Coqueta in San Francisco puts a Spanish twist on cocktails 

Coqueta This popular, crowded Spanish restaurant and bar on The Embarcadero is The City's latest hot spot. Michael Chiarello, the celebrity chef who owns Bottega in Yountville, has taken over the former Lafitte space on Pier 5 and given it a fresh makeover, including the new glassed-in Bar 5, an outside patio and intimate dining room with wood floors, cowhide rugs, leather chairs, rough wood columns and beams. Combined with the great view, bar manager Joe Cleveland's creative drink menu features housemade tonics and twists on sangria. If you can get a seat, the casual vibe attracts a diverse crowd of suits, America's Cup fans and even comedian Carrot Top, who sat at the bar recently sporting obvious and unfortunate plastic surgery.

What's the crowd like here? A lot of locals, a lot of people going to the America's Cup and the Exploratorium. People who work in the Financial District come in after work, lawyers drinking gin and tonics.

What's your background? I was born and raised in Germany and came to the U.S. when I was 15. In college, I majored in astrogeophysics and worked as a field geologist for the Department of the Interior in D.C.

How did you become a bartender? I've been bartending 13 years, since I was in college, and was a bartender at Jose Andres' restaurant Jaleo in D.C. I moved to Napa in January, where I met Michael Chiarello, who owns Bottega in Yountville, and he hired me for Coqueta.

What bars or bartenders do you like? I admire Erik Adkins at Hard Water. I loved Big in the Tenderloin before it closed. I like Trick Dog in Potrero Hill, Bar Agricole, Alembic, 15 Romolo, Tommy's tequila bar.

What do you like about tending bar? It's almost like putting on a show. I acted for a while in college and New York; I guess I'm a failed actor so this is like my stage.

What do you drink? I like bitter, herbaceous, smoky drinks. I go to Campari-based cocktails a lot. I especially like Le Boulevardier, which has Campari, whiskey and vermouth. I also like mezcal.

What's the most popular drink here? The Barca Gintonic with Bloom London Dry gin and Fever Tree Mediterranean tonic, garnished with grapefruit, a sprig of pine and juniper berries.

What famous people have you served? Michelle Obama in D.C.; she was so nice and drank margaritas. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Willie Brown comes in; he drinks vodka on the rocks with lots of ice in a wine glass. Owen Wilson came into Jaleo when I worked in D.C.; he was very nice.

What's the biggest tip you've gotten? $500 on a $100 check. I made this guy a vodka martini; he said it was the best drink he had in his life.

Where would you like to go for a drink? The Drawing Room in Chicago. I'd like to go to a mezcal pit in the middle of the jungle in Oaxaca, Mexico, and sip warm mezcal right out of the still with the mezcalero master distiller.

Bar info:

Pier 5 (on The Embarcadero near Broadway) • (415) 704-8866 •

Sandia Ponche

• 1 oz. white rum

• 1 oz. dark rum

• ½ oz. simple syrup

• ½ oz. lime juice

• 4 pieces of watermelon (1-inch cubes)

• 8 cilantro leaves

• 1 pinch of chili powder

• Pinch of salt and pepper

Muddle the watermelon, salt, pepper, chili and cilantro with lime and simple syrup. Add rum and ice and shake in cocktail shaker. Strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with a triangle of watermelon, a sprig of cilantro and a dusting of chili powder.

About The Author

Donna Domino

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