Range Within its sage-colored walls, bartenders pull chilled glasses from an old blood bank refrigerator and crush cubes for your Spanish Bramble with a retro Ice-O-Matic. The bar and kitchen keep an open-door policy, giving bartenders full access to machinery and the restaurant's seasonal ingredients. In celebration of its eight-year anniversary, Range now hosts aperitif hour every day from 5 to 6 p.m. that offers guests light, bright cocktails and food to engage their palate in the tastes of summer. We spoke with bar manager Tayler Buffington, who's not as interested in glorifying Prohibition as he is about taking a fresh approach to cocktails.
How did you find your way into bartending? (Crushing ice with the Ice-O-Matic) I've been working in restaurants for a long time. I was working at Michael Mina, busing tables. It was pretty intense, that world. And I actually got laid off in 2008 when the stock market crashed. Then a year later they hired me back at the Clock Bar. So I kind of just got thrown into a really high-end program. I'd never seen homemade syrups before, I'd never seen a classic cocktail, these concepts. It was really exciting.
What do you enjoy most about your job? There's an open-door policy with the kitchen. Range is that place you go to get seasonal. We can go and ask them any questions we have. We can use the equipment, the ingredients. Creating things that people are going to enjoy. Behind the bottles on the shelf, we're treating the bar like you would a kitchen.
What's your favorite thing to work with behind the bar? Vermouth. It makes a cocktail a cocktail. That's what we're doing with our inverted drink menu. We're letting it shine. A lot of times vermouth gets short shrift.
In your opinion, what's the newest trend in cocktails? Aperitif cocktails. I think aperitifs are going to become more and more popular. People are ready for that lighter style of beverage. I think we see a similar trend in beer and wine where a year or two ago, imperial IPAs and imperial stouts were all the rage. Similar thing in wine, five years ago, Napa cabs are what everyone was looking for. They wanted bold flavors, they wanted it to be high in alcohol. They wanted big. I think there's been a move away from that.
Give me your favorite drink for each of the seasons. Well, everything we do here is pretty seasonal. So we tend to think along those lines anyway. The cocktail menu here in July looks nothing like it does in December. For me in the summer, I drink St. George Botanivore and tonic. In the fall, anything with apple juice. I'm a big fan of fresh-pressed apple juice and scotch or sherry. In the winter, I like classic cocktails, pure spirituous. Negronis, whiskeys and amaros. In the spring, I usually take a break from drinking around February and March.
What was your first drink? I went to Italy in the eighth grade and I had a shot of Jägermeister. I was so afraid that the chaperones were gonna find out. But I was like, this is delicious. My first fancy drink was a Manhattan.
Nice curls. Thanks. I don't do much with them. I just let them happen. I've embraced them. I live with my girlfriend. She has really curly red hair. I actually steal some of her hair products. When we go out, people always stop us and say, "You guys are gonna have the cutest kids." And I'm like "Hey, I don't even know you."
• 1½ oz. Napoleon Amontillado
• 1 oz. blackberry mint shrub
• ½ oz. St. George Terroir Gin
Add first three ingredients over crushed ice. Stir. Strain over crushed ice. Top with soda. Garnish with mint sprig.
BAR INFO: 842 Valencia St. • (415) 282 -8283 • www.rangesf.com