Hard Water bartender is a true craftswoman 

click to enlarge Bartender Jennifer Colliau crafted the Bourbon Lift when she was asked to be a mixologist for a party thrown by the cocktail magazine Imbibe. - MIKE KOOZMIN/THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Mike Koozmin/The S.F. Examiner
  • Bartender Jennifer Colliau crafted the Bourbon Lift when she was asked to be a mixologist for a party thrown by the cocktail magazine Imbibe.

Named after the high mineral content of Kentucky’s streams, famed local restaurateur Charles Phan’s new waterfront bar and restaurant showcases its impressive selection of 200 fine American whiskeys along the front wall. The small, airy spot is just steps away from Phan’s Slanted Door restaurant in the Ferry Building. Hard Water features high ceilings and a horseshoe-shaped bar, but no tables. Instead, there are ledges along the walls with high stools, and tall windows that look out toward San Francisco Bay. Jennifer Colliau not only tends bar at Hard Water, but her company, Small Hand Foods, makes the cocktail syrups featured in the drinks at the site and a growing number of The City’s upscale bars.

What do you like to drink?

Manhattans, martinis. I’m super classic. I always joke that I drink like an English sailor or an old man.

What bars do you like?

Bar Agricole has the best, most consistent cocktails. Acme Bar in the East Bay has a dive bar feel but features whiskeys from all over the world. The Hotsy Totsy in Albany.

Why do you use thermometers to make your cocktails?

I stir cocktails with a thermometer to get them down to 32 degrees freezing. We use big, custom-made glass beakers that get the drinks colder faster. I am very specific and want to make my drinks perfect every time. It’s all about consistency; that’s really important to me. The problem with a lot of bars is that you can have an amazing drink from one person but it’s not good on another night.

What are some of your previous jobs?

I’ve been bartending 17 years, including eight at the Slanted Door. I’m also a furniture maker and worked as a cabinet maker and did refinishing and restorations. I’ve taught woodworking. I made almost all the furniture in my house, including the carpet. I bought the wool, spun it, made a loom and wove it. I need to make things by hand and always have.

What bartenders do you admire?

Erik Adkins, our bar manager, provides the best customer service I’ve ever seen. When he cuts people off they end up apologizing to him. Thad Vogler at Bar Agricole. He’s fantastic and probably has the best palate I’ve ever encountered.

What famous people have you served?

I managed a bar in L.A. in the late ’90s. Madonna came in. Cindy Crawford was so tall! Monica Lewinsky was in one night and got so mobbed by photographers they had to take her out the back door. Leonard Cohen was awesome and drinks Pernod.

What do you like about bartending?

I like the craftsmanship aspect of it, absolutely. I like that I need to make things with my hands; it’s why I like making furniture. It’s really important to me. I know what I do is really special. I’ve been in several Speed Rack competitions for women bartenders. Lots of women have come up to me praising me for my company. I guess I’m an inspiration to women. I’m the only female bartender at Hard Water and was the only night bartender at the Slanted Door.

Bourbon Lift

  • 1½ oz. Buffalo Trace bourbon
  • ½ oz. House Spirits coffee liqueur
  • ½ oz. Small Hand Foods orgeat almond syrup
  • ½ oz. heavy cream

Shake ingredients together with ice in cocktail shaker; strain into fizz glass. Stir vigorously while topping with soda water.


Pier 3 • The Embarcadero • (415) 392-3021 • hardwaterbar.com

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Donna Domino

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