To be a bartender in a room with no corners means to not mind being the center of attention. And in the Orbit Room Cafe, lone bartender Paul Wakefield is just that.
Originally from the Arizona Victorian mining town of Bisbee, Wakefield made his way out to the coast when he was 21. He began bartending soon after. And now in his fifth year at the Orbit Room, Wakefield has witnessed the major renovations over the last two years.
Chances are if you step up to the round bar and order a drink, Wakefield will know how to make it. And if you have dinner plans elsewhere, try the cafe’s 100 percent organic-ingredient pizza. You might just end up staying. 1900 Market St, San Francisco, (415) 252-9525, orbitroomcafe.com
Being in here is like being in a bubble. Do you like working behind a circular bar? You’re always the center of attention. And that can go both ways. But it’s nice putting on a show, doing what I love at the same time. People really respond to it.
When did you realize you wanted to be a bartender? I can remember being a little boy and stepping into a saloon for a second in my hometown. It’s an old Victorian town in Arizona called Bisbee. The saloon would have this giant naked picture ... the bar with a mahogany and the pictures and stuff. It’s an old mining town. They have a lot of buildings that are still intact. It’s a big tourism mecca. Everything is the same as it was 100 years ago. Maybe that’s why it was appealing.
You guys pride yourselves on using fresh and organic ingredients. What does that do for the cocktails? There’s more integrity to the cocktails that we’re able to produce. And any bartender will tell you that you can make a drink the best possible way, but if you’re not using the right kind of ingredients, then it’s not going to be a good drink. And vice versa. It’s the combination of skill and substance that’s inherent to any food industry.
How did you become so well-versed in cocktail-making? A lot of it is just in [my head]. I read a lot ... just experience. And a lot of it is just going out myself. There are a lot of bartenders who don’t drink, and that’s great, but I think to be a certain bartender, you need to enjoy both sides of the bar.
As a history buff, do you ever borrow from the past when it comes to your job? Totally, that’s mainly what I’m interested in, the old days of bartending. What kinds of drinks were being made 100 years ago. There’s very little that’s being done now that wasn’t done in the old days. It’s kind of a resurrection of that.
This place has undergone some renovations in the last two years. How is it today as compared to then? It’s so much better than it used to be. When I first started here, they were still tearing down the Octavia [Boulevard] overpass. So it was dark, and a little bit depressing. But we’ve just been busy in the last year. We’ve been collectively more on our game. And it’s a historic old building. It’s just a really great setting for a bar. I feel like we have really hit our stride here. We’ve struck a balance between fresh, innovative cocktail making with like the neo-Prohibition-style drinks. People seem to really respond to it.