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A drink from San Francisco’s Moongate Lounge.
WALKING INTO SAN Francisco’s Moongate Lounge, the best date spot in the city, is like finding yourself in a movie. The lush colors and rich pink lighting of the high-ceilinged room are reminiscent of the Wong Kar-wai film “In the Mood for Love.” The bar also serves superior lunar calendar–inspired cocktails.
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One of this season’s standouts is the Major Snow, a shaken gin cocktail designed by bar manager Garrett Marks. Marks wanted to spotlight the citrus that’s currently in season, so he chose pomelos, a large fruit with a yellow-green rind and grapefruit-like flavor. Pomelos are native to Southeast Asia but are grown in California; they can sometimes be seen weighing down the fuzzy-leafed branches of trees in Bay Area yards during winter. “We make a cordial out of the pomelos,” says Marks, “taking the zest and juice and adding some sugar to it.” Marks then adds infused gin, lime juice, and ginger syrup, creating a combination he calls “really bright and fruity, with a little spice from the ginger.”
‘It drinks like a gimlet,’ he says. ‘It’s very fruity, floral, and aromatic.’
Moongate Lounge sits above the beloved Mister Jiu’s restaurant in Chinatown, in a Waverly Place building that has housed Chinese restaurants for over a century. It’s the former home of the historic Four Seas Restaurant, where chef Brandon Jew attended many a celebration during his childhood. Before that, it was a restaurant called Hang Far Low, which opened in the 1880s. Mister Jiu’s, which earned a Michelin star shortly after opening, is credited with ushering in a Chinatown revival, placing ambience at its center. Jew and his partner Anna Lee, who designed Moongate Lounge with Steph Wong-Swig Architects, also wanted to preserve a storied space in the neighborhood that was grand enough for proper celebrations.
The lounge is named for the circular moon gates popular in traditional Chinese architecture — it’s a motif repeated in the banquet room doors and behind the bar, and it lends the space a nostalgic drama. The large former banquet room, which its website calls a “Lunar Inspired Listening Lounge,” is punctuated by tall-backed velvet booths and other vintage-inspired adornments that evoke a glamorous fantasy of midcentury Chinatown.
Marks has worked at Mister Jiu’s since it opened in 2016, and he’s been managing Moongate Lounge upstairs for about a year and a half. He’s enthusiastic about the way the lounge has enhanced the atmosphere and the energy at 28 Waverly Place. “I love the vibe, the lighting,” he says. “And the sound system we have here is amazing. We bring in cool DJs and have events here, and people start to dance.”
Moongate Lounge is also a “nice date spot,” Marks continues, where people can enjoy a cocktail, along with bar snacks like focaccia, smoked olives, or spiced nuts. In his view, the Major Snow goes particularly well with the bar’s glazed cashews, which have cayenne in them — a bit of heat that pairs well with the bright bite of the cocktail.
To make the Major Snow, Marks starts by infusing gin with shiso (an Asian herb in the mint family). He prefers Nikka Coffey gin, but any high quality gin will work. He adds his pomelo cordial, lime juice, and ginger syrup. Then he shakes, double strains, and pours the drink over a large ice cube. “It drinks like a gimlet,” he says. “It’s very fruity, floral, and aromatic.”
Nina Renata Aron is a writer and editor based in Oakland, California. She is the author of “Good Morning, Destroyer of Men's Souls.” Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Guardian, the New Republic, Elle, Eater, and Jezebel.
Grant Cornett is a photographer and director based in upstate New York. He likes to take pictures of pristine detritus and austere moments.
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