About the 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 learnedalong the way? In this new Examiner weekly feature, we talk to some of our local bartenders to find out.
Washington Square Bar & Grill
1707 Powell St., (415) 982-8123
Washington Square Bar & Grill Behind the massive bar of Washington Square Bar & Grill is its equally famous resident bartender, Michael McCourt, who at age 71 has served some of The City’s most notorious characters. He knew Stan Delaplane and Charles McCabe and still knows Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Francis Ford Coppola. Dubbed “the Washbag” by columnist Herb Caen, the bar continues to be a Bay Area tradition. Charming, witty and poignant, Mike is a crowd favorite.
How long have you been working here? On again and off again for 20 years. Before that I was at Perry’s on Union Street for 22 years. I opened that place. I’ve been in the Bay Area since 1969. I came up from Santa Monica. Then Perry [yes, “the” Perry] brought me up here.
Where are you from originally? Limerick, Ireland.
Do you have a specialty cocktail that you make? No. I don’t really do specialty cocktails. If there is a drink that’s made a long, back door comeback, it’s the sidecar. That was from the Eisenhower era.
What are you known for? I try to make people comfortable. Take the air out of their tires. Good saloons are better than any democracy.
This bar is known for having celebrities drop by. Who’ve you served? Tony Dingman, he’s a writer. He’s Francis Ford Coppola’s right-hand man. Our poet laureate, Lawrence Ferlinghetti. I had dinner with Francis Ford Coppola. I said, ‘Jesus Christ, it’s like being in the same room as Michael Angelo or Leonardo Da Vinci. I was tongue-tied.
Wasn’t this a journalist hangout too? There was Stan Delaplane [the late San Francisco Chronicle columnist]. His typewriter is hanging behind the bar. He’d order a Cork dry martini. Charles McCabe would order a scotch and no ice. And of course Herb Caen would order his Stoli vodka and slice of orange, the Vitamin D.
What’s the strangest order you’ve taken? A steely eyed woman asked for a Bloody Mary and a white wine. So I gave her a Bloody Mary and a glass of white wine. And she barked at me, “I said a Bloody Mary made with white wine!” I got a little queasy just serving it.
What do you drink? Irish whiskey, a little wine, a little Guinness.
What do you think about Gavin Newsom? I think he’s a class act. There seems to be this national trend to go into rehab. I am going to start a bar called Club Rehab. I love the old style politicians, like Joe Alioto. They had a certain style. At least they get out and talk to people. These politicians forget they are public servants.
Who’s the most interesting person you’ve ever met? Henry Fonda. That was a big thrill. He was a real gent, really gentle. And he liked his Jack Daniels. Have you seen that film “Mr. Roberts”? He played the first mate on the ship. When I first saw him I said, “Holy Christ. It’s Mr. Roberts himself.”
On that note, what’s your biggest pet peeve? People who peruse the wine list and then order the house wine.
How do we get on your good side? Don’t snap your fingers at me.
So why do you do this? It beats working.
» 1½ oz. Brandy
» ½ oz. Triple Sec
» ½ oz. Lemon or lime juice
Combine all the ingredients in a shaker filled with ice, shake well and strain into a martini glass.