The Healdsburg Cocktail Triangle — Three Bars You Must Visit in Northern Sonoma County
Being situated in the center of the Bermuda Triangle isn’t a good thing. The center of the Healdsburg Cocktail Triangle, however, is a very different story, though nonetheless mysterious. Two bars recently opened near Jordan Vineyard & Winery—one in downtown Geyserville and another in downtown Healdsburg. If you plot these buzzworthy watering holes on a map with the historic Alexander Valley Bar, a century-old hangout on the corner of Alexander Valley Road and Highway 128, a triangle is formed. Guess what is located in the middle of the craft cocktail deltoid? Jordan Estate, home to Jordan Vineyard & Winery.
How does an iconic wine producer of elegant Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay—on the eve of the 40th anniversary of its first vintage (1976 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon harvest began on October 8)—end up anchored to geographic coordinates where the vortex of the publicity surrounding these bars seems to suck our staff (and our guests) in with such ease?
How is it possible that Healdsburg can be both the epicenter of northern Sonoma County’s three major wine regions (Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley and Russian River Valley)—and home to the best bars in wine country?
We can’t fight the pull. Try one. Try them all. You won’t be disappointed. Just remember to enjoy that bottle of Jordan with dinner first.
The Official Guide to the Healdsburg Cocktail Triangle
Update: Sadly, the legendary Alexander Valley Bar closed on December 17, 2017. The spell of the triangle has been broken.
Geyserville Gun Club
Located in a narrow brick space known to locals as the Odd Fellows Building, Geyserville Gun Club quietly opened its doors in March 2016 and has been wooing regulars ever since. (The Healdsburg zip code extends to within 2.5 miles of downtown Geyserville, so we can’t help but include them in the list.) Owner Dino Bugica, whose popular Diavola’s pizzeria is situated next door, remodeled the space to create a combination of modern-hip with kitschy hunting lounge. (Kitsch in a good way). The wall-mounted taxidermy somehow melds with the exposed brick, patina walls and wrought-iron chandeliers. It may be the maneki-neko greeter, the porcelain Dumbo figurine on the back bar and the fully restored juke box that bring Geyserville Gun Club’s eclectic vibe together, but in reality, it’s the delicious drinks and the people. During happy hour, you’ll find local grapegrowers in cowboy boots and Wranglers bumping elbows with city hipsters sporting skinny jeans and trucker hats (“blend in” is the motto, right?). The people watching alone is worth the drive 10 minutes north of Healdsburg. Light bar fare (ahi crudo, ceviche and beef tartare) is intermingled with mainstays, such as chicken wings, ribs and the “cold” pizza—all served through a window Bugica created to allow Diavola’s kitchen to prepare. The cocktails are crafted by serious mixologists, replete with beards and stylist bar aprons. Ingredients run the gamut from local to exotic, flavors are smooth and preparation on par with the best bars in San Francisco and New York. The bar menu changes regularly, but my personal favorites this month are the Paper Plane (pictured above) —Buffalo Trace Bourbon, Amaro Nonino, Cappalletti and lemon—and the Wolfman’s Delight, a blend of Brown Butter Washed Monkey Shoulder Scotch (say that three times fast), raw ginger, honey, lemon and peat monster. Beers on tap and an esoteric wine list are also available and continue the Gun Club’s adventurous theme. (Many regulars are still shocked there isn’t a single Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon on the list.) There’s also a courtyard patio being constructed behind the bar, similar to Diavola’s—one of the best kept secrets for outdoor dining in all of Sonoma County. Gun Club’s patio is expected to open later this year.
Geyserville Gun Club
21025 Geyserville Ave, Geyserville, CA 95441
Open Monday-Thursday at 4:30 p.m.; Friday-Sunday at 1 p.m.
Alexander Valley Bar (Closed 12/17/17)
Five years ago, the historic Alexander Valley Bar—which began in the 1920s as an integral part of one of the three original country stores that provided livestock feed and other provisions in the Healdsburg area—was reinvented once again. The building is unique in wine country—it’s the only business you’ll find where a bar with a full liquor license and a winery tasting room share the same premises. The owners of Medlock Ames Winery renovated the dilapidated old store (and its attached bar room), leaving a single wall intact that would allow them to keep the bar license operating with a tasting room also situated on the charming corner surrounded by grapevines between the Russian River bridge and Jimtown Store. The caveat: Only one of the two bars can be open at a time. When the tasting room closes at 5 p.m., the theatre of the staff closing down and maneuvering through the bottom of a barn-style door into the Alexander Valley Bar is fun to watch for tourists. Finish sipping a taste of Sauvignon Blanc on a covered side porch overlooking the organic herb garden, olive orchard and bocce ball court before stepping into the century-old hideout at the back of the mocha-painted structure with a farmhouse design. The dimly-lit bar is described as “a cross between a turn-of-the-century saloon and modern cocktail den.” Seasonal cocktails inspired by garden ingredients picked each afternoon are the biggest draw, next to the Sunday afternoon concerts with food trucks each summer. My current favorite seasonal drink is the Derby Days (pictured above), made with Bullet Bourbon, lemon, ginger beer, bitters, a sugar cube, and muddled strawberries and mint from the bar’s garden—all garnished with freshly picked, flowering mint sprigs. The Medlock Mule is a perennial favorite always found on the ever-changing cocktail menu.
Alexander Valley Bar
6487 CA-128, Healdsburg, CA 95448
Open six days a week at 5 p.m. (Closed on Wednesdays)
Duke’s Spirited Cocktails
Once home to the beloved local bar, John & Zeke’s, this outpost on the north side of the Healdsburg square has been serving libations since 1933. Three Spoonbar alumns (Tara Heffernon, Laura Sanfilippo and Steven Maduro) took over the space last year and realized their dream of creating a hangout for locals and visitors alike where the craft of artisanal cocktails is celebrated alongside the important role bars play as community hangouts. Heffernon (pictured above) takes DIY very seriously as an artist and businesswoman. She grows all her own herbs and flowers for drinks (including wormwood for bitters), makes seasonal tap root cocktails from scratch (served on tap) and paints the walls with mosaic prints of historic photographs of the building and Healdsburg. Fruits and vegetables hail from Sanfilippo’s garden. Heffernon says that tap root cocktails are force carbonated, allowing the aromas and flavors to shine through, a process that takes longer than making each drink from scratch—but pays off on the palate. The Bitter Root (Leopold’s Aperitivo, Cocchi Rosa, Cappelletti, sparkling wine and blood orange bitters) and Fool’s Paradise (Frida Khalo Tequila, clarified passionfruit, Dolin Blanc Vermouth and bay laurel) are already local favorites. Other craft cocktails made to order include the Daily Tot—an island-inspired blend of Plantation 5 Year Rum, Delord Armagnac, Brazil Nut Orgeat, Angostura Amaro, orange, lime and allspice—and Barely Legal, which combines Charbay Meyer Lemon Vodka, Giffard lychee, yuzu, lemon and grapefruit. Duke’s is a place, like Geyserville Gun Club, where you’ll find local farmers in checkered shirts and jeans at one table and San Francisco daytrippers in sundresses at the next. Heffernon’s passion for ingredients, and her tutelage under legendary mixologist Scott Beattie (now at Meadowood), has made Duke’s an immediate success since its opening in June 2016. Bar snacks, such as pickled vegetables, rosemary mixed nuts, marinated olives and chips with salsa verde, are also served. Luckily, the space is quite large, so it doesn’t always feel too crowded.
Duke’s Spirited Cocktails
111 Plaza Street, Healdsburg, CA 95448
Open from afternoon until late seven days a week (hours vary)
Also, don’t miss a few of the more established restaurant bars in Healdsburg, also mixing serious drinks. Valette has a new mixologist who makes his own amaro and tobacco-infused vodka, Spoonbar has upped its tiki game this summer with scorpion bowls and Barndiva’s Studio Gallery Bar reinvented itself this spring as Barndiva Gallery Bar & Bistro, adding a French country menu, more seating, a gallery garden and new artisan cocktails.