Straight up Southern hospitality at Oakland’s Picán

Pican
Picán in Uptown Oakland serves Southern infused California cuisine with the same influence behind the bar

We recently joined the ranks of those felled by the flu-like cold that’s been going viral throughout the East Bay. Finally on the mend, we couldn’t think of a better way to lift our spirits than to get back on the barstool in search of a cure for what ailed us. The cure turned out to be cocktails at Picán.

The menu offerings at Picán are described as “Southern Infused California Cuisine,” and that Southern influence is present behind the bar as well. We decided to forego the bourbon flights on this visit — next time perhaps? — and perused the list of cocktails instead.

But which drink to try? The obvious choice would be the Mint Julep, made with bourbon, rock candy syrup, fresh mint and bitters. But that would mean passing up the Southern Peach Squeeze and the Devil Went Down to Georgia, both of which include a teasing taste of summer with peach purée or peach whiskey. We were intrigued by the mysterious Black Hand (Wild Turkey, basil, balsamic syrup and ginger beer) and startled by Rosemary’s Baby (gin, fresh rosemary, agave nectar, lime juice). When in Uptown, we mused, shouldn’t we try the Uptown Manhattan? Our thoughts were muddled.

2LLdrop
The Lavender Lemon Drop at Picán is made with vodka, triple sec, fresh lemon juice, and housemade lavender syrup. Photo: Risa Nye

Out of curiosity, we usually ask about the most popular drinks at a given bar. Though sometimes we rebel and try something along the road less traveled, we often sample the popular pour. We finally consult with Victor the bartender. At Picán, Victor tells us, this would include the Black Hand, Lavender Lemon Drop, or Rosemary’s Baby. Final decision: the Lavender Lemon Drop.


This appealing cocktail, made with vodka, triple sec, fresh lemon juice, and housemade lavender syrup (“for color,” Victor says), arrives with a sparkling sugared rim; the color is a pleasing shade of orchid pink. After we’ve taken a few sips, Victor checks back to see if we are enjoying the drink.  The answer is yes. We are well tended to at the bar, with servers stopping by and making sure we have what we need, which includes corn bread and, eventually, crawfish mac ‘n cheese.

If only we were basketball fans, we could have followed the game on one of several televisions in the bar area. However, the screens do not impose on one’s ability to conduct a conversation — or on the opportunity to express a quiet appreciation for a well-poured cocktail in friendly surroundings.

The drink: Lavender Lemon Drop
To try next time: All of the above, and the Picán Punch too
The Crowd: A combination Uptown mix/out-of-town influx, according to what’s going on at the nearby venues—or if Debbie Poryes (jazz pianist) is performing on Wednesdays and Saturdays. But mostly, it’s folks from all over who are hankering for Southern-style cooking.
Behind the bar: Victor “he didn’t steer us wrong” the bartender
When to go: Before or after a show, on special occasions, or whenever you feel the need for fried chicken, shrimp and grits, cornbread, and all the rest
The Deets: 2295 Broadway at 23rd Street, Oakland

Risa Nye, aka Ms. Barstool, is a freelance writer based in Oakland. She writes the blog Zero to Sixty and Beyond.

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