In a saloon town such as San Francisco, the bartender plays a crucial role. Confessor, friend, sounding board — the man or woman behind the plank sees to it that our needs are met with elegance, grace and often wit. They see humanity at its best and most convivial, but also offer a nod and a welcome to the lonely. But what do they see when they look at us? What are the tricks of their trade? And what lessons have they learned along the way? In this Examiner weekly feature, we talk to some of our local bartenders to find out.
199 Gough St., San Francisco; (415) 552-7132; www.paulkrestaurant.com
We’ve always been a big fan of Paul K, the homey-yet-chic Mediterranean-inspired restaurant in Hayes Valley where symphony and opera-bound folks can be found crammed at the bar in their finest gowns and Ted Baker suits. Though the food has always been outstanding, this is truly one of the more understated places to grab some of the best cocktails in The City. Ask anyone who has been there, and you’ll see their faces light up with recognition and then cloud over with regret as to why they aren’t there more often. We got to hang out with the restaurant’s esteemed bartender Ryan Andrew. 199 Gough St., San Francisco; (415) 552-7132; www.paulkrestaurant.com
Where are you from? All over the place. But I moved up here from Monterey for school. I was down there for six years for school, and then I took a year off to travel.
You were down there for school? Yes. I was studying international relations and decided I didn’t want to spend my life in a suit and tie, so I went back to what I love — music.
Wait, so you are back up here for school ... again? I’m in audio engineering school at Expressions.
How’d you get into bartending? A buddy was managing [P.J.’s Oyster Bed] in the Sunset, and his bartender quit. I was hired and trained on the spot. It was rough the first few weeks. But he gave me free reign to do what I wanted.
The bartenders we’ve interviewed who don’t have a culinary background typically don’t embrace all the produce and flavors you have for your cocktail creations. The restaurant that inspired me was the Easy Lounge in Oakland. It’s on Lakeshore. Across from Lake Meritt is a farmers market where the bartender I knew would go to get fresh [ingredients]. They’d have blackberry and jalapeño-infused tequilas and make crazy drinks. I get bored, so the last thing I want to do is get bored on a job. It’s also nice having a kitchen here, so I can work with the chef. I’ve learned so much about cooking.
What do you like to cook best? Probably seared Ahi tuna with a glazed mango reduction. I eat a lot of seafood and cook mainly seafood.
You are obviously into music. What do you listen to? I grew up listening to nothing but hardcore hip-hop and death metal, but now I’m an engineer, so I listen to everything.
If you could serve a drink to anyone, who would it be? Joe Strummer.
What would you serve him? Straight whiskey on the rocks and a beer to chase it.
What do you typically order? Something as least complicated as possible. Don’t want to p--- the bartender off. I’m a vodka Martini guy with Ketel One.
Do you have any pet peeves? If someone asks for a drink I don’t know and then asks if I am a bartender.
What’s the strangest cocktail you’ve ever made? One person ordered a drink with this jalapeño-infused vodka we had with pineapple juice, Campari and muddled mint. It was the worst thing I’ve ever tasted, but the lady loved it.
1 oz. Absolut vodka
1 oz. Absolut Peach vodka
Dash of lemon bitters
Splash of lemon juice
Fresh raspberries and peaches
Muddle together fresh raspberries and peach in a glass. Add vodkas, bitters and lemon juice. Shake together with ice, and strain into a sugar-rimmed martini glass.