- Photo by Tyson Wirtzfeld
It’s Saturday night in the Gaslamp. Bachelorette-party girls are teetering on high heels, out-of-towners are walking too slowly and there’s a bunch of drunken people dressed in neon.
At 835 Fifth Ave., there’s a stairway leading underground, its walls papered with posters of down-turned thumbs. At the bottom is The Propagandist. Husband-and-wife owners Brian and Jessica Divine soft-opened the bar last fall before opening officially on March 31.
The Divines have a love / hate relationship with the bar’s location. Brian managed the space during two of its previous incarnations—Faces and Blonde Martini. When the owner of George’s on Fifth (upstairs) offered him the chance to turn the space into a new bar, he and Jessica knew that while the location wasn’t ideal, they could make it something cool. The interior lacks pretense, with its brick walls, lots of seating (some of it old church pews) and lighting that’s dim, but not too dim.
“When you walk down those stairs, this is like another world offering refuge from what’s up there,” Brian says. To bring reluctant folks Downtown, the Divines have started hosting art shows and live music. On Wednesdays, they’ll screen films. And, they just launched the “Grandfathered In” happy hour on Fridays. Show up at 5 p.m. and your drinks are $5 until 9 p.m.; show up at 6 and they’re $6 and so on.
Brian insists that The Propagandist isn’t a craft-cocktail bar. Feel free to argue; the cocktails are mighty fine. The Thomas Edison, made with Basil Hayden Bourbon, Cherry Heering, Velvet Falernum and blackberry brandy, tastes how good bourbon smells—smooth with just a hint of sweetness. The Mango En Fuego, made with Tito’s Vodka (Propagandist’s well vodka; Google it), has a nice amount of heat (muddled fresh habanero peppers) balanced by fresh-pressed mango juice. The El Viejo—described as a “Mexican Old Fashioned”—was made interesting with a hint of chocolate bitters. The Ruby Red Coat (Plymouth gin, St. Germaine, aperol and fresh-pressed grapefruit juice) includes a basil leaf held in place by perfect squares of ice so you get a whiff of basil with each sip.
“It’s our job to get you into the drink; it’s the drink’s job to implant a memory,” Brian says. “It has to have that ‘wow’ factor.”