Any restaurant that can survive for 41 years in The City’s brutally competitive environment must be doing something right. As soon as you walk into this sprawling, handsome restaurant you are struck not only by the spectacular views, but also its sophisticated ambience, with orchids always in view, and its appealing interior Asian motif. A former coffee shop and longshoremen’s bar, it now occupies the entire three-floor building (bars and kitchens on the first two levels). The cozy bar on the ground floor faces the water, as does the large tented patio, maximizing views of San Francisco Bay. Bartender Phil Fong, a 14-year veteran at Waterfront, no longer imbibes, but was inspired by his Chinese cultural symbols to create his bright-red signature cocktail, a Razzberry Lemon Drop, which takes advantage of the arrival of summer berries.
Waterfront, Pier 7, The Embarcadero, San Francisco, (415) 391-2696, waterfrontsf.com
What inspired this drink? I wanted to make a drink, an Asian variation of the lemon drop using Chinese symbols. Red and gold are Chinese symbols for luck and prosperity. So the redness of the drink symbolizes luck and the golden, raw sugar on the rim symbolizes prosperity. I also float three raspberries, symbolizing the basic Chinese values of health, happiness and longevity.
What’s the crowd like here? We have a lot of regulars, and a lot of people come from the Financial District. But we also get people from all over the Bay Area, and in summer we get lots of tourists.
What famous people have come in? Lots of politicians. Willie Brown gave a party for [Barack] Obama when he was running for president. Nancy Pelosi and Dianne Feinstein have thrown lots of parties here. [Bill] Clinton had lunch here several times when he was president. Harry Reid. The new senator from Massachusetts, Scott Brown. Lady Gaga came in with three bodyguards and her boyfriend. Woody Harrelson came in when he was making “Kingpin.” He came in his socks and no shoes — it was hilarious. He wanted fresh orange juice, and just chugged it. He was cool. George Atkinson, former player for the Oakland Raiders, also came in.
Who’s the biggest celebrity you’ve served? Frank Sinatra. He came into Ernie’s when I worked there. He was doing a show at the Circle Star Theater. His manager called and said 11 people would come in after his show. Four of the 11 were bodyguards. He said, “Boy, I miss this bar.” He pointed at me and said, “I want you here for me. Don’t go home.” He was tired and changed from his tux. He wanted veal, but we didn’t have any so someone went to get some from another North Beach restaurant. He drank Jack Daniels. He was a nice guy.
What other jobs have you had? I’ve always been in the restaurant business, starting as a dishwasher, busboy, waiter. I never did anything else. I worked at Alain Rondelli’s restaurant on the Avenues and at Ernie’s when it was on Montgomery Street.
Who are your mentors? Who do you admire? David Nepove. He used to work here and I learned a lot from him. He showed us the ropes about the 21st-century way to mix cocktails and muddling fresh fruit. He’s a cocktail consultant now and runs Mr.Mojito.com.
What do you like about bartending? Meeting different people from all over the world, different nationalities. It’s just great meeting different folks, but I love my regulars. Who would you like to serve? I’m a fan of pro bowling, so I’d like to serve Chris Barnes, Norm Duke, Keith Weber.
Muddle the raspberries with lemon juice. Strain into cocktail shaker to remove seeds. Shake ingredients together with ice. Strain into a martini glass rimmed with raw sugar. Float three raspberries.