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At Dosa, a gin bar

On Dosa's cocktail menu: the Beet Box

SALOONS | Chris Barnett

You rarely see a gin and tonic slide across the bar at Dosa, the Southern Indian restaurant on Fillmore at Post, no matter how many times you belly up to that stylish 50-foot slab of recycled glass, mirror chips and mother-of-pearl. But you’ll see plenty of Princetons, Bengali gimlets and other exotic cocktails, many made with locally distilled artisan gin.

Students of libational history know that Brits posted in India in the 19th century regarded London-style gin mixed with tonic water a malaria cure. Quinine, an ingredient in tonic water, was thought to kill the disease — with the added bonus of chilling India’s sweltering heat and tranquilizing the patient after a couple of ice-filled glasses. The health-restoring highball became the unofficial drink of India.

Dosa does not invoke the sun setting on the British Empire, with draped mosquito netting and fans spinning lazily overhead, reminiscent of the Raj. Those and other cliches of colonialism have been eschewed by owners Emily and Anjan Mitra in favor of spectacular sculptures, nine-foot lotus petal light fixtures and a soaring two-story space that is modern, sexy and sophisticated.

Dosa's popular 50-foot bar of recycled glass, mirror chips and mother-of-pearl.

Yet far from ignoring tradition, the Mitras celebrate India’s spirit of choice with a collection of 30 different gins on Dosa’s back bar and a list of creative cocktails that dazzle the taste buds. This is no gin mill. Dosa calls it a gin bar. And the recipes combining the potent personalities of different gins with a repertoire of exotic Indian spices, house-made tinctures and nectars make it a temple of inventive and seductive mixology, especially when paired with Dosa’s cuisine.

Among the offerings is a cocktail named in honor of the British sport cricket. The Batsman is a quirky but delicious mixture of Plymouth gin — distilled in England and favored by gin connoisseurs — Darjeeling tea, lemon juice and ginger beer, served over ice and crowned with a mint sprig. With those ingredients and the time it takes to mix one, the Batsman is a bargain at $10.

Cooking in the south of India is not for the faint of tongue and Dosa’s so-called spice route cocktails match the food’s firepower.

A cocktail called the Juhu Palm combines the slightly creamy taste of DH Krahn gin, coconut milk, fresh lime juice and bird’s-eye dried chili served up with a spanked kaffir lime leaf, also $10. Spanking the leaf involves squeezing it over the glass so the aeromatics drizzle into the drink.

Bar manager Lenny Gumm makes a colorful cocktail with a kick called, innocently enough, the Nile Blossom. Check out the ingredients: Tru2 organic gin, J. Witty organic chamomile liqueur (tasting of chamomile tea), fresh grapefruit juice and jalapeno honey nectar, $10.

Dosa serves everything on its menu at the bar. So order the Peony cocktail — a concoction of 209 gin, hibiscus nectar, coconut milk, orange flower water and a dash of chili, $10 — and then add the restaurant’s namesake dosa, a huge savory rice and lentil crepe served with a coconut dipping sauce. Incidentally, the 209 gin meets Dosa’s preference for locally sourced ingredients: it’s distilled here on Pier 50.

Not all of Dosa’s gin cocktails are inspired by the tastes of the coffee, tea and cardamom plantations or the fishing villages of South India. There’s also a revival section on the bar menu with six gin classics. The Silver Fizz, a version of the 1930s classic, includes the basic lemon juice and egg white with ultra-smooth, Bay Area-distilled Aviation gin, plus a dash of soda, shaken, strained and poured, $10.

And then there’s the Hanky Panky, which combines Fernet Branca, the Italian digestivo, with Carpano Antica, said to cure near-lethal stomach aches, and Broker’s gin, shaken and served in a martini glass, $9.

Save the Hanky Panky for last.