A painted mural of a fish leaps up the side of the Bonita Street wall of this cozy restaurant and bar, which specializes in food with a Venetian accent. Bartender Will Herrera, who is a nephew of City Librarian Luis Herrera, has a repertoire that sports some killer drink concoctions and ingredients, including a chipotle-infused vodka that leaves a spicy burn on the back of the throat. The intimate space, dominated by a long zinc bar, features the creations of chef-owner Ruggero Gadaldi, a partner in Antica and Delaosa, and has earned a spot on the top 100 restaurants list the last three years running.
Pesce, 2227 Polk St., 928-8025. www.pescebarsf.com.
What’s the story of this bar? We opened 13 years ago. Pesce means fish in Italian, and the focus is Northern Italian cuisine. And it’s all about the neighborhood. Couples come here for anniversaries, and to hear them say that we made their night special is better than five stars on Yelp.
What’s the crowd like? Regulars! This is a place that sits on the shoulders of the neighborhood. It’s a word-of-mouth restaurant.
How did you get into bartending? I did start when I was 21. It helped pad my pockets and pay tuition. It was in Southern California — I was a barback, doorman, dishwasher, just getting my foot in the door, with no intent to be a bartender. I just fell into it in Rancho Cucamonga. The owner needed a fill-in. I remember the first drink I ever made, a screwdriver. The patron helped me out and told me: vodka and orange juice.
What’s most popular here? The Bellinis are very popular, and Harry’s Punch.
Is there a pairing you would recommend to a newcomer? Yes, the Crab Tower with a Tony’s Gimlet, named to honor an old chef.
What do you like to drink? Well, mostly now what I drink isn’t alcoholic because I have a toddler. But Wild Turkey. It’s high proof and a traditional after-shift drink with other bartenders. And I like to sit around with friends trying to come up with new drinks. We all want to add something to the recipe books.
Who taught you bartending? I was with Pete Keats at the Left Bank, and my introduction into The City was at the Waterbar with Nancy Leisenring — very old-school, and I carry those philosophies. Keats is at the Tadich Grill now. He was the first personality I witnessed behind the bar. His art, his craft changed my point of view dramatically.
What’s your bartending philosophy? It’s not just about a cocktail. It’s never been. People are my bread and butter. People want to be cared for. It’s a social structure. I have a first edition of Trader Vic’s bartenders guide and there’s a motto in the introduction: “Make every cocktail as if it were your last.”
Is there a drink you are most proud of? It’s the Mario’s Bohemian. It smells of memories and is best sipped slow. It’s got rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, coffee liqueur and coffee.
Anyone famous you would like to serve? I’d love to serve Christopher Walken because of his kind of scary aura.
Shake with ice. Pour into chilled class. Garnish with fresh lime or mint or both.