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Swanky Sippables

From Red Bull blends to mortar-mashed specialties, trendy drinks range from classic to otherworldly creations

By Mary Spicuzza

WE WATCHED with fascination as the youngest, bravest barhopper of the bunch received both of the ingredients for her drink at South First Billiards. Grasping her pint glass half-full of Red Bull in one hand, she promptly dropped a shot of Jagermeister into the center and guzzled the whole thing. Then ordered another.

Even though I cowered in fear, grasping my berry martini, trendy drinkers are dabbling in energy-drink cocktails and can't stop raving about the rush. Booze has been a staple for thousands of years, but it is not immune to fashions of the moment.

From Pink Ladys and Grasshoppers of the '60s (milkshake-like concoctions) and Golden Cadillacs of the '80s (Galliano and cream) to Jell-o shots of five minutes ago, the cocktail lounge provides a perfect arena for trendspotting.

Clearly, the eight-ball wallop of adrenalizing caffeine and sugar blended with a shot of 70-proof downer is one of this year's top draws.

Most spots around town have started whipping up a blend of Red Bull and vodka, sometimes called a Raging Bull, but other adventurous spots like South First Billiards have started experimenting with various liquors combined with the latest brands of energy beverages, like Rock Star and 180 Energy Drink.

And John at The Grill on the Alley has been serving (this name was just waiting, wasn't it?) the "Rolling Blackout," a mix of Stoli, Kahlua and espresso.

Dancing Woman Kahlua coffee liquor, of course, has not escaped the speedball craze it helped pioneer. Even the classic White Russian--the syrupy Kahlua, cream and vodka cocktail repopularized in The Big Lebowski--when blended with Coke, takes on a new identity as the Colorado Bulldog. Nobody has offered an immediate explanation of who came up with the name, but bartenders at swankier spots like A.P. Stump's claim they're serving them up in droves.

For the more conservative, classic cocktails continue to hold their own amid the confusing world of swirling concoctions. Ubiquitous drinks like the Cosmopolitan, a tasty blend of vodka (often Citron), Triple Sec, cranberry juice and lime served in a martini glass, have managed to keep their cool. Some swanky spots are even expanding their offerings with new variations, like the East Coast Cosmo.

Martini parties aren't exactly a new idea anymore, but dozens of flavor-tinis are still pouring into the Silicon Valley sipping scene. Downtown's Eulipia Restaurant & Bar offers Appletinis and stylish espresso martinis. A cousin, the Lemon Drop--blended Citron and lemon juice served with a lemon wedge in a sugar-rimmed martini glass--may not have achieved the Cosmo's fame, but it remains a favorite of those looking for something refreshing for the balmy summer evenings ahead.

San Jose's ongoing Cuban music love affair has brought with it a rum-soaked revolution, meaning that Mojito lovers are no longer meeting bewildered stares when ordering their favorite drink. It may be high-maintenance as far as cocktails go--a bartender must mortar-grind mint leaves, usually with a simple syrup or sugar, before adding ice, rum, soda and a stalk of mint. And hey, if it's good enough to become a staple in Ernest Hemingway's drinking repertoire, it must be good. While A.P. Stump's grinds Mojitos for its well dressed clientele, its bartenders also use their mortars for vegetable-vodka beverages, including cucumber and bell pepper blends.

Even devoted beer halls like Trials Pub have hopped on the contemporary mix-mastering craze, combining, of note, Guinness with just about everything, including hard cider, Bass, and a blend of cider and Chambord, the French raspberry liqueur of Sex on the Beach fame. These drinks aren't exactly cocktails, but they all involve way more mix-ology than uncapping a Budweiser or scraping the foam off a draft ale.

The popularity of any trendy liquid depends on the crowd sipping it--while frat boys and college students rave about the Surfer on Acid (a blend of Jagermeister, Malibu Coconut Rum and pineapple juice), bachelorette parties still tend toward predictable girls' night out drinks--such as the Blow Job--a Kahlua, Bailey's Irish Cream and vodka shooter topped with whipped cream--consumed without using the hands or teeth.

One of the most exciting drink menu trends that continues to fuel the fantasies of tiki torch lovers is the re-emergence of retro summer drinks like the Singapore Sling, a combination of rum, grenadine, sour mix, soda and cherry brandy, and the Tiki Love Bowl, with potent ingredients that seem to change with each tiki lounge serving them. Now if only the Fairmont Hotel here would open a tiki lounge similar to its San Francisco sister's Tonga Room, Silicon Valley could truly bask in the full glory of summer cocktails.

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Senoritas and Margaritas: Left at Albuquerque--blame it all on Route 66.

Scene Stealer: All the animals come out at night... to the Camera Cafe.

Saddle Up: Sangria Restaurant, where sitting at the bar is a gripping experience.

Retro Groovin': At the DancePlex. partygoers relive the '70s, '80s and... this morning!

Flash and Dash: Mardi Gras and other surprises at Nola Restaurant and Bar.

Knight Dreams: Black Watch--where swords cross and Stoli freezes over.

United Nations: Lido's Nightclub, where world beat has a whole new meaning.

Taste the Music: The Icon Supperclub is the new incarnation of the Edge.

Mineral Wealth: Mining for meaning under the Cinebar's disco ball .

In the Pink: All in a dogone day's work at the Pink Poodle.

Rod's Roadstop: Britannia Arms at Almaden wears it well.

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From the June 21-27, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.