A snippet of conversation overheard at a recent visit to Uptown Oakland’s newest bar, Here’s How, sums up my experience perfectly: “This is like the @ifyouhigh Instagram account.”
The observation was made as a group of bystanders was watching Here’s How operations manager Ben Riddell use a bandsaw to cut down large blocks of ice into perfectly shaped cubes. Riddell was decked out in clear plastic safety goggles and fabric work gloves with grippy palms to better keep hold of the quickly melting ice.
Later, as the block dwindled to smaller rectangles, he switched to handling the ice with red plastic arms. The demonstration was both mesmerizing and slightly terrifying. Some of us had had a few drinks to help enhance the ASMR-inducing display, but all of us were still sober enough to understand that slippery ice and a very sharp blade could quickly turn tragic. Fortunately, Riddell managed to keep all his appendages intact.
The cut ice goes into the cocktails at Here’s How. Carving it that way produces finely cut square edges of crystal-clear ice, which chills, but doesn’t dilute drinks the way cubes out of a tray or a machine do. The technique is a newer, Americanized version of the Japanese bartending craft of hand-carving frozen water into spheres. Earlier in the evening, I saw a long, thin rectangle of ice slipped into a glass, so clear it nearly disappeared once the liquid was added.
The amount of thought, detail and showmanship put into every aspect at Jennifer Colliau’s bar is why Here’s How has been one of Oakland’s most highly hyped new watering holes since word first emerged of its coming, nearly two years ago.
Colliau, an acclaimed figure in the Bay Area cocktail scene, is known for her obsessive knowledge, experimental nature and honed palate for classic and contemporary cocktails. She’s the kind of person who started her own small-batch cocktail syrup company when she wasn’t able to find an orgeat syrup made from real almonds in her quest to make a classic Mai Tai. (She also once studied furniture design, and, according to Eater, made the ceiling slats at Here’s How, which were designed to emulate the hills of Adams Point.)
Along with bartending at Charles Phan’s The Slanted Door in San Francisco in the past, for the last five years, she was the beverage director at the Interval, the Long Now Foundation’s bar at Fort Mason Center. Here’s How is her very own baby, the first bar she can call her own, and she’s put in an inordinate amount of care in getting things just right.
Here’s How gives a deep nod to cocktail history with its name — only the biggest spirits nerd would know the reference without Googling it. It comes from an illustrated cocktail recipe book of the same name, published in 1941 by W.C. Whitfield. Colliau’s drink menu imitates the first edition’s look, from its wood cover to its pages featuring images and recipes for each cocktail.
But Here’s How is not an old-timey throwback bar; the offerings, techniques, equipment and aesthetic are more modern than retro. Bartenders — sans bowties, twirly mustaches and vests — measure, stir and shake drinks with precision, grace and modern stylings. There are highballs like the namesake drink, served in a Collins glass with Tariquet Armagnac (a smooth, fine brandy), fresh lemon juice and house ginger soda with a float of La Quinta Port. There are also “Free Reign” cocktails, such as the Other Brother, a stirred drink made with olive-oil washed Rutte Celery gin (combining oil to the spirit adds richness), Tio Pepe sherry, Dolin Blanc vermouth and orange bitters, that’s chilled to 32ºF on the dot and served in a coupe with a lemon twist.
As at The Interval, bartenders use digital thermometers to stir drinks, to ensure perfect temperatures are reached. Other technologically advanced methods include using centrifuges to clarify fruit juices, and installing a special soda gun that makes drinks colder and bubblier. There’s a glass-windowed prep room across from the bar that contains the aforementioned bandsaw as well as a tabletop seamer used to can cocktails in-house. These canned drinks are carbonated, made up to a week in advance of service (canning, it turns out, is better at preserving the bubbles than bottling). Colliau says the cans are not only a fun new way to serve drinks, but allow quick service on busy nights, especially when the crowds emerge from an evening at the Fox Theater, just across the street.
Colliau has made a conscious and conscientious choice to hire a diverse staff that reflects the Bay Area, and Oakland in particular. Last year, I spoke with her for a story on ways people in the restaurant and bar industry were enacting change to create safer, more equitable working environments. Colliau says inclusive hiring practices means casting out a wider net, which may take a longer time because owners and managers have to look outside their immediate social circle, but the end result is worth the effort. “You have to look differently, do lots more calls for applicants and interviews,” Colliau said about the hiring process. But she added that it’s not about tokenism. “It’s not just a matter of ticking boxes.”
Colliau also tapped some old friends to join her in her new venture. Bar staffers Samuel Jimenez, Ty Caudle and Ben Riddell all worked with her at The Interval at one time. In the kitchen, chef Jordan Grosser has known Colliau for some time. Grosser, best known for his role at Stag Dining, a corporate and event catering service, says his friendship with Colliau has made his job even tougher in some ways. It’s a challenge to make food that’s as creative, thoughtfully sourced and well-executed as her drinks, he said. On top of that, the kitchen is small and doesn’t have an oven hood, yet needs to serve a variety of bites, from bar snacks to full meals. And, he adds, Colliau is not shy about expressing her opinions about his food.
The food menu will likely change with the season, but a few dishes, like the fried chicken sandwich and potato chips with whipped ricotta, will remain. The breads are one of the only ingredients not made in house — they come from Oakland’s Firebrand Artisan Breads.
When asked what his current favorite menu item was, Grosser’s eyes lit up. The Pickled Eggs and Pretzels is an elevated version of a dive bar snack he recalls eating as a 20-year-old at his friend’s father’s bar (and yes, he knows he was too young to be in the bar at the time). Back in the day, the bar would serve the briny eggs and peppers, scooped out of a large jar sitting on the bar, with Rold Gold pretzels out of a bag. For Grosser’s version, the eggs are yellow, dyed and flavored with turmeric, paired with a soft pretzel, hot peppers and grainy mustard.
A reverence for the past mixed with an ambitious desire to improve (or put a new stamp) on what came before seems to be a theme at Here’s How. Colliau admits that as the boss, she doesn’t necessarily always know what she’s doing, but she’s willing to continue the conversation and, as the name of her establishment connotes, be transparent about her process along the way.
Here’s How is open 4 p.m. to midnight, Sunday through Thursday; 4 p.m. to 1 a.m., Friday and Saturday.