Located across the street from the American Conservatory Theater in the heart of the theater district, Colibri is immensely popular before and after shows, and with tourists visiting Union Square. Since it opened in 2004 as a high-end central Mexican bistro in the former California Pizza Kitchen space, it has also attracted a strong following among locals. They come for the inventive cuisine and the enormous selection of tequila. Appropriately, bartender and event designer Jared Hirsch is a former actor who has spent much of his life in theater, including at ACT. Colibri is Spanish for hummingbird, thus the restaurant’s tenacious buzz as Cinco de Mayo approaches.
Colibri, 438 Geary St., San Francisco, (415) 440-2737
How long have you been a bartender? I started here 2½ years ago. It was my first place.
What did you do before tending bar? I have a theater background and was a child actor. I was doing commercials when I was a 10-year-old. I went to the High School for Performing Arts [in New York] and then changed to lighting. I moved to California and worked at [California Shakespeare Theater]. ACT then hired me as an associate production manager.
Why did you become a bartender? After 23 years, I realized I had climbed to the top of the ladder in theater and didn’t want to do it anymore.
What do you like about bartending? I like so many things about it. I’m a big fan of helping people discover what they love. For instance, pre-Prohibition cocktails. I love classic cocktails and now tequila. I also like to work with my hands, craft things and share them with people.
Do you come up with your own concoctions? I’m naturally drawn to the creative side of bartending. So when I see something, I wonder how I’m going to put it into a cocktail. I’m a big fan of classic ingredients.
What’s your best cocktail invention? My favorite is the one I haven’t made yet. What other places do you like? I’m a big fan of 15 Romolo [15 Romolo Place], the Cantina [580 Sutter St.] and Bar Agricole [355 11th St.].
Do you get any celebrities here? Giants players, Latin singers and theater folks.
What’s the clientele like? It varies between convention-goers, tourists and the theater crowd.
What’s the concept of Colibri? The food is Central Mexican and Mexico City-specific. Tell me about the tequila. We have about 350 tequilas and we only sell 100 percent agave tequila. Most people drink gold tequila, which is a marketing gimmick. It’s 51 percent blue agave and 49 percent other sugars, like cheap vodka or Everclear. Then they add a lot of sugar to cut that taste and caramel color to make it look like it was aged. Real tequila is more related to whiskey or cognac.
Who would you like to serve a drink to? Emperor Norton. He’s the ultimate freak San Franciscan and the community took care of him.
Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake over ice. Double strain and serve up. For agave syrup, combine equal parts agave nectar and water.