Third Rail, A Drinking Car Without Wheels

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Third Rail, located at 20th and Third streets, isn’t the “fancy” bar people may think it is, according to owner and operator Jeff Lyon.  “People sometimes apologize for ordering ‘just a beer’ rather than one of our house cocktails, but we feel that a bar is a choose-your-own-adventure kind of place,” he said. “Sure, we have nice stuff, but there’s nothing wrong with a shot and a beer.”

The railway-themed saloon opened on December 12, 2013, replete with a 4.5-foot vintage French train station clock in its entryway. Lyon began Third rail with Phil West, who is now his business partner and chef-owner of the Mission’s Range, which closed last year.

“Until I started working at Range – in 2006 – bartending was always just a way to support myself,” Lyon said. “I played in bands, worked in a recording studio, and even tried my hand at teaching high school English. But my experience at Range made me realize that I not only really love bartending, but that I also really liked the process of figuring out how to make a place run effectively and efficiently. With some encouragement from friends who owned restaurants and bars in the City, I began putting together a business plan of sorts…Phil West caught wind of my plans, and one conversation lead to another, and we soon started looking for a location.”

The two decided to open in Dogpatch because they wanted to launch in an underserved neighborhood rather than a saturated one.  “We also really liked that Dogpatch still feels a bit industrial and undeveloped,” Lyon said. “It’s a quirky area that continues to surprise me. I love the locals!”

They named it “Third Rail” after a cocktail Lyon devised, which became a regular fixture on the Range drink list, a mixture of bourbon, lillet, honey, lemon, and orange bitters. 

“We wanted to have a subtle connection to Range,” he said. “It actually started as just a working title for our business plan, but when we found the Dogpatch location just off Third Street right by the light rail T-line, it just really seemed to fit. Also, I initially named the drink in the tradition of cocktail names that sound dangerous – like Corpse Reviver Number Two, Death in the Afternoon, Blood and Sand – and I feel that it fits to have a bar name sound a little dangerous. Our bar is pretty far from dangerous though!”

One of the things that makes Third Rail unique is its pairing of drinks with jerky; beef and mushroom. There’s the Jerk Jerky – beef with scotch bonnet, clove, allspice – and the Red Eye Jerky – beef with coffee, morita chili, arbol chili, and cumin. The mushroom jerky consists of shiitake mushrooms, soy sauce, sake, balsamic vinegar, garlic, and pepper.   

“I have to credit my business partner, Phil, for pairing drinks with jerky,” Lyon said. “We knew we wanted something simple to snack on, but we didn’t want to build out a kitchen. The idea came to him at the Ferry Building farmer’s market one Saturday where he went every week to get certain seasonal produce for Range. He always stopped by Prather to get jerky to snack on while he shopped, and he realized that it would be a perfect pairing for drinks.”

Other drinks on offer include Jigglypuff – gin, sherry, orgeat, lemon, egg white, and nutmeg – as well as Evil Twin – mescal, grapefruit, lemon, aperol, habanero tincture, and celery bitters. The beverage menu changes throughout the year, often based on the availability of seasonal ingredients. The bar features a “drink of the week” that is altered every Monday. The jerky menu rarely fluctuates, occasionally a new item is added.

Lyon believes the bar is special not only because of the jerky, but also its combination of well-crafted drinks in a simple space served by knowledgeable and friendly bartenders.  In the future, he hopes to develop the basement into an event room. “It’s only a bare, not-so-sexy space now, but we know it has potential,” Lyon said.

Third Rail seats 49 patrons and is open seven days a week, from 3 p.m. until midnight Sunday through Wednesday, and until 2 a.m. Thursday through Saturday.