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 Examiner weekly feature, we talk to some of our local bartenders to find out.
1085 Sutter St., San Francisco; (415) 441-4232; www.brickrestaurant.com
Sprucing up the corner of Sutter and Larkin streets is Brick, a cozy little (ahem) brick-walled restaurant, where we mixed up conversation and cocktails with Ryan Fitzgerald. The bar wizard studied film at UC Santa Barbara, where he said he learned a little bit of film production but mainly focused on theory. He eventually worked his way up the coast to San Francisco, where he got his start in bartending at Bissap Boabab, a divey Senegalese restaurant in the Mission district. Fitzgerald proved to be a quick study and from there served a ritzier clientele at Foreign Cinema and, later, Bourbon and Branch. Fitzgerald’s a pretty mellow dude, but he won’t tolerate bad drink orders. If you have a hankering for Blue Hawaiis and Flaming Doctor Peppers, you should probably keep walking, or at least be open to one of his delicious suggestions.
Are you from the Bay Area originally? I’m from Southern California. Laguna Nigel in Orange County, the O.C. — which none of us actually call it.
So it was the show that prompted the abbreviation? I guess. That’s the first time I heard of it. But Orange County is a massive place.
Now, you studied film theory in college but have since made a career in bartending. I realized you can’t make any money if you write about films, and if you’re the filmmaker, you have to deal with the actors, directors, etc.; some of the biggest egos in the world. I just knew I’d spend a good five years kissing butts and then maybe get to make my film.
Did you get to see any of the filming for the “Milk” movie? Oh yeah. I live in the Lower Haight, so I saw them filming.
Speaking of theatrics, what would you consider the most obnoxious cocktail you’ve ever made? I refuse to make obnoxious drinks.
You straight-up just say no? Yes. A Red-Headed Stepchild, Jägerbomb, Pink Squirrel … more than refusing to make them, I’ll suggest an alternative.
What’s even in a Red-Headed Stepchild? I don’t know. When I was at Tres Agaves, I had a guy order it, and I said, “We don’t make that here.” Then he said, “What about Irish Coffee?” I said, “Brother, I think you’re in the wrong place.”
What do you typically order? A classic Negroni. Or, I drink tequila straight all the time.
Is drinking tequila straight the sign of a bad day? No, no, never! It’s probably the sign that I’m at a place that I don’t trust.
I take it this place’s name refers to that brick wall over there? Yep.
What do you pour yourself when you hit a brick wall, creatively speaking? Tequila is always my drink of choice. It’s complex. There are so many types of tequila, and tequila just makes you happy. Tequila is a good buzz.
If you could have a drink with anyone, who would it be? Bill Murray. I’d have a good time talking to him. I know what I’d make him, too. In “Groundhog Day,” he copies the woman’s drink order — sweet vermouth on the rocks with a twist — and he hates it.
What’s the best tip you’ve ever received? A guy at Tres Agaves once bought me a shot of tequila that at the time was $400 a shot. He bought one for me, himself, and of course he tipped on that, so $800 for two cocktails and a nice tip on top of that.
Featured drink: The Dinner Jacket
» 2 oz. Junipero Gin
» ½ oz. Crème de Cassis
» 1 oz. dry white whine
» 2 dashes of Fee Brothers orange bitters
Stir (don’t shake) ingredients together. Serve up with a broad lemon twist.