New San Rafael spot serves cocktails worth their weight
The space at 848 B St. has undergone such a massive renovation and redesign that it’s barely recognizable. Ignacio “Notch” Gonzalez, the owner of Top Notch Kustoms, an auto shop where he customizes hot rods, is the designer behind San Rafael’s newest bar. Critics have dubbed California Gold an “American pub with pre-Tiki era cocktails.”
Gonzalez is known for his over-the-top design at San Francisco’s Smuggler’s Cove and Whitechapel. And while California Gold is slightly more restrained, it still features plenty of dramatic touches including sumptuous red tufted-leather booths, a decorative tin ceiling, and dark forest green walls.
The space’s original 1906 mahogany bar runs the length of the room—back to where additional seating is available amid low lighting and walls adorned with paintings of clipper ships and old maps. Plenty of dark wood and bronze statues complete the masculine sensibility reminiscent of a gentleman’s study at the turn of the century.
Elevated décor is not the only thing of note here. Owner and manager Isaac Shumway is a Culinary Institute of America graduate and brings two decades of bar and restaurant experience to his new role. He has worked at Tosca Café, Bourbon & Branch, Alembic and other notable establishments. Likewise, co-owner Rhia Shumway (Isaac’s wife), is the wine director and brings her considerable industry experience from time spent at Saison and Absinthe among others.
California Gold mines classic cocktails
There is much to feast the eyes on at California Gold, but it is the beautifully illustrated cocktail list, featuring masterfully executed concoctions, that steals the show here. For tequila lovers, the tasty El Diablo of blanco tequila, fresh ginger, lime, cassis and soda is a must. There are almost 20 specialty cocktails on the bar’s menu; each with a whimsical description and illustration. Many—like the Nuestra Tropical with sherry, cognac, coconut cream, lime and bitters, and the Banana Cow prepared with dark rum, Straus milk, grenadine and lime—are undeniably Tiki-inspired.
While the cocktails are center stage, a carefully selected wine and beer list rounds out the offerings. Reasonably priced craft brews and wines by the glass are also available. Golden Hour—aka Happy Hour—occurs daily with specific selections priced as low as $7 a glass.
While California Gold utilizes a fair amount of artifice to recreate a time and a place, it is so tastefully designed and the cocktails so good, we are effectively and happily transported to an earlier era of our beloved state.