Alfred’s Steakhouse, a venerable San Francisco institution, has been around so long that regulars still refer to its Merchant Street location as the “new place,” even though it has been Alfred’s home for 15 years. Aside from steaks, Alfred’s is best known for its enormous martinis. Head bartender Louis Riviere is also an innovator in his own right and frequently comes up with his own concoctions. Alfred’s is a far cry from a beer-and-shot place, and patrons keep up the tradition of having stiff drinks before — and sometimes during and after — their meals. 659 Merchant St., San Francisco, (415) 781-7058, www.alfredssteakhouse.com
What’s the cocktail theme here? We probably sell more vodka martinis than anything else. But I also make a lot of Old-Fashioneds, Manhattans and negronis. We try to stay old-school and classic, so we’re not going to have things like ginger-infused syrups. We have 15 ryes, 40 bourbons and 120 single malts.
What’s the clientele like? We get a lot of businesspeople who are staying at the Hilton next door. In fact, most of my regulars don’t even live here in San Francisco. Our patrons range in age from those who had their first date here 70 years ago to the 25-year-old who is just getting into bourbon.
What’s the history of this place? The Blue Fox was originally here and was open for 40-plus years. It closed in the 1980s and another restaurant came here, but it didn’t last. When Alfred’s lost its lease in the mid-1990s, they brought everything here. The chandeliers, the red-leather booths and the bar. Alfred’s first location was at 886 Broadway, near the entrance to the Broadway Tunnel.
How did you become a bartender? I’ve been bartending since I was 20 and worked with [Alfred’s owner] Marco Petri at Palio D’Asti [640 Sacramento St.], which has a really busy happy hour. I went to Tokyo and was the maitre d’ of a restaurant in the Ginza district and I worked at the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles for a year and a half. I’ve been here three years.
What’s unique about your martinis? You get your own shaker. It’s like an adult milkshake and you probably get at least two martinis out of one. The waiters shake them at your table and leave the shaker. On the menu, our Real Martini is made with Bombay Sapphire, a little vermouth and two olives.
Do you get regulars? We get a lot of people who come in after work. We know most of them by name, but they care more about whether you remember their drinks than their names. A lot of them have passed Alfred’s along to their kids. It’s really a culture. This is a family-owned place and we still connect with our customers.
What do you like about tending bar? I like the connections you make with guests. You are like a liquid chef. You make your own drinks and you feel a sense of accomplishment. You feel like you did something. When you wait tables, it’s the same thing, but you don’t have your niche. You are relying on other people.
What drink do you recommend with steaks? What doesn’t go good with a steak? A good bourbon or scotch work great.
Combine ingredients in a shaker, shake and strain over rocks into a collins glass with a lemon twist.