Longtime bartender rocks Pier 23 

click to enlarge Many talents: Longtime bartender Ryan Blanchard’s band, Whisky Pills Fiasco, often plays at Pier 23, where the crowd is usually about 60 percent locals and 40 percent tourists. - MIKE KOOZMIN/THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Mike Koozmin/The S.F. Examiner
  • Many talents: Longtime bartender Ryan Blanchard’s band, Whisky Pills Fiasco, often plays at Pier 23, where the crowd is usually about 60 percent locals and 40 percent tourists.

The continuing popularity of this always-hopping waterfront bar is due in large part to its varied nightly live music and the big back bar on the Bay. The building has been there since the 1930s and was a longshoreman’s bar before the shipping business moved to Oakland. Its nautical roots are reflected on the walls — a huge marlin, maritime clocks, historic pictures of square rigger ships. Longtime bartender Ryan Blanchard’s band regularly plays there. The crowd is an eclectic mix of young and old, where a Financial District suit sitting at the bar will suddenly step to the microphone and belt out a show tune with gusto. Pier 23, The Embarcadero, south of Lombard Street near Levi’s Plaza, San Francisco, (415) 362-5125, www.pier23cafe.com

Who is this drink named after? Sally Rand was a burlesque-club owner and grand dame about town who had a “nude ranch” on Treasure Island. A famous picture on the wall shows the backs of her girls lined up against a fence wearing only cowboy hats and boots. We also give out the picture on postcards.

What’s the crowd like? Sixty percent locals, 40 percent tourists. It changes depending on the music. When it’s a nice, sunny day, everybody comes in; all of San Francisco comes out to play.

Where else have you worked? I started here 17 years ago as a busser and bar back. I trained under Mike Driscoll and Mike McCourt. I also play stand-up bass and sing with my band, Whisky Pills Fiasco, and do poster art.

What do you drink? Jameson. I’m a shot-and-a-beer kinda guy.

What do you like about bartending? I’m not sure I can tell you for publication. It’ll make your mama cry. It’s like my office; I have a lot of regulars who come see me.

What famous people have come in? I don’t want to blow their cover; this is where they come to chill. A few Giants guys: Bruce Bochy, Freddy Sanchez. Bill Clinton, he was really nice. Hunter S. Thompson and Johnny Depp came in when they were filming “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” They drank a bottle of Cuervo Gold and smashed their glasses on the ground after they did shots. Nancy Pelosi. Guy Fieri from the Food Network.

What bars do you like? Mannequin Pis in Belgium, where I lived as a kid. Sweetie’s in North Beach, the Red Jack Saloon on Bay Street, the Old Ship in the Financial District, Gino & Carlo’s, the Saloon. Just simple, neighborhood bars — nothing fancy.

What’s your most memorable experience? A bartender buddy, Brian Williams, was hit by a car while riding his bike in 2005. Someone found him crumpled on the sidewalk. He was in a coma for weeks and in the hospital for a month. The whole bartending community in The City came together and donated money to fly his parents in from Minnesota and help pay the hospital bill. He’s OK now, but it was cool to see how everyone came together.

Featured recipe

Sally Rand

2 oz. Hangar One vodka
½ oz. Berentzen pear liqueur
1 oz. lemon juice
½ oz. ginger simple syrup
2 dashes Angostura Bitters

Mix ingredients in cocktail shaker with ice. Pour into Collins glass. Top with seltzer.

About The Author

Donna Domino

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