Elixir Saloon has the distinction of being the second-oldest bar in San Francisco, but its modern take on serving up high-end cocktails and a unique beer selection is what sets it apart from other bars in the Mission district, particularly along the 16th Street corridor between Valencia and Guerrero streets. Part of the reason is the bar staff. One of the anchors of that staff is manager and bartender Shea Shawnson, a San Francisco native who, five years ago, went from building classic cars to making classic cocktails. BAR info: 3200 16th St. • (415) 552-1633 • www.elixirsf.com
Why did you start tending bar at Elixir?
I first found Elixir when a buddy and I were in the Mission looking for a good place to grab a beer, but didn’t want to sit in some dark cave. Elixir was warm with all this old wood and windows letting in light. Elixir is a great day-drinking bar. That’s one of the major reasons I like being behind the bar during the day. I have time to talk to people and get to know them. It’s a much more personal touch and approach to customer service.
Would you say you mostly serve cocktails?
Our model is focused on great beers, cocktails, and a heavy tequila and whiskey selection. We like our bourbons. In fact, we currently have five of our own barrels of bourbon, four of which we hand-selected in Kentucky from Four Roses with the intention of creating an educational flight for our customers. There is a lot of emphasis on seasonal cocktails and always using fresh ingredients and quality spirits.
What are the best and worst parts of the job?
I would say the best part of my job is the people — both my co-workers and customers. There is a definite sense of family behind the bar, and I think that we also attract a very mature and chill crowd. We have some of the best customers, and whether it’s a couple from out of town or the regular that comes in for their favorite drink and wants to catch up, we are very lucky. However, the worst part of my job can also be the customers.
What bars do you like?
There are so many great bars in San Francisco. At times I feel overwhelmed. I prefer the more laid-back atmosphere of bars like the Hideout, Comstock, Thieves Tavern, etc. My neighborhood bar is Red Jack on Bay Street.
What advice would you give to younger bartenders breaking into the business?
The best advice I could give to a bartender starting out is just be yourself. Be confident and, most of all, make your customers feel at home and special.
What is the strangest thing you have seen as a bartender?
As a bartender you see so many odd situations. I once asked a gentleman to leave because he was trying to order off a cocktail menu that was from another bar. I thought that he had had one too many and just didn’t know where he was. The two ladies sitting next to him seemed mortified and embarrassed. I politely asked him to leave. He looked confused and sad. I felt horrible. When I turned to the two ladies, telling them how hard it was to do that, they told me they had stolen the menu and had left it on the bar. That’s when I asked them to leave.