Do You Know About The Cutty Bang, SF’s Homegrown Liquor Store Cocktail?
It’s a sad thing that The Bold Italic has shuttered. They did a lot of really great things for many SF artists and writers and it’s a true shame that they are no longer around. The Bold Italic not only gave SF creatives great exposure, it also actually paid them good money, which we all know is a really rare thing. I’m really proud of the work I did for them, some of which I consider my best, and I’ll be sharing these every once in awhile.
I was sitting across from a guy who was dating, or fucking, or somewhere in between a friend of mine. “Have you heard about Cutty Bang?” he asked. “My friend Serg out in San Francisco who runs this blog called Beer And Rap told me about it. There’re a bunch of bodegas in SF that take airplane bottles of booze, mixers, and a cup with ice, wrap them together with a rubber band, and sell them. Cutty Bang is the most famous, but there’re all different kinds.”
What the fuck? I hadn’t been that interested in our conversation, but at this point I perked up. How could I not know about this? How could there be something so elusive and underground in San Francisco that I, someone who almost fetishizes such things, hadn’t heard about it? The second I got home I’d have to look into this. It would be my great white whale. My mythical beast. I would hunt down this so-called Cutty Bang, and I would drink it. Then I’d write about it.
Unfortunately the day I got home, this was published on Uptown Almanac. So I decided to let the story go and tried to put it out of my mind. It just didn’t work. Every once in awhile I’d think about the drink and its brilliant possibilities, and then this song would play in my head. Goddamn you, Taydatay, you twisted genius! Finally I reached out to Serg both for his blessing and his guidance. At the current moment, I have a fridge full of airplane bottles and mixers rubber-banded together in little baggies. This is how it all went down.
I started out at Charlie’s Pharmacy in the Fillmore, apparently one of the main players in the Cutty Bang game. Rumor was these guys sold so many Cutty Bangs and its variations that they even had a menu with pictures. I approached the counter and the Middle Eastern dude rocking a Giants shirt standing behind it. “Hey man, you guys sell Cutty Bangs?”
“Nope,” he answered.
“What’re all those little bottles and mixers grouped together over there?” I pointed to a few shelves behind him that were filled with what appeared to be exactly what I asked for. Well, almost… I didn’t see the combo of Seagram’s, Tanqueray, Bacardi Limon, and pineapple juice, the sum of which equals a Cutty Bang.
“Well, we used to sell Cutty Bangs but we don’t anymore. Too many people started copying us, so we stopped naming them and instead just assigned them numbers. To stop the copycats, we switch up which number is which every once in awhile. In a few months I may put the Cutty Bang back in rotation.”
My man behind the counter is Nick Shoman, one of the owners of the store. He went on to tell me that copycats aren’t even the full problem, the real issue is Johnny Law. Apparently a city ordinance was passed that made it difficult to sell these hallowed drinks. While liquor stores could still package and sell the ingredients together, they were banned from vending them alongside the cups and ice.
This of course irked Shoman. His take was this: The cops got on his case for selling the drinks because people were drinking them outside his store, but why didn’t the cops do anything about the people who were actually drinking them? Good question, Nick.
Before leaving, I had to find out where the hell these names came from (back when names were used) and what kind of magnificent bastard created these elixirs. The answers were simple. The names came from popular songs, whatever was in the news, or off the top of Nick and his brother’s heads.
And the drinks? Nick and his brother put together whatever they think sounds good. They must have a knack for this, considering they’ve been doing it for 10 years. Nick was cagey about revealing the names of the drinks because he was worried about the competition stealing his shit. He allowed that the #7 was the Obama and was made from pineapple juice, Don Julio, Bacardi Limón, Sour Apple Pucker, and Bacardi Big Apple. I bought an Obama just in case the president wants to throw one back with me next time he’s in town.
I walked out of Charlie’s Pharmacy feeling dejected by the fact that, technically, I hadn’t found what I was looking for. Satisfaction wouldn’t be had until I walked out of a place with a styrofoam cup and ice, as well as the potent baggie of booze. The Cutty Bang was turning out to be my mythical beast after all.
I headed down to Bayview Liquors on Third Street and Newcomb. According to legend, this is where the Cutty Bang, and all her siblings, originated. I walked into the liquor store and asked if they sold Cutty Bangs. At first I thought I’d scored; they had them! But then the other shoe dropped. I’d have to get the cup and ice somewhere else. Sammy B, the young Middle Eastern cat behind the counter, said the cops cracked down on Cutty Bangs and their ilk because of the litter they created. Apparently before the heat, Bayview Liquors sold nearly 20 drinks a day.
I looked into the deli fridge and saw a handful of drinks packaged together in sandwich baggies.
“Which is the most popular?”
“The High Speed,” he replied.
“Which is what?”
“Two Bacardi Limóns, Seagram’s, and a Red Bull.”
“Which is the best tasting?”
He thought about it, reached down, and put a filled baggie on the counter, “The Freaky. It’s got Skyy vodka, Cîroc vodka, Bacardi, and cranberry-grape juice.”
“And what’s this?” I pointed to an extra-colorful one and Sammy placed it on the counter next to the Freaky.
“This is the Freak Me.”
“It’s different than the Freaky?”
“Yeah, it’s fruity. It’s got cranberry juice, Bacardi Melon, Watermelon Pucker, Cîroc vodka, and Tanqueray.”
“Is it good?”
Just as Sammy finished, a black chick in her mid-twenties came in the door, saw the bundle, and said, “Oh shit! Who’s buying the Freak Me?”
“I am,” I said, and then asked, “Is that your favorite?”
“Fuck yeah,” she said. “It’s the best!” I liked her enthusiasm. I bought it.
Just then a flamboyant dude looking like Sisqo, minus the millions he made off the “Thong Song,” walked in. He followed me outside and told me that next time I got a High Speed, I should get it with an energy drink called “Hunid Racks.” He informed me that his name is Anthony, and that not only is he a singer, but he’s also somehow involved in the “Hunid Racks” business. How wasn’t exactly clear.
After hitting a couple more stores, only to be met with the same answer, my bag was overflowing with airplane bottles and mixers. I stopped at a Subway to get a cup with some ice and treated myself to the Hunid Racks version of the High Speed in honor of my new friend Anthony. It was a light turquoise color and not very good.
Finally, I set my sights on the Tenderloin. Where else in San Francisco (or the developed world, for that matter) are laws so flagrantly disregarded? I mean, there are baby-eating crack heads buzzing through the streets like goddamn velociraptors at any hour. I doubted the cops could give two shits about whether or not a bodega was selling Cutty Bangs.
I started on a random stretch in the heart of the madness. The first place yielded questioning looks and indifference. At the second place, the dude knew of the High Speed and could put one together for me, but again, no cups and ice. As I walked out, I got stopped by an old white bum who looked like the absolute worst of what the Tenderloin could do to a person. The world had kicked this guy’s ass. He said, “Thanks for being here. The neighborhood is changing and coming up. Thanks for being part of it.” And then walked away. I’m like catnip for crazy.
As I walked into my third liquor store in the TL, I was resigned to the fact that the glory days of the Cutty Bang were over. The sun had set on this elusive beast and I’d missed my chance to do what any free man deserves: to make a ghetto cocktail and drink it on the street in front of the store he bought the fixins in. If the Cutty Bang was dead, then a little part of America was also dead. And a little part of me, too. My great white whale had gotten away.
I walked up to the counter to give it one last try, “Hey man,” I said, “do you sell Cutty Bangs?” The old Middle Eastern guy behind the counter looked at me like I was a fool. “Of course, my friend. And the High Speed, too. Which is it you want?”
“Yeah, but do you have cups with ice?”
The same look of exasperation came over his face. “Of course! Did you not look in the freezer?” He pointed behind me. I went over and opened the door. Sure enough, there was a plethora of cups and ice waiting to be plucked from the bowels of the freezer and filled with the cocktail of my choosing.
I walked out of there with a smile on my face and a Cutty Bang in my hand. The good guys had won for once. And if I ignored the human feces on the sidewalk and the crack head zombies fluttering around me, all was right with the world. Plus I had a messenger bag filled with airplane bottles and mixers. At least my fridge would be full of something for once.
Wanna get your own Cutty Bang or some variation of it? Stop in to Charlie’s Pharmacy at 1101 Fillmore. The #7 may still be the Obama. Check out Bayview Liquors, the original home of the Cutty Bang, at 4700 3rd St. to get tons of different kinds of these little liquor-store libations. As for the spot in the Tenderloin, I’m not trying to get anyone busted, so you’ll have to find that one yourself.