Look up at the huge, ring-shaped lamps suspended over the dark, spacious dining room and their fiery glow may bring to mind Saturn V's rocket engines from the Apollo mission. As such, they serve as a reminder that five stories above Lolinda the restaurant just launched its open-air counterpart, El Techo de Lolinda. The rooftop and ground-floor operations are run separately, so that's two successful launches in nine months. Owners Adriano Paganini and Deborah Blum opened Lolinda in August in the space formerly occupied by Gus Murad's controversial Medjool restaurant. Paganini and Blum also own Beretta, Starbelly and the Marina district pizzeria Delarosa. Lolinda's long rows of communally spaced tables, hanging lights and prominent bar reflect a similar design ethic as Delarosa, but the massive mural depicting a herd of bulls puts you on notice that you're in a Latin steakhouse. Bartender Chris Lane is a professional illustrator who brings professionalism and artistry to the craft of drink-making.
Where was your first bartending job? I got my start at Merchants Saloon in Oakland. It's a longshoreman's bar. When I started, my customers were pimps, prostitutes, produce workers, meatpackers, merchant seamen and Vietnam vets. It was about as divey and old school as it gets. Now it's a little more punk-rocked out. Merchants is one of what we used to call the "red light" bars — bars that represent the old guard of Oakland. The love for bartending kind of kicked in when I worked at a Berkeley bar called the Missouri Lounge. It felt like a family. We all operated as a team.
It sounds like you've been lucky. It's not uncommon to have personality clashes in this business. You work long enough and you realize the service industry is populated by characters. You have to be a bit of an exhibitionist, especially if you're a bartender, because you're always onstage.
Where else have you had good experiences? I worked at Heaven's Dog under [beverage director] Eric Atkins' program. Eric became a really good friend of mine. It's nice to constantly get pushed by your clients to make new drinks. It's nice to work in an environment where you can have a conversation with somebody and bring them along for the ride instead of constantly beating them over the head with how cool this drink is.
What do you mean by Eric Atkins' program? Eric's done a lot for the bartending community. It's become more common to run your bar like you run a kitchen. A program is basically saying there's somebody in charge of quality control, kind of creating an identity for that bar.
What's the philosophy of Lolinda's bar? Our goal is to make cocktails that are more spirit-forward. You know you're having a drink that has rum and honey in it, for example. ... Pairing cocktails with food is difficult, because they have more alcohol than wine. We want to make drinks that support the food's flavor without competing with it.
You sound really passionate about this. It just comes down to caring about what you're making. It's not rocket science, but it's just those little variables that, if you care about them, it makes a difference in terms of how the drink turns out.
Neighbors complained bitterly about the noise from Medjool's rooftop bar. Have you experienced any friction? No, we've maintained very good relations with our neighbors in terms of making sure noise levels are on point.
BAR INFO: 2518 Mission St. • (415) 550-6970 • lolindasf.com