Flora Restaurant and Bar, located in the 1930s Oakland Floral Depot building on Telegraph Avenue, combines Art Deco ambiance with Uptown panache. While a likeness of stage magician Carter the Great dominates the dining room, behind the bar the magic begins with Liam, bartender and teacher.
A barstool is the perfect place to observe some bartender sleight-of-hand and pick up a few tricks of the trade. So, notebook out, pen at the ready. Better still, Liam had an apprentice on a recent evening, so two bartenders fielded a series of questions about cocktails and techniques.
The house favorite is a concoction called Carter Beats the Devil which Liam describes as a smoky, spicy Margarita. But we opted to go top of the menu: the Airmail.
With the rum, lime, honey, and Prosecco float on its way to being delivered, we asked the obvious question: why the name Airmail? Since no one seemed to know, a little post-libation research was in order. According to David Wondrich, mixographer and author, the first reference to this “cross between a French 75 and a Honey Bee,” appeared in his 1949 copy of Handbook for Hosts. This was back in the day when “airmail was the last word in getting something from point A to point B.”
The Airmail will move you from where you are to a mellower place, post haste: the same effect as today’s point and click, but with a smooth, sweet, effervescence that harks back to 1931, when you could post an airmail letter for five cents.
Flora likes to stick with the classics behind the bar. They use house-made and local ingredients whenever possible. They keep up with the seasonal changes and customers are now shifting from warm-weather concoctions to bourbon-based drinks, as well as Irish Coffee.
How do bartenders remember proportions and corresponding garnishes? While Liam enjoys memorizing the order and ingredients that go into his mixed drinks, he did reveal a little black book full of formulas. Card catalogs and older bar books also come in handy as references if a bartender is stumped by a customer’s request. But if someone comes in and asks for a unique concoction, Liam says, “They can start off with one desired ingredient, and then trust the bartender.” Bartender in training Oliver says his biggest challenge so far is “anything with egg whites.”
The Drink: Airmail, a rum and honey combination topped off with bubbly.
The One to Try Next Time: Carter Beats the Devil.
The Crowd: Uptown and out-on-the-town.
Behind the Bar: Liam “Trust the Bartender” teacher and innovator; Oliver, tamer of egg whites.
When to Go: Before or after events at the nearby Fox or Paramount.
The Deets: Flora Restaurant and Bar , 1900 Telegraph Avenue, Uptown Oakland.
Risa Nye, aka Ms. Barstool, is a freelance writer based in Oakland. She writes the blog Zero to Sixty and Beyond.