Martuni's Michael Waller prides himself on old-school service 

click to enlarge For all ages: Martuni’s bartender Michael Waller says the Sidecar is an old-style drink that’s easy to make and appeals to young and old alike. - BRIAN MOLYNEAUX/SPECIAL TO THE SF EXAMINER
  • Brian Molyneaux/Special to The SF Examiner
  • For all ages: Martuni’s bartender Michael Waller says the Sidecar is an old-style drink that’s easy to make and appeals to young and old alike.

Martuni’s is one of those places that make you glad to be in San Francisco: big cocktails (10 ounces), eclectic crowd (half-gay, half-straight, young hipsters, middle-aged regulars) and piano bar with nightly cabaret performances featuring really good singers and musicians. Its bronze paneled walls and intimate atmosphere easily transports you to a more romantic world. The spot has been home to mostly gay bars, including a leather bar and Lily’s, a drag queen bar. Veteran bartender Michael Waller, who served the first drink when Martuni’s opened 16 years ago and has worked in most of The City’s gay bars, prides himself on old-school service.

4 Valencia St., San Francisco
(415) 241-0205,

What drinks are popular here? Sidecar, vodka martinis, Lemon Drops, Blueberry Lemon Drops. We’re very fruity here — in our drinks, too! A lot of the kids can’t get enough of dirty martinis, which makes most bartenders cringe. Why would you want to put olive juice in a triple-filtered vodka? I’m a bartender, not a mixologist, although I can mix thousands of drinks. There’s no oregano in my drinks. I’m not a salad chef. It’s a busy bar; I don’t have time.

What’s the crowd like? It’s the last of the great piano bars in town. It’s very mixed, and we have a special niche. A lot of our guys are in choirs and study music. We get some really good people. All of the people performing in local shows come in.

How long have you been a bartender? Thirty-one years. I started as a singer in a restaurant-bar, but the bartender had strep throat one night and I made more money bartending than singing. Nobody was listening to me anyway. One night, I even dedicated a song to the fat lady in the front, but nobody noticed.

What famous people have you served? Joel Grey, Tony Bennett. I worked at Neil Young’s 60th birthday party and Phyllis Diller and Ricky Nelson were there. Patty Duke, all the “Beach Blanket Babylon” people, “Eye on the Bay” host Liam Mayclem.

What do you drink? Bourbon, VO Canadian whiskey neat, Crown Royal.

What bars do you like?
Twin Peaks; I still feel young there. Lion Pub. I love going to the Top of the Mark. I love the little cheesy snacks. If the people you’re with are boring you can always look at the view.

Who would you like to serve a drink to? Paul McCartney. I just love him and have since I was a little boy.

What’s the biggest tip you’ve received? $100 from a doctor who had a private party. I made $800 on a Pink Saturday [Saturday night before the Pride parade].

What’s the most unusual experience you’ve had? I worked a party at City Hall. Gavin Newsom was there and everybody was in tuxedos. A woman passed out drunk and peed in her dress.

Featured Recipe


- 1/2 oz. Paul Masson brandy or cognac
- 1 oz. triple sec
- 1 oz. lemon juice
- 1 tsp. superfine sugar

Shake together with ice. Strain into a sugar-rimmed martini glass. Garnish with orange wheel.

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Donna Domino

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