The newest addition to the growing number of waterfront restaurants lining The Embarcadero is Lafitte, a wonderfully light-filled, open and airy space located a few blocks up from the Ferry Building. Chef-owner Russell Jackson named his “modern French brasserie” after the 18th-century French pirate whose take-no-prisoners approach to life he admires. The historically designated building dates from 1918 and has a true Bay-side feel: Sitting at the bar, one can literally spit into the Bay through one of the large, open windows lining the walls. The outside patio offers great water views, and the open kitchen in the center of the high-ceiling dining room enhances the alfresco atmosphere. While Jackson hopes to make it a spot for locals, the location also attracts strolling tourists and international crews from ships docked nearby. Bar manager Ken Gray, inspired by a dish featuring fish wrapped in green tobacco leaves, came up with the tobacco-infused Mohawk cocktail. A cool, high-tech touch: The cocktail and wine list are on iPads. “It’s definitely a wow factor,” Gray said.
Lafitte, Pier 5, The Embarcadero, San Francisco, (415) 839-2134, www.lafittesf.com
What’s the most popular drink here? The Mohawk. It’s gotten a lot of press.
What else have you done? I worked in a hardware store. I’ve been bartending 12 years. I’m from Seattle and worked in bars there, including a place where Nirvana played and other grunge rockers hung out.
What do you like about being a bartender? The interaction with people, serving them a drink and chatting about their day and what’s going on. Talking to tourists about where they’re from. I love the freedom I have here and the creative atmosphere, being able to balance sweet and savory flavors in cocktails. I try to make drinks that aren’t just throwing in everything but the kitchen sink. Can you taste the spirit in the drink? Sometimes you can’t if there’s too many ingredients thrown together.
What do you drink? I’m a big, big fan of whiskey, bourbon and rye.
What do you like about working here? After working in a lot of “turn and burn” bars, it’s a gift to be in San Francisco, a cocktail mecca. The creative freedom I have here has given me renewed passion for the job.
What bars do you like? I go to Rye, my favorite after-work spot. I know the bartenders are great, but I know they’re really busy so I just drink Tecates. I like the SNOB Wine Bar, Beretta in the Mission, Edinburgh Castle. Sometimes I go to the High Tide on Geary.
Who are your favorite bartenders? The guys at Rye do a fantastic job. They make really great cocktails, but they’re not pretentious.
What famous people have come in? Russell was a private chef for Counting Crows and they’re local so they come in. Jerry Brown came in on Opening Day [for the Giants] a year ago. The cast of “Wicked” used to come in.
What makes a good bartender? Awareness and conscientiousness. It’s not always about making drinks or talking to people, it’s knowing how to balance your time.
Where would you like to have a drink? In a small cafe on the Mediterranean, sitting in the sun.
Stir ingredients well with ice. Strain into a martini glass. Garnish with lemon peel.