We confess to driving around a bit before finally discovering what was right in front of us: that crimson building on the corner of Powell and Hollis streets in Emeryville — home to Honor Kitchen and Cocktails. With no sign to guide us, we used our navigational skills and ingenuity to deduce that this unassuming and unmarked building — which has gone through a number of transformations over the years — is now an inventive bar and restaurant. A large sign inside confirmed that we had reached our destination: Honor Kitchen and Cocktails, established in 2011.
Relieved to be in the right spot, we followed instructions to place our order with the bartender. But first, we had a look around the room. Several patrons were gathered at the central communal table, while others were seated on stools at high tables long the walls. We chose to sit at the bar, where we had our choice of watching The Princess Bride or The Hobbit, or both at once. The décor can best be described as eclectic, or “dark and comfortable,” as stated on the menu — kind of like a modern speakeasy, but without the need for another password to remember. The long bar’s smooth red surface, like terrazzo, has flecks that sparkle. Candles flicker on the tables, emitting a soft glow. There’s a pinball machine in one corner.
Seated at the bar, we took our time studying the menu, which urges patrons to “Honor Your Spirit.” With a nod to a certain famous fictitious martini drinker, the offerings are listed in two columns: Shaken and Stirred.
As often happens to us, we were overcome with the number of attractive choices. Do we go with something familiar, or try something new and unusual? Is there an ingredient we haven’t heard of before that beckons? We were tempted by crowd favorites — Broken Halo (vodka, spiced pear, ginger shrub, honey, lemon, cinnamon bitters), and Smoke & Honey (mescal, blended scotch, Lillet blonde, honey, lemon), but we finally decided to go with one from the “shaken” category: Queen Anne’s Revenge (hibiscus-infused gin, lemon grapefruit marmalade, egg white, and ginger beer). The Queen Anne’s Revenge, served in a tall glass and garnished with drops of blood-red hibiscus powder, tasted frothy and citrusy — perfect for a summery evening. Served agreeably cold, this tall taste of Revenge revived our spirits at the end of a hectic afternoon.
We noticed a “Punch of the Day,” listed on the chalkboard behind the bar: Tequila, mescal, Campari, lemon, watermelon, and guajillo chili. Punch is a house specialty, changing from week to week, depending on what’s in season. We got a sneak preview of the next one — which was to include charred oranges, coffee liqueur, bourbon, molasses, rum, and a few other intriguing ingredients. We also discovered that you may order a custom punch, for a wedding or other event, which will be “tailor-made” according to your preferences.
We learned this from Eric, the bar manager at Honor — who also creates those custom punch recipes. He graciously answered our questions about the cocktail selections, and also gave us some insight into his background. While he has held a number of other positions, both in and out of restaurants, he’s always felt that he had “one foot behind the bar.” Although he’s inclined toward the classics, when creating new drinks, he says, “I like to throw in a curveball every now and again, to push the envelope by exposing people to new spirits and flavor combinations.” He looks “off the beaten path” for aperitifs and liqueurs for his creations.
Eric introduced six new drinks to the Honor menu this past spring. It usually takes him several tries to get a drink the way he wants it — but with the Gold Spike, he struck gold on the first try (Tequila, Montenegro Amaro, celery, Dijon mustard, lemon, agave, ginger ale). To keep his hand in, Eric works a couple of shifts behind the bar every week.
The most recent seasonal change to the cocktail menu occurred last month. With summer in full swing, the updated menu now offers the Georgia on My Mind (rye, Licor 43, Nocino, house made peach cordial, lemon, peach bitters), in addition to several other cocktails of both the shaken and stirred varieties that feature flavor favorites of the season.
Summer peaches in a cocktail? We will definitely need to revisit Honor to try one of those. And perhaps some of their bourbon maple chicken lollipops too.
The Drink: Queen Anne’s Revenge
To Try Next Time: Georgia on My Mind
The Crowd: Mostly after-work professionals from the area and the neighborhood during the week. Weekends draw more of a dinner crowd.
Good to Know: Even though there is no sign and no advertising for Honor, people pack the place. Word of mouth and Facebook are getting the job done. To keep apprised of their brand tasting events, check them out on Facebook.
The Bottom Line: All cocktails are $10; punch of the day is $8. For beer drinkers, there is a self-serve bucket that operates on the honor system. Help yourself, but tell the bartender to add it to your tab. No table service at the time we visited. That might change.
The Deets: Honor Bar Kitchen and Cocktails, 1411 Powell Street, Emeryvillle.
Are you a cocktail lover? Read previous Ms. Barstool reviews of Hotsy Totsy Club, East Bay Spice Company, Bourbon & Beef, Penrose, Gather, Tribune Tavern, the Paragon, Boot & Shoe Service, Picàn, Hopscotch, Five, Revival, Flora, and Prizefighter — and check Berkeleyside Nosh’s Guide to Drinking around Berkeley.
Hail all foodies! Nosh will launch Nosh Weekly in the fall, a free weekly email that will keep you up-to-date on all the delicious food, drink and restaurant news in the East Bay. Sign up here to receive it once a week.