Fire & Nice
Paying homage to Sacramento’s original fire department, midtown’s new Hook & Ladder lives up to its namesake as one of the hottest spots in town.
The De la Cenizas cocktail with Fidencio mezcal, apricot liqueur, grapefruit juice, agave and orange bitters
Photos by Ryan Donahue
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Some say the world will end in fire or ice, but—with apologies to Robert Frost—those two things just get the party started at Hook & Ladder Manufacturing Co., midtown’s new hotspot for craft cocktails and seasonal New American fare. From the hand-hewn ice slabs in the highballs to pendant light fixtures made from antique fire-hose nozzles—not to mention the restaurant’s name, which pays tribute to Sacramento’s history by referencing its first fire corps, which was founded in 1850 by an all-volunteer team—“everything about this place is a nod to Sacramento’s past, present and future,” says Kimio Bazett, who co-owns Hook & Ladder with business partner Jon Modrow.
The new restaurant, in a transformed space formerly occupied by Hangar 17, is the second venture from the pair, who also own popular gastropub The Golden Bear. Their new restaurant is more ambitious, says Bazett: “We had reached this plateau at The Golden Bear, and we thought it would be interesting to open a place that wasn’t as limited by size, especially in the kitchen.” To give a fresh sheen to the expansive but bare and slightly awkward space—Hook & Ladder’s building is an odd, semicircular Quonset hut dating back to the ’50s—they brought in the local design team of Whitney Johnson (who also has Shady Lady to her credit) and Tina Ross, who worked with them at The Golden Bear.
Inspired by Sacramento’s history for the name and concept, “they wanted to give it this Industrial Revolution, factory feel,” says Bazett. “It’s rough and masculine, but tempered with a natural feminine elegance as well.” That concept translated into a mod, streamlined, poured-concrete bar (look for the stamped logo in its corners and the sleek ladder façade, a sly reference to the restaurant’s name, hanging above it) alongside salvaged artifacts like ceiling lamps made with vintage hooks and antique fire extinguishers as accents. Handmade items also provide pop: Ross stenciled wooden crate tops with the California state flag for the bar back. (They serve as sliding covers for TVs, which are only brought out for major events, as when the Giants played in the World Series.) In another “ode to California statehood” (as Bazett calls it), an antique-looking U.S. flag with 31 stars (California was the 31st state) hangs by the front door. “We looked on eBay and [flags from that time] were, like, $2,000, $5,000,” says Bazett. So bar manager Chris Tucker’s girlfriend “sewed that flag and then she dipped it in iced tea and coffee to give it that weathered look, then threw it out in the sun all summer.”
That creativity and commitment to detail extends to the bar and food program, of course. Sacramento’s cocktail scene has been getting national buzz lately (as when the city was named a top destination in Imbibe magazine’s January/February issue), and Hook & Ladder’s innovations take it to even greater heights. That logo stamped into the bar, for instance, also appears in your actual drink, courtesy of a sizzling branding iron used on citrus peel garnishes. And the restaurant not only has a great selection of local and regional beers and wines on tap, it also has dedicated cocktail taps. That’s right, mixology mavens: the restaurant can literally dispense an endless stream of icy, flawless Manhattans, Negronis, and two other cocktails: the Jameson Stinger, a mint-whiskey concoction, and an original drink, the Norse by Northwest, which features crème de cacao, aquavit and a spicy West Indies spirit called St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram. Even Don Draper, who trained his child to mix the perfect cocktail, never thought of that.
Manhattans on tap may sound like a gimmick, but they’re actually the practical solution to a problem, that of turning out high-quality drinks in large quantities—fast enough so you don’t have to wait for your drink. “There are two main knocks on craft cocktails,” says Tucker. The first, he says, is that bartenders serving them can be snooty; “the other is that they take too long. We work hard to be warm and friendly, and also to expedite the drinks.” That means the bartenders will mix up anything you want—without judgment.