So far, my cocktail series has focused on bars and bartenders in San Francisco. But a recent trip up north has me thinking about expanding to the entire Bay Area after a few sips of the magical drinks at Goose & Gander in St. Helena.
The restaurant and bar recently opened in the former Martini House space. The bar is headed up by Scott Beattie and Michael Pazdon. Beattie is well known for his time at Cyrus, along with recent ventures at Spoonbar, Hog & Rocks in San Francisco and Mateo’s Cocina Latina. Pazdon came to the Bay Area from New York and became well known for leading the cocktail program at Michelin Star-rated Solbar at Solage Calistoga.
“Scott and I had seen each other at cocktail events and up here in wine country and we had always talked about working together. I was looking to move on from Solbar and when I found out the new owners had hired Scott to run the cocktail program here, it was the perfect fit,” said Pazdon.
While the upstairs dining room portion of Goose & Gander changed quite a bit from the Martini House days, the downstairs bar stayed relatively the same. “This is such an amazing space. There really isn’t much that needed to be changed. I think the space is what really attracted both Scott and I to here,” said Pazdon. “This is and always has been a great neighborhood bar, a local’s hangout and when we opened, it was nice to say, it’s good to be home.”
Beattie and Pazdon collaborated on the menu, which they wanted to feature classic cocktails with a more contemporary feel. “We got together in Scott’s kitchen for a month or two and just worked on different recipes. We would make the drinks and then add an ingredient or spirit here and there until they were perfected,” said Pazdon. “Right now, we have about 30 cocktails on the bar menu but we will be adding more as time goes on. We will also be changing up the menu seasonally and rotating drinks in and out based on what ingredients are readily in-season.”
Pazdon and Beattie regularly visit local farmer’s markets and farms in Healdsburg and they also forage themselves. One of the most unique aspects of Goose & Gander’s cocktail program is that the bar is filled with vases and vases of flowers. “We grab all different types of flowers for the drinks we create. Some are more for aromatics or to make a drink more visually appealing while others are essential to the make-up of the drink,” said Pazdon. So customers might find mint os shiso leaves in their drink, which just adds another creative element to each cocktail.
Along with a focus on classic cocktails, the list features several of their own originals that they created. “An example is the Mellivora Capensis,” explained Pazdon. “That is latin for honey badger. I looked up some drinks and found that others had done honey badger drinks, but they were pretty simple, honey-based drinks. Scott was a bit hesitant but we pushed on with it. At first, it had Eagle Rare 10 year bourbon, Dewars scotch, lemon, honey, chili, black cardamom and an apple-coconut foam to top it off. But we both thought it was missing something. So I grabbed some Ardberg scotch and both of our faces lit up. We knew that was the missing ingredient.”
Because the bar handles such a large space (not just the bar, but the dining room and patio seating as well), Pazdon and Beattie have worked on doing more with bottling cocktails. “We are a high volume bar so if you can take a seven-step drink and make it two steps, it helps. Plus, the flavors really blend well when they are aging in the same bottle together.”
Both bartenders are very cognizant of presentation. That includes the glassware, hand-carved ice for drinks on the rocks and the visual presentation of each drink, including the flowers in the cocktails.
Pazdon said that being in wine country, there is a large group of very knowledgeable cocktail consumers, many of whom would prefer anything but wine when they come in. He enjoys the camaraderie with his customers and said he also likes helping them learn even more about cocktails and spirits that they might not be familiar with.
If you’re up north, Goose & Gander is definitely a spot to hit for not only the amazing cocktails, but also the great food from the kitchen of chef Kelly McCown. The restaurant and bar are located at 1245 Spring Street in St. Helena. Lunch hours are Friday-Sunday starting at noon, dinner nightly from 4-10 and late night dining at the bar from 10-midnight.