an incredible cocktail, you should be able to go back in September and order the same thing from a different bartender and have a similar experience.”
Then there’s those aforementioned ice cubes. Huge tray-sized blocks of ice are purchased from a company that vibrates the water as it freezes to eliminate the bubbles that cause a haze. Then, two employees uses picks to cut the block into roughly 3-inch cubes. Because of the large cube size, the melt point is low so they can sit much longer without watering down the integrity of the drink.
“People make fun of us for being borderline obsessive about things but that’s what has made us a success,” Castro said.
The seasonal cocktail menu boasts more than 25 concoctions, but the one that Castro said best represents the bar is the Ocean Side. A twist on the classic South Side cocktail, it’s made with London dry gin, fresh lime and mint with a dash of sea salt and house celery bitters, which Castro said give it “the taste of an ocean breeze.”
“We believe in very austere, clean cocktails where the base spirit is allowed to shine,” he said. “We’re impressed by the classics and we tweak and update them to be more modern.”
The Beard winners will be announced May 2. Also, at 6:30 p.m. April 6, Polite Provisions and Ironside Fish & Oyster and will offer locals a one-night-only preview of the five-course dinner and cocktails they’ve been invited to serve April 21 at the prestigious James Beard House in New York. Tickets are $89. Call Ironside at (619) 269-3033.