About this series: In a saloon town such as San Francisco, the bartender plays a crucial role. Confessor, friend, sounding board — the man or woman behind the plank sees to it that our needs are met with elegance, grace and often wit. They see humanity at its best and most convivial, but also offer a nod and a welcome to the lonely. But what do they see when they look at us? What are the tricks of their trade? And what lessons have they learned along the way? In this new Examiner weekly feature, we talk to some of our local bartenders to find out.
Balboa Café: 3199 Fillmore St., (415) 921-3944
Balboa Café Opened in 1913, the venerable Balboa Café is one point of what locals know as the “the triangle,” the trio of bars that occupy the intersection of Fillmore and Greenwich streets in The City’s super-swank Cow Hollow district. It’s one of the oldest saloons in San Francisco, and 39-year-old Lance Stewart has tended the massive mahogany bar there for 10 years. Balboa Café continues to be a place of tradition, serving up classic cocktails and a time-honored menu.
So where are you from? Well, I’ve lived all over the East Coast. I moved out to San Francisco about14 years ago, but moved from Massachusetts to Louisiana, to Virginia and Mississippi.
What got you into bartending? I needed some extra cash and I knew a bar manager who wanted to learn how to climb. So I offered to teach him how to climb if he could teach me how to work the bar.
What’s the story behind Balboa Café? It’s been here since 1913. Every time I talk to some of the old timers they have some good stories to share. There were these guys the other day who came in and told me “The last time we were here, it was a fisherman’s bar.” I asked them when that was. “After our first tour of Vietnam.”
What’s the clientele these days? We get a lot of Marina people. A lot of people in finance and people in business. We’re a neighborhood bar.
What’s your drink of choice? Irish whiskey, John Powers.
And where can we find you getting a drink? I live out in the Sunset, so, mainly Irish bars out there.
Any interesting characters who come by? We had the Italian cycling team in here recently, during the Tour of California. My conversation with them was really limited.
Is this a pick-up bar? Isn’t every bar?
Have you picked up any good lines? You hear them and then forget them.
Have you seen Gavin Newsom lately? I saw him a few days ago picking up a to-go order.
Does the bar stop when he walks in? No, he’s pretty low-key. He’s always been that way.
What’s the strangest proposition you’ve gotten? I did have a fellow who was really loaded and offered me $1,000 to drive him up to Marin, but I got a buddy to run him there for less, like $100, plus the cab ride back.
Gin or Vodka? Gin.
Has anyone told you your life story over drinks? Periodically we get them. Some of them are sad. I don’t really get to listen to them, especially in here because we’re so busy, it’s tough. If someone is going to tell you their life story, you want to give them your full attention. A lot of the folks that come here are or were sailors, and they have stories about sailing to Hawaii and all around the world. It always seems like those people got a neat sense about themselves.
» Line a martini glass with Herbsaint liqueur
» In a mixing glass, take rye whiskey, Peychaud’s Bitters and a touch of sugar
» Shake well
» Add to lined glass and add a slice of orange peel